By Scott McGregor
Submitted by Cisco Systems, Inc.
Now that the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2022 winners have been officially announced, you’ll want to learn more about each winning team and the story behind each innovation. The Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge is an online competition that awards cash prizes to early-stage tech entrepreneurs solving the world’s toughest problems. Since 2017, the competition has awarded $3.25 million USD to 78 start-ups from 25 countries.
We are excited for you to learn more about the 2022 winning teams addressing some of the biggest challenges we face through technology-based solutions.
This year, Cisco offered a special HBCU Startup Prize to a team with a founder who is a student or graduate of one of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and who presents an innovative technology solution that addresses a social or environmental problem. This $50,000 USD prize supports our $150 million commitment to the strategic recovery, sustainability, and legacy of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
This year’s HBCU Startup Prize winners come from two distinguished HBCUs – co-founders Kesha Lee attended Dillard University, and Carlisha Gentles, PharmD, BCPS, attended Howard University. Their united mission at Salveo Innovations is to improve health literacy and patient-provider relationships through an easy-to-use, patient-centered application solution. I sat down with co-founder Carlisha Gentles to discuss beginnings, inspirations, and how this award will impact Salveo Innovations.
What problem is your technology solution trying to solve?
Carlisha: Low health literacy is one of the top crises threatening the healthcare of our nation. Over a million people in the U.S. have low health literacy. Communities of color are more impacted than others, but you can see it amongst all races and all socio-economic statuses. Even some individuals with higher level degrees can have difficulty breaking down complex health information when it’s presented to them.
So that’s our mission. We’re trying to ensure that everyone can take health information that’s presented to them, utilize it, and understand it. And once they’ve been given clear instructions by their doctor or other healthcare provider, they can take actionable steps to have the best possible health care outcomes.
Can you explain how the solution works?
Carlisha: What we’ve heard often in the community is that many people don’t know what to ask their providers or I don’t feel comfortable asking them questions. Our core product, which we affectionately named ‘Tyrone,’ is an application in development that’s culturally responsive, culturally sensitive, and community driven. It helps patients navigate their healthcare encounters with their providers by giving them critical information when they need it most.
The solution helps patients navigate the level of care they will need based upon their symptoms and other patient information provided. It also helps them prepare for the appointment. And then post-appointment, this solution delivers feedback, post-care instructions, lab results, and prescription nudges. It also provides prescribers’ discharge notes or summaries, filled out through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). And the more the patient uses the application, the better the application (and ML) learns how they communicate – so the solution improves the more the patient uses it.
What is innovative about the way you are solving the issue? What sets your solution apart?
Carlisha: Many establishing medical documents are written at an eighth grade reading comprehension level. But even when health information is available at an eighth grade reading level, many of our most vulnerable communities are only at a third grade reading comprehension level.
So that’s the added component of our innovative solution – incorporating ML and AI, so that we’re able to break that information down further for the patient to understand. So any patient using the application can say, ‘my doctor said that I have diabetes, Tyrone. I don’t understand what he said. Can you explain this further for me?’ And the patient can then have an understandable health information exchange.
What inspired you to develop this solution?
Carlisha: Kesha and I were both born and raised in urban areas in the south. She grew up in Alabama and I’m from Georgia. Growing up in Georgia, I personally saw systemic structural racism from an education and healthcare system perspective. And my co-founder Kesha often remembers accompanying her grandmother to the hospital whenever she needed a doctor. The vestiges of the Tuskegee experiment were ever-present, and her grandmother didn’t trust the healthcare system.
With Tyrone, we envision a world where no one has communication barriers when interacting with their healthcare system, when everyone can utilize their provided health information to make better decisions. Not only for them, but for their families as well. And this is a world that we’re building with Tyrone. We want to give people a greater sense of self-agency.
How will winning a prize in the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge help you advance your business?
Carlisha: It’s going to be transformative for our business and development of Tyrone. Just getting that big stamp of approval, like, ‘hey, we see you. We appreciate what you’re doing. We get it.’ Every interaction with Cisco’s teams – helping us, guiding us, preparing us – has been amazing and helped to elevate not just us, but all the Global Problem Solver participants – which I think is phenomenal.
I sum it all up with this quote: ‘We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. Ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others for their sakes and for our own.’
Do you know what you will use the prize money for specifically?
Carlisha: We’ve already mapped it out. We are contracting with a UI/UX and app developer to scale the current version of Tyrone from clickable prototype to an actual full beta version. This will allow us to begin user testing and launch our MVP for Q4. We also intend to hire at least one or two paid interns. We’re dedicated to supporting HBCU student talent during each phase of our growth. Finally, we have plans to host a community pilot.
What advice do you have for other social entrepreneurs?
Carlisha: Take your time, but hurry. Time is of the essence but going fast without focusing on your offering, value proposition, and the community, you are designing for will lead to more challenges down the line. Building agile systems will be an asset in the short, near, and long-term.
Listen deeply and trust your instincts. It can be incredibly difficult to walk away from funding, considering the current landscape for entrepreneurs, and especially considering the challenges we as women and minority founders face. However, remember that ‘No’ is a complete sentence. We’ve encountered many predatory programs and lending vehicles that have been incredibly discouraging. Hold steady to your integrity, use the experience to learn/gain additional insight, and walk away when things don’t feel right.
Finally, embrace partnerships and seek counsel. Not everyone will get your vision, but work hard to build a team of support grounded in authentic and trusting relationships. One of the things that all entrepreneurs must do is learn how to cede power and trust the gifts of your team. Our success is very much a team effort and we’re incredibly grateful to our operations expert, Natasha Ettienne-Johnson, and strategic advisor, Kornelius Bankston of TechPlug. They’ve been with us from the beginning, helping us to build systems, partnerships, and plan long-term. So, we’d advise any social entrepreneur to identify your key experts, trust the talents, and expertise they bring to the table and then get out of their way.
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