UofL, partners issue $1.5 million health equity innovation challenge

Team including UofL, Render, Kentucky Department for Public Health and Access Ventures opens applications for new Reconstruct Challenge; 15 winners each will receive $100,000 to pilot innovations
A team presents at the 2022 Reconstruct Challenge. (Photo courtesy of Render, an innovation studio.)
A team presents at the 2022 Reconstruct Challenge. (Photo courtesy of Render, an innovation studio.)

The University of Louisville and partners have launched a new $1.5 million innovation challenge centered on tackling pressing problems in health equity, with 15 winners each receiving $100,000 to further their ideas. 

This new Reconstruct Challenge is led by the UofL Health Equity Innovation Hub (HEIH), in partnership with Render, an innovation studio, with funding from the Kentucky Department for Public Health’s Office of Health Equity and the private operating foundation, Access Ventures.

Together, they will select five winners for each of the following categories: 1) food access, 2) maternal and child health and 3) non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) and access in the Louisville region. 

“By bringing together the lived experiences of community members, academic expertise, industry knowledge and entrepreneurs, the goal is to create solutions in partnership with the people experiencing these health inequities every day,” said Ben Reno-Weber, challenge lead and deputy director of HEIH within UofL’s Office of Research and Innovation. HEIH is an innovative partnership among UofL, Humana Inc. and the Humana Foundation focused on solving important health equity challenges through research, innovation and talent pipeline development.

Render is the executing partner of this grant and will launch the national call for innovations and the evaluation process. Each of the 15 winners will be awarded $100,000 in development funding and will participate in a 12- to 18-month proof-of-concept phase where they will work with community partners and UofL researchers to pilot their innovations in the Louisville region. 

“Addressing inequities in our communities is vital work because we know we are only as strong as our most vulnerable populations,” said Kentucky Public Health Deputy Commissioner for Clinical Affairs and Interim Director of the Office of Health Equity Connie White. “We need to work together to elevate all of us. The Kentucky Department for Public Health is happy to be a contributing partner.”  

Applications are now open on the Reconstruct Challenge website, and an informational webinar will be held July 27. After the initial pilot period, successful innovations will have the opportunity to receive additional funding to further scale. 

This innovation program builds on UofL’s track record as a research powerhouse and the prior successes of the two previous Reconstruct Challenges launched by Access Ventures in 2019 and 2022 addressing housing and barriers to employment, respectively. This Reconstruct Challenge series is funded by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services and Access Ventures. 

“Poverty and its related challenges are cyclical and complex, and there are no silver bullet solutions,” said Access Ventures Managing Director Bryce Butler, who spearheaded the first two Reconstruct Challenges in 2019 and 2022. “We believe that if we work together, we can enact meaningful change and increase health equity in Louisville and Southern Indiana, which is why I’m so excited to expand Reconstruct with the help of new partners.” 

The inaugural Reconstruct Challenge in 2019, founded by Access Ventures, focused on finding creative solutions to the affordable housing gap in the United States and granted six innovations of $300,000 each. Winners included Padsplit, Working Your Way Home, Urban Institute, Nesterly, Haven Connect and mRelief, of which the latter three received $350,000 (mRelief), $100,000 (Nesterly), $100,000 (Haven Connect) in follow-on capital to further scale. Through the first program iteration alone, 71,725 lives have been impacted, over $51 million unlocked for families already, and a 22-fold return on impact realized through these six innovative solutions.

A second Reconstruct Challenge in 2022 focused on finding creative approaches to making employment more equitable, and $100,000 was awarded to each of five innovative solutions to deploy in Louisville and Southern Indiana.  

This set of Reconstruct Challenges is open to anyone in the United States as long as the beta test of the innovation takes place in the Louisville region. Important dates for applicants: 

  • All Applications Open: July 21
  • All Applications Close: Aug. 10
  • Food Justice Showcase Event: Sept. 18
  • Maternal Health Showcase Event: Sept. 19 
  • NEMT and Healthcare Access Showcase Event: Sept. 20 

For more information or to apply to the program please visit reconstructchallenge.com

Source: UofL, partners issue $1.5 million health equity innovation challenge (UofL News, July 18, 2023)