First things first – Happy New Year! It was wonderful to see so many familiar – and new – faces for the Digital Health Institute for Transformation’s (DHIT) first event of the 2023 season! Programming kicked off with an episode of our popular Happy Hour Series at DHIT headquarters in the heart of downtown Chapel Hill and the evening was sponsored by Bluedoor, a full-service growth and innovation agency for healthcare and life sciences companies. We were joined by scores of digital health transformers, evangelists, and entrepreneurs to listen, learn, and coalesce around shared visions of digital health transformation and collaboration in a fireside chat hosted by Michael Levy, DHIT CEO and Co-founder. He was joined by our featured speaker Sheryl Waddell, Director of Economic Development and Innovation Hubs for Innovate Carolina and Co-Chair of the NC Health Innovation District (NCHID) Steering Committee. Sheryl is a passionate and experienced leader who has brought more than 25 years of business development and relationship management sales experience to Innovate Carolina and now the NCHID.

During their discussion, Sheryl spoke to Innovate Carolina’s focus on building innovation capacity in Chapel Hill and across the state as well as their focus on digital health expertise through collaboration with DHIT and the NCHID. 

Sheryl explained that Innovate Carolina was designed initially to be UNC-Chapel Hill’s pan-networking platform providing connectivity very similar to DHIT’s current positioning within the NCHID. “UNC’s education departments had typically operated within silos without cross-communication and thus Innovate Carolina was designed to disrupt that inefficiency and establish a conduit across all the different programs across the university to allow for innovation and entrepreneurship flow and capabilities to flourish.” In recent years, Innovate Carolina has postured itself external to the university and is providing much of the innovation and entrepreneurial resources to not just faculty, students, and alumni but also to the community at large through innovation hubs. She mentioned that, “Specifically, as part of our economic development strategy, Innovate Carolina is opening two, 20,000 square foot co-working and innovation hubs in downtown Chapel Hill and in Chatham Park to host various programs, resources, and mentorships.” The goal is to distribute innovation within Chapel Hill and outwardly to all of the different counties across the state by assembling start-up companies to learn and deploy how Innovate Carolina can support their needs with physical space and other resources to positively impact the economy. “As that process is actualized, Innovate Carolina is actively looking to partner with experts across the digital health ecosystem, like DHIT and the NCHID, to establish a foundation of partners who bring specific expertise in established life-science industries and sectors.”

Sheryl continued that Innovate Carolina’s goal with the development of their innovation hubs is to be the bridge between the community and the university and connect start-ups with the growth engine capabilities that UNC offers, not just from a research perspective, but also from a talent acquisition perspective. For example, Sheryl explained that “a missing piece in UNC’s innovation ecosystem has been the value that partners-in-industry can bring the faculty and their curriculum through collaboration and connection via innovation hub development.” This has informed Innovate Carolina’s current partnership with the School of Data Science and Society and their ongoing development of a minor in Engineering. Both partnerships have vast digital health applications and will be reliant upon established industry partners to help build out curricula and lesson plans and inform faculty what needs to be addressed and focused on “to enable the workforce of the future.”

Finally, both Sheryl and Michael touched on the integrated capacity and capability of DHIT and Innovate Carolina via the NCHID to pave the way for community health and wealth through critical programming, infrastructure, and the growing ecosystem of digital health resources and talent across the state. Sheryl mentioned that, “there needs to be a cultural shift” within antiquated health systems much like that within the university and that Innovate Carolina has found that DHIT has the depth of knowledge and granular focus necessary within the digital health space to complement the broad resources Innovate Carolina can offer to combat those inefficiencies. Sheryl continued, “DHIT can teach us what needs to happen in the digital health space and we can deploy the resources necessary to support that mission. A partnership simply makes sense.”

Many thanks to Sheryl for the illuminating discussion to kick off a new year of programming. DHIT has been so thrilled to partner with Sheryl and Innovate Carolina to continue the diligent work necessary to connect the North Carolina digital health ecosystem and evolve from innovation-in-isolation to the shared learning and best practices required to make North Carolina a healthier and wealthier place to live. 

And thank you to all those in our community dedicated to our purpose and passion. We hope this new year brings you all the joy and success you deserve.

Talk soon