BIL and TED’s Excellent (But Little Known) Healthcare Adventure in San Diego


Xconomy San Diego — 

Did you know that Goldie Hawn, David Blaine, and Martha Stewart are coming to San Diego at the end of October to discuss…healthcare? Probably not, maybe because the exclusive TEDMED2009 conference is $4,000 to attend, and already sold out. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and its conferences aim to bring together people from different backgrounds to stimulate innovation. The TEDMED conference is independent from TED, but appears similar in style.

BIL conferences piggy back on TED conferences, offering a more informal, affordable, ‘grass roots’ option. BIL is not an ‘official’ acronym, and was honestly chosen based on the ’80s movie “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” Perhaps to signify the BIL conferences’ universal appeal and inclusiveness, different words beginning with B, I, and L appear each time you visit their websites (for example ‘Beauty, Inspiration, Logic.’). BIL conferences have been described as ‘(providing) an irreverent counterbalance to the wide-eyed earnestness of TED.’ The BIL conferences are organized as so-called ‘unconferences’ which are free and attendee-driven, and BIL:PIL is the healthcare ‘flavor.’ A few of the BIL:PIL speakers are invited, and others submit their talks to be voted on. Like TEDMED, it will bring together visionaries from different fields and disciplines, including scientists, patient advocates, and leaders, to discuss healthcare. Indeed, some TED speakers have been known to leave its posh settings to have fun with the BIL attendees, which in this case would mean a trek from the Hotel Del Coronado to San Diego State University’s BioScience Center.

If the BIL:PIL conference is free, does that mean the speakers will be less qualified? Not really. What BIL:PIL lacks in hype, it makes up in the passion of its organizers, who champion the event. I met BIL:PIL founder Jonathan Sheffi, formerly of Amgen and currently attending Harvard Business School, in Washington DC, and he described his vision for the conference. What follows is Sheffi’s ‘pitch’ for the conference.

“Healthcare innovation is too important a topic to be left to a select few. Through the unconference model, we’re inviting all healthcare pioneers to share their work with the world. Whether it’s the latest innovation in stem cells, a new way for patients to find each other online, or a revolution in open science — the world is waiting to hear from you. More importantly, San Diego’s great promise as a world leader in healthcare makes it the ideal host for this event.”

Sheffi has been successful in securing many thought leaders in the so-called healthcare 2.0 movement, which aims to use tenets of new and social media to revolutionize the industry. Speakers range from those using lessons from Harvard Business School to lower healthcare costs, to virtual reality software, to online communities for patients. One of the headliners is Joe Trippi, well known for his utilization of social media to herald a new era of political campaigning in 2004 through Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. More recently, Trippi authored ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,’ a book which explains how the radical changes taking place in media and on the Internet are transforming many aspects of our lives by more evenly distributing power. It will be interesting to hear how Trippi envisions grassroots efforts being used to change healthcare.

What is the San Diego tie-in to BIL:PIL? Our region is known for our myriad world-class research institutions and a thriving biotechnology hub, and perhaps lesser known for bridging the gap between science and healthcare, until recently. UCSD’s Division of Translational Research and Scripps’ Translational Science Institute are newly formed and aim to train basic researchers on the impact of academic science in medicine. UCSD Medical center has gotten good ratings for being a ‘wired’ hospital, and has recently appointed a Founding Chief of Biomedical Informatics, who will bridge the UCSD Medical Center scientists with technologies that will help them to understand, diagnose and treat patients.

San Diego’s mix of biotech and high tech also makes it an ideal location for BIL:PIL, as it will be a place for forging alliances to make important healthcare innovations. The San Diego tech-savvy community is also no stranger to the ‘unconference’ idea, hosting Internet/computer focused BarCamps. These events become ‘the place’ for advancements in disparate fields, because they’ve shown the power of interdisciplinary, user-run events. Indeed, such events often form quickly and gain exposure through San Diego’s active Twitter community, which is ranked 6th in the number of users among global cities, impressive for a city that ranks much lower when considering its population.

Who should attend BIL:PIL? Anyone who is passionate about the future of healthcare. Granted, the talks may be somewhat technical, but I think the opportunities to learn what’s new in the field, and talk with those passionate about the cause is worth it. You’re likely to meet scientists, doctors, patients/advocates, communications professionals, among others, and get an overview of the future of healthcare. Of course, this is an important issue for us all personally, but it is also relevant to jobseekers in many sectors. What’s most exciting about BIL:PIL may be the fact that it puts the future of healthcare in the hands of the people who care and have the skills to elicit change. Even better? They want to hear what you have to say.

Mary Canady, Ph.D. is the founder of Comprendia, a firm specializing in helping biotechnology and life science companies grow through the creation, commercialization, and communication of value. Follow @

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5 responses to “BIL and TED’s Excellent (But Little Known) Healthcare Adventure in San Diego”

  1. Mary,

    Good article. We have also been following the emergence in San Diego of what appears to be a unique Wireless/Healthcare cluster spurred in large part by Qualcomm, the academic community and young companies locally developing products to monitor blood sugar, heart rhythms and patient vital signs.

    In 2005 the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance emerged in San Diego, an organization of companies interested in wireless health care. More recently, a pilot program to create the world’s first physician-scholar program to focus on wireless health care research has resulted in two physicians who will spend two years in new positions at the Scripps Translational Science Institute In addition, San Diego is host to wireless IT healthcare research at UCSD, the related California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology – CalIT2, and an emerging hub for computer-analytics/wireless health care startup companies including Santech, DexCom, and Triage Wireless. See post at MedTech-IQ for more info:

    Thanx for your observations. We are watching with interest from across the country on the East Coast.


  2. Whether PopTech this week, BIL or TED someone needs to address the broader link between open source solutions like LINUX and the potential for open source solutions to address under funded areas like rare disease or pediatric devices. Jonathan Jacoby is focused on former and we have two Fellows at Stanford focused on latter …maybe better to stay underground

  3. Wake up San Diego! Get with the user generated movement in health care. Whether Bil:Pil, Health 2.0 or HealthCamp; we are national lagers.

    Join the conversation….lets take ownership for what ails our health care system and enter the dialog as empowered agents of change. This is one venue; get involved!

  4. Arthur Canady says:

    As a senior I am very encouraged to hear of these experts involvement in health care issues. The near and long term future of health care can’t be left to the politicians.