Palm Coast, FL – Natalie Quintanilla’s whoop of excitement could be heard clear across Central Park in Palm Coast as her team’s name was called.
Out of six teams competing on Thursday evening to take top honors in the inaugural UNF MedNexus Innovation Challenge only one could emerge the winner, and the excitement of the trio of Flagler Palm Coast High School juniors was contagious as the audience snapped congratulatory photos.
The infectious enthusiasm for their project started on the pitch deck in front of judges representing the education, business and government sectors from across northeast Florida.
Team ‘Doc Talk’ didn’t miss a beat while describing their application tailored to teaching or refining the positive bedside mannerisms and habits of students and professionals in the medical field. While it’s a skill sometimes lacking in an overworked and underappreciated industry, the project’s potential drew a hopeful and optimistic comparison between ‘Doc Talk’ and the world’s nicest fast-food restaurant, Chick-fil-A from judge Dr. Cynthia Williams.
Hitting the key elements of a good pitch – speed to market, product user projections and annual revenue, the aspiring entrepreneurs held the attention of judges throughout their presentation.
Having a great sales person didn’t hurt either.
While Natalie Quintanilla waited patiently for her turn to speak, when on, it was as if an infomercial had flickered to life and a professional sales representative was ready to close the deal, drawing smiles from the audience and judges alike.
“We realized an app will be the cheapest way, and the most convenient way. It can be for anybody, from professionals that maybe forgot their soft skills to students who are learning and want to come into the medical field,” said Quintanilla.
Participants presented from one of three categories – improving telehealth, improving mental health services for young adults or enhancing soft skills in healthcare, and Dr. David Szymanski, CEO and executive director for UNF MedNexus was excited by the thoughtful creativity shown by the students.
“It’s really inspiring is what it is, because you see the future in front of you,” said Szymanski.
“These kids are so articulate. They thought it through, they worked as a team so well together and it’s great to see that collaboration. It’s really rare. I think it gives us hope for the future. What you see is that you can stimulate thought, get people involved, thinking about an issue, particularly healthcare, and what they can do for their community. The giving back part, that’s what we all hope for.”
Flagler County Education Foundation executive director Joe Rizzo called it a natural progression of the Classrooms to Careers Flagship Programs that have made Flagler Schools a standout in education.
“Some of the groups that spoke tonight are probably some of the smartest people on the planet. So if that says anything about the quality of education and what the possibilities are for kids in Flagler County, it’s amazing. These kids are next level thinkers,” said Rizzo.
Taking the event outdoors after the pitch deck wrapped, teams milled about with eager anticipation, chatting with friends and family.
Out to cheer on her son Hudson Barrick, a junior at Flagler Palm Coast High School, and his team, proud mom Cristy Barrick was surprised by the magnitude of the competition.
“It’s been very exciting. I’m glad to see him working with other students to create something that can initially help other children struggling with depression, anxiety and different things like that,” she said.
Working closely with teammates on the ‘Ventor’ application, Hudson and his team wanted to provide a relevant solution for an important topic among young adults, selecting to tackle improving mental health services.
“We had Ventor which is a mental health counseling app,” explained Barrick. “It’s mainly talking to your peers and there’s mentoring available from counselors who are subcontracted. We wanted to create something accessible that pretty much anyone can use and we wanted it to be helpful.”
Hudson saw it as a valuable learning opportunity while working with professionals through the University of North Florida and collaborating industry partners.
“It’s was really well-done by the MedNexus people. They gave us very specific parameters about how we should be doing things and they were very helpful.”
Other students elected to address improving telemedicine, a relatively new service in the healthcare industry over the past decade.
Using their skills including teammate Jared Foley’s FAA drone pilot certification as an asset, second place winners “Holodrone” sought to create ‘holographic technology software for existing medical drones’.
“Our product is a drone that delivers medical supplies and then provides instructions with them through holographic display,” said Foley, a junior at Flagler Palm Coast High School.
“Our hope is for our product to decrease the amount of time for people to get medical help when they need it,” he said.
Closing out the inaugural event, Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin and University of North Florida Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Karen Bowling agreed the Innovation Challenge had been a great success, praising the team spirit of all involved.
“It was rewarding, exciting to see groups of students work together collaboratively in a team foundation to build these ideas as they were truly enthusiastic and excited about the future,” said Alfin.
“These are the entrepreneurs of the future. These are the people which will feed into the medical programs and medical training that we’re building now. These are the applications that will grow the entrepreneurship here in the city of Palm Coast that will attract the younger generation to come back and have rewarding careers with good salaries for the future.”
UNF MedNexus Innovation Challenge 2021 Winners:
First Place ($1,500/each): Doc Talk (Enhancing Soft Skills In Healthcare) – Chloe Kaczmarek (Team Captain), Natalie Quintanilla (Co-Captain), Madison Bianco. Flagler Palm Coast High School. Mentor: Wendi Coheley/Senior Manager for Clinical Experience at AdventHealth.
Second Place ($1,250/each): Holodrone (Advancing Telemedicine) – Lizelle Pear (Team Captain), Roymara Louissaint (Co-Captain), Christina Nguyen, Jared Foley, Destiny Ruiz. Flagler Palm Coast High School. Mentor: Karthikeyan Umapathy/UNF Associate Professor School of Computing.
Third Place ($750/each): Luna Care (Advancing Telemedicine) – Ryan Flack (Team Captain), Ashlea Stanley (Co-Captain), Helen Do, Ayushi Elhence, Alyssa Buckingham. Creekside High School. Mentor: Jeff Santos/Director of Strategic Operations at AdventHealth.