MaRS Healthy Behaviour Data Challenge
Canadian innovation hub uses the crowd to develop new technologies to improve public health understanding.
“The Healthy Behaviour Data Challenge — the first challenge MaRS ever produced — identified novel sources of data used to better understand the health and wellness of Canadians. Startup HeroX provided the critical infrastructure and supports necessary for managing the challenge, sourcing creative concepts, prototypes and methodologies from a wide range of innovators.”
- Shahab Shahnazari (PhD)
Director of innovation partnerships
Run by MaRS from April 2017 to March 2018, the Healthy Behaviour Data Challenge sought to identify new data sources and develop new technologies to improve public health understanding in Canada. It received nearly 30 submissions from across the country, and awarded a total prize purse of $165,000 CAD. The challenge was an expression of the MaRS mission — to support entrepreneurs and startups with resources for success; to foster a tech ecosystem that drives innovation; and to identify and break down barriers preventing Canadian innovators from flourishing.
Public health organizations continually seek to improve the methods by which public health is assessed. Wearable devices, mobile applications, and smart home devices are just a few examples of new trends and technologies that generate a broad array of novel data streams. And the identification and analysis of certain data streams can yield more diverse public health information than currently available. The Healthy Behaviour Data Challenge sought to initiate work in this area by asking for new approaches to measure physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep, using non-traditional data sources.
MaRS used HeroX’s platform tools and templates to design and build the Healthy Behaviour Data Challenge as a classic, two-phase, ideation and implementation challenge. In Phase 1, participants proposed new sources of data for tracking physical health and activity, and submitted their ideas for ways to measure and analyze these sources. The authors of the top nine submissions each won $10,000 to develop and implement their proposed approaches. Phase 2 participants then had roughly three months to develop their ideas, collect data, and demonstrate success. The top three Phase 2 participants were each awarded $25,000 for their diverse approaches that included:
estimating sleep quality from phone use;
using smart home technology for real-time monitoring of sleep, physical activity, and sedentary behavior; and
development of a smartphone app that generates concurrent objective measures of sleep, physical activity, and sedentary behavior.
Because the prize purse was provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, participants in the challenge were required to be residents of Canada. However, a joint, partnered effort allowed a parallel U.S.-based challenge on the same topic, with the same name, to run simultaneously. It was sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Running the two challenges in concert allowed them to benefit from a single marketing and promotional effort that increased the audience for this topic, with both Canadian and American ideas reviewed and evaluated, and reduced confusion about eligibility of participants.
The Healthy Behaviour Data Challenge was the first challenge put on by MaRS, and its success has encouraged the innovation hub to run many more. Prior to it, MaRS had been well-known within Ontario, but less so in other Canadian regions. The challenged showed how crowdsourcing helped MaRS achieve multiple goals at once, such as:
bringing in specific solutions to diverse problems;
building awareness of the innovation hub and its work across Canada; and
keeping the Canadian tech ecosystem healthy and robust.
The challenge’s sponsor was so pleased with its results that it connected with two of the Phase 2 runners up in addition to the three winners.
MaRS is North America’s largest urban innovation hub. A registered non-profit, MaRS supports high-growth startups and scale-ups tackling key issues in health, cleantech, fintech and other sectors. In addition, MaRS convenes all members of the tech ecosystem to drive breakthrough discoveries, grow the economy and make an impact by solving real problems for real people — in Canada and around the world.
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