New digital health technology course introduces grad students to the world of digital health and entrepreneurship

Mashiyat Ahmed

For the first time this winter semester, the Institute for Management & Innovation's Master of Biotechnology program (MBiotech) in partnership with the UTM’s hub for entrepreneurship, ICUBE, has successfully launched a new course exploring the intersection of digital health technologies, entrepreneurship, and innovative business thinking. The course, titled BTC1895H: Digital Health Marketing and Regulatory Compliance, gives students a fantastic and previously underserved opportunity to engage their entrepreneurial skills and academic knowledge to support startups in the healthcare space. This year’s course instructor is Professor Jingyuan Zhao, who will be ensuring students are academically prepared to support startups, while ICUBE, the University’s hub for social entrepreneurship, is responsible for connecting students to startups that fit their knowledge and skills set.  


ICUBE Program Coordinator Kayla Sousa
ICUBE Program Coordinator Kayla Sousa

Reflecting on the course's origins, ICUBE program coordinator Kayla Sousa remarks that the motivation for bringing this course to life was to “encourage entrepreneurial thinking and activities directly in the classroom.” ICUBE frequently collaborates with various departments at UTM and IMI to enhance student learning by incorporating case studies and partnering with community startups, urging students to “solve social problems and think innovatively to create solutions.” 

As the winter semester continues, students work closely with for-profit and non-profit community startups to tackle problems in healthcare from a business and social entrepreneurial lens, which includes everything from developing effective market plans, meeting regulatory considerations, and leveraging social media to raise awareness. Some of these startups are designed to address niche healthcare needs that often go systematically unnoticed by our larger healthcare services, and often disproportionately impact communities of colour or disabled individuals. MBiotech students in the digital health technologies (DHT) stream “have the academic knowledge that startups don’t necessarily have. DHT students have the science ‘know-how’ and are now building that ‘business know-how' by working directly with founders,” says Sousa. In bridging the gap between academia and the real-world, students are exposed to the complex social dimensions of healthcare realities, as well as how the skills they have gained through their time at IMI can help improve unfortunate healthcare situations.  

What makes BTC1895H different and innovative from other courses? For Sousa, it’s the opportunity for students to delve into the evolving field of digital health technologies (e.g., telemedicine, health apps, and medical devices). Sousa states that in the past, experiential learning for other courses often involved app development and coding, but through the introduction of BTC1895H, students will get a chance to “solve problems that specifically relate to healthcare, and to bettering the lives of people who are suffering.”  

In developing this course, it was important to consider the fast-paced nature of the digital health industry and entrepreneurship itself. The introduction of artificial intelligence and new ways of thinking about the world irrevocably changes industries moving forward: how can students keep up with these, sometimes unforeseen, changes and challenges? According to Sousa, “[through this course], students have the experience of immersing themselves in startup culture, and seeing how fast-paced that is, which I hope can prepare them for the field that they are entering.” Having a glimpse into real-world digital health applications will hopefully give students transferable skills that they can then apply to new challenges in the future.  

As it's a brand-new course, BTC1895H will exercise and challenge students’ ability to develop and enact innovative solutions to reach startup goals and solve issues that arise along the way. Sousa comments that some of these healthcare startups are still in their infancy and therefore may be experiencing financial limitations: through an innovative and entrepreneurial lens, students will have to work around these limitations to make a meaningful impact. Another issue students will have to address is the tedious and complex regulatory guidelines that underpin a startup’s success. That’s why thinking outside the box and being resourceful are integral for student success in BTC1895H.  

As the semester carries on, students taking BTC1895H are not only going to be challenged and rewarded for their work but will also have a chance to consider possible careers paths in startup and health entrepreneurship.