January 20, 2023

Public health thrives on innovative ideas and new perspectives that can break down barriers in access to care. The Pitch Competition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health gives students and recent alumni the opportunity to explore creative solutions to pressing public health challenges by pairing them with a coach who can help them bring their ideas to life and pitch them to a panel of judges.

The Gillings School recently wrapped its second Pitch Competition on Nov. 17, 2022. After a round of video eligibility, eight teams of students and alumni participated in this head-to-head challenge, leveraging their public health knowledge to explore solutions to improve nutrition education, support mental health and access to outdoor spaces, help bystanders respond to emergency events, and more.

Anne Glauber

Anne Glauber

“Our students are critical to the future of public health,” said Anne Glauber, MPH, associate director of research and innovation at the Gillings School. “This competition allows us to encourage students to harness their knowledge, passion and willingness to disrupt the status quo by moving their innovative ideas into impact. It was great to again see strong student participation with teams addressing a wide range of public health issues.”

Judges at this year’s Pitch Competition selected three winning teams:

  • HIV/AIDS Network for Disaster Survivors (HANDS) – First Place
    The HIV/AIDS Network for Disaster Survivors (HANDS) ensures continuity of care for people with HIV (PWH) who evacuate during hurricanes. The team includes Master of Public Health (MPH) students Lauren Fidelak (health behavior), John Rowell (health behavior) and Cotie San (EQUITY). They were coached by Jesse Milan, JD, president and CEO at AIDS United. As first-places winners, the team received $3,000 cash and $3,000 in-kind consulting services from BlueDoor Group.
  • Nutriscope – Second Place
    Nutriscope makes licensed nutritionists and dieticians easily accessible to escape the risk of life-threatening diseases and disorders and improve quality of life. The team includes Chitra Saravanan (dual Master of Business Administration/Master of Healthcare Administration student), Austin O’Connor ​(Master of Educational Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship student) and Michael Brandewie (Master of Business Administration student). They were coached by Maura Rampolla, executive coach and MPH ‘96 alumna in maternal and child health. As second-place winners, the team received $1,500 cash.
  • Switchback Gear Collective – Third Place
    Switchback Gear Collective provides low-cost second-hand outdoor gear, skills and knowledge to make the outdoors accessible to all. The team includes MPH global health students Chloe Coletta, Joanne Johnson and Abby Nelson. They were coached by Nicole Bates, DrPH, adjunct assistant professor and alumna of both the MPH and Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) programs at the Gillings School. As third-place winners, the team received $750 cash.
Participants celebrate the winners of the 2022 Student Pitch Competition.

Participants celebrate the winners of the 2022 Student Pitch Competition. (Photo: Rachel Ram)

The Switchback Gear Collective team also won the People’s Choice Award, selected by the in-person and online attendees of the competition finals. The team received $200 cash.

Other teams that participated in the pitch competition finals included:

  • Educowtion – a social venture that placed seven heifers and three bulls in the Lamoratoit primary school in Karamoja, Uganda, that have been kept on site. These cows currently provide a source of milk, bringing back necessary nutrients to school children and increasing attendance rates that have been affected because of climate change’s impact on the availability of cattle in the region.
  • V-Card – an app that provides users the tools and resources to make well-informed decisions around sex with their partners.
  • BetterTravel – a comprehensible, novel mobile application that aims to facilitate travel for individuals with accessibility needs.
  • First on Scene – an all-in-one app to instruct bystanders how to manage medical emergencies and locate emergency resources at UNC.
  • Eve Cancer Care (ECC) – an app that serves as a personalized cancer screening assistant, with schedules and recommendations based on health and history.

The Pitch Competition launched in 2020 as the World of Difference Student Pitch Competition, hosted by the Gillings School’s innovation and entrepreneurship team and supported by Entrepreneur in Residence Don Holzworth, MS. In addition to the head-to-head competition, the program emphasizes the importance of coaching in helping students shape their ideas into ventures that are practical and financially sustainable. Coaches are members of the Gillings School’s Advisory Council and Public Health Foundation Board, and many are alumni who share their own experiences as Carolina public health students.

“We could not have asked for a better coach and experience in this process,” said one student participant. “When we submitted our initial application, we had no idea of the potential and wide-scale applications of our concept. With the help of our coach, we were able to develop and launch our venture over the course of one semester.”

“It was a memorable learning opportunity for me, as well as a wonderful chance to get to know these bright, enthusiastic students!” said Marcia Angle, MD, who participated as a team coach. “And the pitch competition event itself was remarkable and heartwarming because these smart, energetic young people identified public health problems and then ingeniously designed strategies to constructively address these real-world needs. What an inspiration they all are!”

Glauber says that the competition will be held every other year in order to give Gillings students an opportunity to participate during their tenure or soon after graduation.

“It’s a unique opportunity for future students to see a path for their innovative ideas to come to fruition and make an impact,” she said.

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

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