And here’s the pitch: Shark Tank rewards innovation in health care

May 09, 2023
Inside a conference room, a woman smiles while riding a tricycle with a cardboard cutout of a shark around her head.
Physical therapist Cynthia Dodds, Ph.D. expertly maneuvers her vehicle in an attempt to escape from a ravenous cardboard shark, as occupational therapist Elizabeth Humanitzki looks on in terror (read: amusement). Photos by Sarah Pack

There’s a pretty good chance that nobody has ever confused David Cole, M.D., with Mark Cuban. Sure, they’re both tall and ruggedly handsome, but one owns an NBA franchise and hosts a successful prime-time TV show and the other runs the state’s only comprehensive academic health system. 

But for one day every year, the MUSC President gets to act like him – minus the snide comments – when the Medical University hosts its very own version of “Shark Tank.”

In case you don’t own a TV or do have galeophobia (a fear of sharks), the concept is simple: Competitors with ideas get up in front of people with means and pitch them their inventions or ideas. It’s those “sharks,” who decide whether the idea is worthy of a financial investment. In MUSC’s case, that’s $15,000 to each of the winning pitchers – to help to make their visions into realities.

Four judges, two women and two men, look on from stadium seats as participants make their pitches. 
A rare photo of sharks out of water. From left, Drs. Lori McMahon, Lisa Saladin, Patrick Cawley and David Cole.

Now in its fifth year, the widely successful event has given out nearly $250,000 to fund those innovative ideas. Over the past half-decade, pitches have ranged from improvements in feminine hygiene to novel approaches to heart valve replacement in newborns. 

The annual competition marks the high point of Innovation Week at MUSC, which this year occurred April 24-28. In addition to Charleston, for the past two years, MUSC Health Lancaster and Florence divisions have participated. And this year, the competition expanded to include MUSC’s regional hospital in the Midlands. 

How the finalists ended up as such was no fluke. Earlier in the week, all would-be contestants presented their innovative concepts at MUSC’s Drug Discovery Building. More than 90 posters from over 600 participants were on display, and attendees voted for their favorites in three categories – care, education and research. The top vote getters made it to the final pitch in front of the big shots. In the end, there were nine finalists spread across three categories.

Those big shots were:

This year, as in year’s past, it was hosted by MUSC chief innovation officer Jesse Goodwin, Ph.D. She kicked things off with a solid shark-themed dad joke: “What did the shark say when he ate the clownfish?” “This tastes a little funny,” before turning the mic over to the first of the presenters, who had five minutes to make their individual pitches. As in year’s past, the pitches were sharp and concise, and the presenters’ prop games were on point – highlighted by one nurse wearing some sort of electrode hair net (which, hilariously, she never acknowledged) and a physical therapist riding a fancy tricycle while smiling ear to ear as her head was being devoured by a giant shark head cutout.

In the end – after about a 10-minute deliberation behind closed doors – the sharks settled on the following winners:

MUSC Health-Charleston Division

Category of Care: “Electronic health record-embedded clinical decision support to reduce hospital-acquired infections.”

Team: Michelle Spiegel, M.D.; Karen Melanson, Janet Byrne, R.N.; Jamie Allen, D.O.; Andrew Goodwin, M.D.

Category of Research: “Innovative designs for ventricular assist device cannulas that improve outcomes for infants.”

Team: Curry Sherard, Savannah Skidmore, Jesse Flynn, Joe Ruscito, Taufiek Konrad Rajab, M.D.

Category of Education: “Hitting the mark: Implementation of a central venous catheter curriculum to improve medical student self-confidence in quality and safety of procedures.”

Team: Edward Kilb, M.D.; Brad Petkovich, M.D.

Winners from the Regional Health Networks were:

MUSC Health-Midlands Division

“Enhancing the patient experience: From car to care.”

Team: Renee Wilson. 

MUSC Health-Lancaster Division

“Addressing disparities in kidney transplant in a rural community hospital.”

Team: Prince Anand, M.D.; Camille Filoromo, Ph.D.; Ahmad Alqesseih, M.D.; Derek Dubay, M.D.; Natalie Wessels; Adrian Carlson, Pharm.D.; and Jay McCarley, Pharm.D.

MUSC Health-Florence Division

“The ‘ST’ edema sling.”

Team: Evelyn LeBron-Cooper, Roldan Mandane, Joseph Fraser, Cyreano Hamoy, Corey Bass and Roxie Smallwood.

Goodwin closed out Innovation Week 2023 with promising news. “While winning is fun, every single idea that was presented here today will get seriously considered. So if you weren’t selected, it’s not the end of the road for your project. We’ll really work hard to help move as many of these ideas ahead.”

A group of 10 people stand side by side in an auditorium to pose for a winners photo 
The winners of the Charleston division of Shark Tank, along with the sharks.