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The Innovation Partnership: Procurement by Co-Design Program aims to help leading-edge technologies reach organizations that need them most.

By Shelley White

If technology can solve your problem, why not have it made-to-order? That’s the question a dynamic new program at MaRS is addressing, which links entrepreneurs and administrators to overcome real challenges.

An experimental project launched last year in Ontario with a simple idea: the team issued an open call to health care providers to describe a challenge their institution faces, and then directed these asks to entrepreneurs to work collaboratively on solutions.

Launched in August 2016 in conjunction with the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, the Innovation Partnership: Procurement by Co-Design Program is a “collaborative design exercise” aimed to help leading-edge technologies reach organizations and patients that need them most.

Overall, the response was enthusiastic — almost two dozen health care providers issued 29 challenges that were then listed on the program website. The entrepreneur community came back with over 140 proposed solutions.

Some of the challenges were quite broad, others were looking for very specific outcomes.

“For example, one provider said they wanted a better way of managing wheelchairs and gurneys in their hospital to reduce the number of patients waiting for transfers,” says MaRS associate Lily Lo, who also serves as the project manager.

Pitch sessions helped narrow the field, and the providers selected the vendors they wanted to work with. In total, 17 project teams spent 12 weeks co-developing their innovations.

At the end of February, the teams came back to MaRS to compete for up to $25,000 to spend testing the co-developed solutions. Four of the 17 teams received funding, including QoC Health, who is working with the Michael Garron Hospital to help manage post-anesthesia recovery, and VitalHub, who got the green light for two separate solutions for Markham Stouffville Hospital and Trinity Village Care Centre. The next step will see the teams present the results of their testing in July, potentially receiving another $25,000 for procurement.

But program manager Hadi Salah says the grants aren’t the central goal — the venture is more about fostering a new “challenge-based, co-design approach” to procurement.

“This could be an open-source tool kit that a procurement department within a hospital could use and scale up on their own,” he says. “The impact is better solutions, better collaboration and lower costs overall.”

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