There are many in our community who share Southwestern Medical Foundation’s vision to advance public health by creating opportunities for change. Health Wildcatters, a local company that backs health care startup firms, hosts an annual Texas Health Care Challenge hackathon. These hackathons are weekend-long events that bring professionals and students alike together to tackle some of the health care industry’s biggest pain points. Recently, the company hosted its second hackathon specifically catered to women innovators, the WISH (Women in Science and Health Care) hackathon. This year, a unique proposal to extend the life of COVID equipment and PPE caught the judges attention.

Southwestern Medical Foundation is a proud sponsor of the WISH hackathon. We feel privileged to be a part of this important initiative by Health Wildcatters to disrupt the health care industry and find innovative solutions in health care.

“The Scavengers” being presented an award for placing as a finalist during the WISH 2022 hackathon by Hubert Zajicek, MD, MBA, CEO and Co-founder of Health Wildcatters.

The Idea to Limit PPE Waste

We had the opportunity to discuss the inspiring work of some of this year’s WISH hackathon participants, including I-Mei Liao, who was on the team “The Scavengers.” Her team was one of the winning finalists, presenting an innovative way to utilize UV light technology to reduce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) waste during the COVID-19 pandemic by sanitizing masks and gloves for multiple, safe uses in health care facilities.

I-Mei Liao joined with other women entrepreneurs from January 14-15 to come up with a creative way for health care facilities to re-use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) safely with UV light treatment.

An Interview with I-Mei Liao: From “The Scavengers”

Q: What motivated you to participate in the Health Wildcatters WISH hackathon?

A: I am an entrepreneur passionate about bringing positive influences to society. I wanted to network with like-minded entrepreneurs to empower and support each other.

Q: How did you decide to pick your team?

A: It was my first time attending a hackathon, I had no idea what to expect. I decided to go with my intuition. I found the problem that interested me the most and started to converse with the pitcher and potential teammates about what they thought of the problem and potential directions for solutions. My teammates were enthusiastic about the problem and coming up with potential solutions, though none of us had any relevant expertise. I was amazed at how well we were able to work together, meeting each other for the very first time and ONLINE. “The Scavengers” formed organically.

I was very encouraged to learn there are successful female entrepreneur leaders who started out just like us as beginners that I can really relate to and look up to.

I-Mei Liao

Q: What is most inspiring to you about participating in an all-women science and health hackathon?

A: It was inspiring to see so many women from different career paths in STEM come together in their free time to work on health care problems. Although women have been given more opportunities to receive education in the past century, higher leadership positions are mainly male-dominated currently. I was very encouraged to learn there are successful female entrepreneur leaders who started out just like us as beginners that I can really relate to and look up to. Additionally, our team lead was a working mom with two kids. She was able to balance between work and personal life and attended the hackathon at its full length. I was very empowered by her spirit and dedication.

The virtual team “The Scavengers” participating in the 2022 WISH hackathon.

Q: What was the biggest takeaway you left with after the WISH hackathon?

A: There are many like-minded people who share similar passions and who are willing to be supportive of you as a community. Mentoring is also key to accelerating the growth of entrepreneurs. I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with experienced leaders through the WISH hackathon.

Q: What would your advice be to an aspiring entrepreneur?

A: Learn to step out of your comfort zones through practicing. Adopt a growth mindset and don’t be afraid to fail or be challenged. It is also critical to seek out supportive communities where you can empower and encourage each other because it is a very challenging career path to be in. If you have a great support system, entrepreneurship can be very rewarding and does not have to feel extremely hard or lonely.

More from the Hackathon Finalists

Learn more about the WISH 2022 Hackathon from another team member of ‘The Scavengers’ and their unique proposal to extend the life of COVID equipment. Plus, hear from the team who took the top spot and their pitch to cut the cost of diabetes care for both the patient and the provider.