Population Health

Cultivating social innovation and social entrepreneurship

A project team works on developing a social robotSolving population health challenges requires new models for bringing the innovative, evidence-based interventions that are developed at the University of Washington to the populations that can most benefit from them. In recent years, social innovation and social entrepreneurship have emerged as important mechanisms by which interventions that improve population health can reach communities.

The UW currently supports a number of entrepreneurial activities both in various schools and colleges across campus and through CoMotion. The entrepreneurial ecosystem is fairly robust for healthcare and biomedical innovations that have strong commercial potential. However, there are fewer options for sustainability beyond grant or philanthropic funding for innovations whose primary purpose is to benefit vulnerable or disadvantaged populations or focus on community-based and upstream determinants of health rather than clinical interventions.

To that end, the initiative is helping to develop a more robust ecosystem for social innovation and entrepreneurship at the UW that supports faculty and students to take on big population health challenges. Current initiative activities in this area include:

Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship

The Population Health Initiative, in partnership with the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, CoMotion and the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, offers a Social Entrepreneurship Fellows Program in which students explore how best to deploy social enterprise models for innovations that are developed by University of Washington researchers.

Every summer, graduate student fellows work to develop novel ideas for how a UW research project can become financially sustainable while also ensuring that the societal impact of their work remains as important as any potential revenue generation.

Honors course in social entrepreneurship

The initiative co-created a first-of-its-kind, five-credit undergraduate Honors course, “Improving Population Health through Social Entrepreneurship,” at the UW in partnership with a faculty member at the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance.

The course, which was first offered during spring quarter 2020, shared a fundamental understanding of the process of social innovation and the role that social enterprises can play in addressing population health challenges.

Innovation award

The initiative partners with UW’s CoMotion every year to offer a Population Health Innovation Award for projects that both support the vision of the Population Health Initiative and fulfill CoMotion’s criteria of eventually becoming a sustainable commercial or social venture.

Web resources

The initiative has catalogued a number of courses, programs and other resources that support students, researchers and members of the public in pursuing social innovation and social entrepreneurship as mechanisms by which to reach communities with socially useful interventions.