idea hub impact

Making the most of this new year

New year. new ideas

We did it! We made it through 2020. Happy New Year!

As I begin 2021 with a bowl of soup joumou, I am filled with a sense of optimism. Vaccines are rolling out, the president elect has made public health and pandemic response a priority, and, on a more local level, the BU School of Public Health will welcome our newest class while seeing off the graduates of our most recent class of public health professionals over the coming weeks. Our students are smart, passionate, and eager to solve the world’s most challenging public health problems, and the changing of the semester always brings hope for the future.

Much has and will be written about 2020, including a recent piece by our Dean that urged us to take the long view, after a long year, so I will focus on idea hub, our 2020 launch, and where we hope to take this new initiative in 2021.

2020: idea hub’s First Year

We were ready to hit the ground running when idea hub launched in December 2019. We had our business plan, some shiny new marketing materials, and a clear sense of the value we could bring to BUSPH faculty research and industry. We knew it would be challenging. While these type of industry-academic partnerships are common in engineering and medicine, they have rarely been attempted in public health. While not diminishing the many challenges the world faced over the last year, 2020 offered a silver lining: the world discovered public health.

idea hub had some early successes in 2020. Through close partnerships with our faculty, we facilitated COVID-19 consulting with a large insurance company, assisted faculty in licensing their IP, and partnered with Starbucks and 14 masters students from the schools of public health and hospitality administration to build a COVID-19 policy database. We assembled a world-class Advisory Board. We hosted five COVID-19 research seminars for faculty to share ideas and build cross-departmental collaborations. We launched our website.

Let’s be transparent. Like many startups, we had our share of missteps, delays, and small failures. We launched our first round of funding for Social Impact and Innovation Award for students just as we went into lockdown. We had several projects hit delays or fall apart in the final stages as our industry partners faced pandemic-related economic challenges. We’ve established and tweaked administrative processes, recognizing that industry typically operates at a faster pace than academia. These foibles have helped set the stage for our work in the new year and are thankful to have the knowledge to grow upon.

Looking ahead to 2021

The cornerstone our 2021 efforts will be the BU School of Public Health’s five strategic research directions:

  • Cities and health
  • Climate, the planet, and health
  • Health inequities
  • Infectious diseases
  • Mental and behavioral health

These topics are timely and reflect areas of greatest public health need. We anticipate the mental health effects of the pandemic will shape health for many years, long after we control the pandemic through vaccination.  Extreme weather events and other climate change disasters will continue to impact health and shape the way people live. Specifically, our climate-related work will continue to use data to minimize the health effects of climate change. Racism is a public health problem, which our school will continue to address by helping companies, governments, and other entities change how they operate and interact. We are actively seeking partners in these areas and hope you will reach out to learn more.

It is an exciting time to engage in public health work. As we return to normal and create a new normal, companies should proactively create healthy environments for their employees and incorporate a public health framework in their products. Please contact us today if you are interested in integrating a public health into your strategic plan.

Our students continue to innovate and solve complex public health problems. We are relaunching the Social Impact and Innovation Award so that we can mentor the next generation of social entrepreneurs, with great thanks to our funders at Innovate@BU. Together with our friends in the Career and Practicum Office, we are actively looking for partners who wish to employ masters and doctoral students as practicum interns. Hiring our practicum students is a smart way to engage extraordinarily talented people to tackle high-impact challenges in a focused timeframe. We are also able to pair faculty with large student practicum teams, to draw on both our faculty expertise and reduce the management burden for our partners.

We know the endpoint – health for all – and we are grateful for your partnership as we move forward into this new year.


Vanessa Boland Edouard, MPH, MBA, is the Managing Director of idea hub and Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Boston University School of Public Health. Her professional interests are in building administrative systems and infusing diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice into organizations. She kept herself busy during quarantine by trying to perfect a few Haitian recipes. Her family is very forgiving.

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