When you hear of ‘health tech’ or ‘health innovation,’ the first places that come to mind are usually Silicon Valley, Boston or New York City. Yet, this past weekend’s event shook that notion for everyone that attended. It is not just big cities like SF, Boston or NYC that are experiencing a surge of innovation and entrepreneurship. In fact, even the smallest towns across the nation are taking technology and the power of internet to confront our nation’s growing health problems. CajunCodeFest, in Lafayette, Louisiana, is no exception.
An incredible crew of nearly 300 entrepreneurs, health experts, students, coders, and professionals gathered in Lafayette this weekend, representing 3 countries, 15 states, and 40 cities. With Louisiana having the second highest obesity rates (after Mississippi), the code-a-thon marked an important stepping stone for the state in its battle against obesity. As obesity rates continue to rise, the epidemic is now considered one of the nation’s biggest public health problems. The Louisiana Secretary of Health and Hospitals, Bruce Greenstein, put it loud and clear during his opening remarks, stating how “we have failed to take personal responsibility” for our obesity problems and we continue to blame others for this growing issue. That’s why the CajunCodeFest taking place in Lafayette was more important than ever.
Last year Priceline founder Jay Walker bought TEDMED –a conference that licenses the TED style and brand but is separately owned from its famous cousin. While there was some fun controversy about the sale, Walker made two key decisions. First he moved the conference from San Diego to Washington D.C. to try to get it more central to the health policy debate, and second he initiated a set of 50 Great Challenges from which the community voted a top 20. These are things like tackling the obesity crisis, getting transparency in medical research, training next generation of leaders and more.
Much of the fun and high production value entertainment from previous years stayed, but there was a new sense of urgency in the air concerning making changes from a top down and bottom up level in the way policy works for science and technology. There was rather less information technology than in years past and more emphasis on things like training of physicians, food policy, and basic science.
Like TED there’s a strong sense of celebrity at TEDMED with entrepreneurs like Walker and buddy AOL founder Steve Case on hand, mixing with newscaster Katie Couric and volleyball pro Gabby Reece. There’s also an interesting (and we hear not cheap) sponsorship model with the exhibit hall being more about zones for discussion rather than tradeshow demos. We like Philips sleep discussion and Booz Allen Hamilton’s discussion area.
Over the exhilarating four days this past week, we all fell in love a little bit — with the city, the Center, the meeting, the ideas, and one another. The city was Washington, DC, a touch past its cherry-blossom blush; the meeting was, of course, TEDMED. The ideas were of about honoring our health, environment, food, and about making health and healthcare efficient and kind for all.
I fell in love with dreamers. Though their dreams were varied, their paths to fulfilling them all converged into the same stream. Like a trip down the Amazon that the biggest dreamer of all, Jay Walker, the curator and the force behind the meeting used as a metaphor for TEDMED 2012, they accepted their tortuous and demanding journeys and, much to our delight and benefit, made a stop at the Kennedy Center. And although I will only mention a few, many others will stay with and inspire me for the months to come until TEDMED 2013.
I fell in love with Bryan Stevenson, who spoke about his grandmother and identity and justice.