Jewish Healthcare Foundation launches Liftoff PGH
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Jewish Healthcare Foundation launches Liftoff PGH

15-day virtual summit aims to bolster relationships between educational, health care and technological innovators

Liftoff Speaker Dr. Abdesalam Soudi of the University of Pittsburgh stopped by the Liftoff LIFTODROP and posed for a photo with Innovation Associate Megan Butler and Liftoff's mascot own Liftoff Astronaut. The team gave out t-shirts and masks to its early ticket adopters. Photo courtesy of Jewish Healthcare Foundation
Liftoff Speaker Dr. Abdesalam Soudi of the University of Pittsburgh stopped by the Liftoff LIFTODROP and posed for a photo with Innovation Associate Megan Butler and Liftoff's mascot own Liftoff Astronaut. The team gave out t-shirts and masks to its early ticket adopters. Photo courtesy of Jewish Healthcare Foundation

Liftoff PGH 2020 is ready for flight. Jewish Healthcare Foundation’s new initiative, a 15-day virtual summit beginning Dec.1, aims to bolster relationships between educational, health care and technological innovators. The conference will blend augmented reality with digital keynotes and interactive workshops.

The large-scale program is intended to facilitate cross-disciplinary conversation about the efforts needed to further Pittsburgh’s place as a national and global hub for health care, innovation and life sciences, said Karen Wolk Feinstein, JHF’s president and CEO.

Although the city has been recognized for its decades-long commitment to medicine and education, it’s time to consider the region’s future, says Mara Leff, JHF’s director of innovation.

“We think adding tech to those two verticals — meds and eds — is the natural next step to putting Pittsburgh on the map,” Leff said.

Dermatological and ophthalmological smartphone apps are an example of the way technology has the ability to improve health and safety, said Feinstein. With Liftoff PGH, the goal is to “ignite the energy” of people working on solutions to problems in other sectors and get those individuals to focus on health care.

“Liftoff aims to bring together the community and showcase local assets — what's going on here that is cutting-edge and future-oriented — and how can we foster new collaborations and partnerships across the ecosystem while attracting new folks here,” said Leff. “Whether it's in terms of investment in the actual economy, in the innovation economy; whether it's attracting new talent to work here as companies move here and set up shop; or to simply retain talent coming out of our universities.”

As testament to the advancements in tech, organizers dedicated considerable effort to providing attendees with an optimal digital experience. Once inside the virtual conference center, registrants can enjoy schmoozing, workshopping and even an expo.

“Instead of your typical trade show floor, you're going to be able to experience booths virtually,” said Leff. “You can make appointments to talk to the people that are running the booth, you can interact with them, you can pull down materials that they've displayed. It's sort of the future of expo halls as we know it.”

Registrants also will be offered daily activities designed to boost creativity during the conference. The podcasts, presentations and invitations to discuss future possibilities culminate on Dec. 15 and 16 when attendees will enjoy a series of keynote addresses, including a talk from NPR's social science correspondent and “Hidden Brain” host Shankar Vedantam, as well as a behind-the-scenes exploration of Pittsburgh’s most successful startups with local innovation pioneer Ilana Diamond.

During a mid-morning program on Dec. 15, titled “Ideathon Pitch Competition,” representatives from startups LittleMoochie, HeartIO and MindTrace will pitch live for a chance to win $50,000 in prizes available to teams of pre-professional, university and recently graduated students.

Liftoff PGH is among JHF’s most ambitious endeavors in the organization’s 30-year history and reflects the foundation’s broader efforts to create a national Patient Safety Authority at the federal level, said Leff.

Given its goal of reaching an audience of scientists, tech experts, innovators and teachers, Liftoff PGH is another in a series of JHF’s efforts to improve the lives of people in Pittsburgh and around the world, said Feinstein, who is hopeful the conference will draw diverse attendees, especially “young people.”

“I want them to be inspired by the connection of technology, science and health care,” Feinstein said. “Young entrepreneurs are having breakthroughs everywhere … and there’s a lot kids really need to know to thrive in this world of technology entrepreneurship.”

Registration for Liftoff PGH is online at liftoffpgh.org. Scholarship information is available by contacting Mara Leff at Leff@jhf.org. PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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