Gillings students among 2021 E(I) Lab entrepreneurship and innovation award winners

May 4, 2021

The E(I) Lab Program – an entrepreneurship and innovation lab that encourages interdisciplinary collaboration of UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, professional and postdoctoral students – recently wrapped up a sixth cohort tasked to solve challenges in health care. Five Master of Public Health students from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health were among the cohort.

The winning team, Mental Health Matchmakers, included Kayla McKiski and Noah Hammes from the Gillings School, Ashley Gleaton from the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, and Christina Shaban and Thomas Kaplan from the Kenan-Flagler Business School.

The E(I) Lab provides an overview of cohort six's work.

The E(I) Lab provides an overview of cohort six’s work.

The group designed a project to test the feasibility of matching mental health services with students who were coping with substance use disorders.

“The five of us met only six weeks ago and ranked the challenge of improving mental health services as our number one choice. We learned that a barrier to access is the paradox of choice. One solution was to create a matchmaking platform,” said Shaban.

The E(I) Lab’s experiential program was established for graduate students from various disciplines across UNC to tackle unmet health care needs, gain firsthand training in prototype development and product design, learn about the latest methods in entrepreneurship, and receive coaching and mentorship from the innovation community.

Each cohort typically runs for a six-month period to develop a marketable innovation that would serve an unmet need within the health care space. Cohort six, however, was converted to a 6-week accelerated program and held virtually to keep all participants safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three teams participated in cohort six:

  • First place: Mental Health Matchmakers
  • Second place: Trashbusters worked to resolve the increase of medical waste brought about by the current global pandemic. Shauna Fraser-Kim from the Gillings School and Sun Bae, Grace Liu and Sherry Xia from the Eshelman School came up with innovative solutions to this growing challenge.
  • Third place: Back Pocket created a platform with resources to help people manage their chronic back pain. Jane Tandler and Victoria Tetteh from the Gillings School of Global Public Health and Andi Fritz and Anthony Paterno from the School of Medicine collaborated on creative solutions to this widespread challenge.

The cohort held a successful final class and awards ceremony on April 20, which included three judges: Don Holzworth, entrepreneur in residence and adjunct professor at the Gillings School; Alex Abuin, assistant director of translational studies at the Eshelman Schook; and Andrew Kant, program manager at the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute.

The E(I) Lab Program provides access to various experts with the goal of removing barriers to entrepreneurship and innovation with the participants. When asked what she got out of the program, McKiski said, “The value of diversity, collaboration and stepping outside your comfort zone. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. The customer discovery process was really valuable. Our platform completely changed from our first ideas. It brought home why some ideas fail: because they’re not catering to the wants and needs of the customers that would be using them.”

This entrepreneurship and innovation lab launched out of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy over six years ago and was the first interdisciplinary lab of its kind. Initially supported by the Eshelman Institute of Innovation, E(I) Lab is now managed under Innovate Carolina.

Applications for Cohort 7 will open on Aug. 2. Students interested in learning more should contact Barbara Bell, director of E(I) Lab.

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at

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