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Brittany Jennings
April 15, 2020

The E(I) Lab didn’t let COVID-19 keep them from hosting their 5th annual awards ceremony for solving challenges in healthcare.

Participants gathered virtually, which allowed the four teams who have been working over the past six months to still present their work to a panel of judges. UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Dean Angela Kashuba opened the virtual ceremony with a speech about the tenacity and resilience of the University’s students during these uncertain times.

The winning team, named LiRA, was made up of a group of five graduate and professional students representing the School of Medicine, the Gillings School of Public Health, the Kenan-Flagler Business School, and the UNC/NC State Joint Program of Biomedical Engineering.  Together, they worked on a project to restore voice to aphonic patients through the development of lip-reading technology.

“This was a one-of-a-kind opportunity to dig deep into the minds of customers and frame a solution that is intimately paired with reality,” said Nga Nguyen, a 2021 MD/MPH candidate and member of the winning team.

Sam Lai, Ph.D., founder of The E(I) Lab, set this experiential program up specifically for graduate students from various disciplines around campus to tackle unmet healthcare needs, gain first-hand training in prototype development and product design, learn about the latest methods in entrepreneurship and receive coaching and mentorship from our innovation community.

Each team was given six months to develop a marketable innovation that would serve an unmet need for health-care providers and patients. The E(I) Lab program provides the financial support and access to various experts with the goal of removing barriers to entrepreneurship and innovation for participants.

“Every cohort is different,” said Barbara Bell, MEd, associate director of the E(I) Lab.  “In this cohort, all 19 members came together to support each team’s work. They asked questions, offered each other feedback and really came together as a collaborative cohort.”

The four teams that participated in this cohort were:

1st Place: LiRA, cash prize of $3000

2nd Place: IM Fearless, cash prize of $1,500

3rd Place: Medicare Fair, cash prize of $750

4th Place: OTC Buddy, cash prize of $750

Stephanie Hwang, a 2022 Pharm.D. candidate with the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and representing team OTCBuddy, has said of her experience, “E(I) lab has given me a new perspective on collaboration and teamwork, helped me develop new professional skills, and allowed me to contribute to an interprofessional team to solve real-world problems.”

The E(I) Lab is an entrepreneurship and innovation lab launched five years ago out of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and was the first inter-disciplinary lab of its type at the time. The Eshelman Institute of Innovation supported students and their projects.

Applications for Cohort 6 will open on August 1. Those interested in learning more can send an email to Barbara Bell at

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