What do you get when you combine a shark tank event and a hackathon with a room full of undergraduate summer research students? A Sharkathon – a competition that challenges teams of students to develop an application and then pitch their invention to judges. Their goal? To create a “skill” or application for Amazon’s artificial intelligence assistant, the Echo Spot, to help patients manage their prescriptions.

Image of winning team
The winning Sharkathon team. Pictured (from left) are graduate student mentor Jim Reigle and undergraduates Henry Greenberg, Alvin Mantey and Scott Vennemeyer.

The final event for this year’s Sharkathon took place Saturday, July 27 and yielded a winning team: The “Managers of Mayhem,” made up of University of Cincinnati undergraduates Henry Greenberg, Alvin Mantey, and Scott Vennemeyer. The competition capped off weeks of work for participants from the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program hosted at the UC College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Projects with a purpose

“All of the students had strong ideas and many showed exceptional skill under pressure,” said Robert Brackenbury, PhD, one of the event organizers and professor emeritus of the UC College of Medicine. “Not surprisingly, many of the students who joined the competition have also been go-getters in the summer research program. We are certainly aiming to recruit them to our medical and graduate programs!”

Image of summer research students at computers
Teams of students worked to develop an application to help patients manage their medications.

The winning team’s project aimed to solve two major problems: failure of patients to take medication as prescribed and possible adverse drug reactions due to combinations of medications.

During the Hackathon portion of the competition, they partially implemented an Echo Spot Skill that both reminds patients to take their pills each day and informs them of possible adverse reactions. As part of the Shark Tank, the team proposed to target their product to insurers because alleviating these problems would substantially reduce medical costs.

Scott Vennemeyer worked in the lab of Danny T.Y. Wu, PhD this summer. Both Scott and Henry Greenberg are Medical Science majors, while Alvin Mantey is a Biological Sciences major. 

Summer research students program

Each year, the SURF program hosts more than 175 students who work in research labs at the UC and Cincinnati Children’s for ten weeks. In addition to their intense research experience, the students participate in a series of scientific, professional development, and social activities. At the end of the summer, each SURF student presents a poster describing their research at a Capstone Poster Session.

The SURF students participating in the Sharkathon received specific instruction in coding throughout the summer from Marcus Renno, an application developer at Cincinnati Children’s, with help from students in the biomedical informatics graduate program. In addition, Thomas Dalziel, PhD, from the UC Lindner College of Business provided instruction in preparing business models and giving pitches to investors (or, in this case, judges!). Business graduate students helped the teams develop their business models.

Image of summer research students presenting
Students also pitched their inventions to a team of judges

Most SURF students are planning to move on to medical and graduate programs in the future. Competing in the Sharkathon gets them involved in the unique applications of the concepts they learn during the summer program, which helps those concepts stick. 

Planning committee and judges

This year’s Sharkathon was designed by a Planning Committee made up of Dr. Brackenbury; Batsheva Guy, PhD; Brett Harnett, MS; Jarek Meller, PhD; Marcus Renno; Matt Schauseil (program manager for the SURF program); Michael Wagner, PhD; and Dr. Wu and was made possible by generous financial support from the Division of Biomedical Informatics

Judges included Dr. Dalziel, Schauseil, Dr. Wu, and Rafal Adamczak, PhD, a visiting scientist in the UC College of Medicine Department of Environmental Health.

Applications for the SURF program open in the fall. For details, visit the SURF program pages at the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s.

Summer research students compete in “Sharkathon”