NASA-Funded Program Unveils Innovator Matchmaking Software at SXSW

Houston—Artificial intelligence is being used to attempt to disrupt industries across the economy, but can the technology innovate how innovation itself is discovered and promoted?

That’s the premise of CHIP, the Collaborative Health Innovation Platform, unveiled Sunday at South By Southwest in Austin, TX. By combining data about startups, the technologies they are working on, and other information with needs articulated by groups interested in funding new technologies, the goal is to have a smart online portal through which the parties can better find each other. In other words, this is matchmaking for startups and groups, like NASA and hospital networks, seeking new technologies being developed by entrepreneurs.

“How do we actually make this—sourcing innovation—essentially a science?” says Dorit Donoviel, director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health at Baylor College of Medicine. “It’s such a hit-or-miss process when it comes to sourcing innovation. Everybody is looking for it, but you have to have boots on the ground to find it. This would automate this process.”

The space health institute is a five-year NASA program with as much as $246 million (assuming the program is renewed for another seven years) in non-dilutive federal money allocated to fund innovations that can address health concerns of astronauts in space—and might also contribute to improving healthcare on Earth.

“NASA wants to reach a new audience,” Donoviel says. “Our giant distribution list … it’s the same people we’ve been funding for the last 20 years.”

The space health institute made a $100,000 grant to create the CHIP software platform, which will be managed by the Houston-based consultancy Energizing Health, and to fund a team at Rice University that will develop the first iteration of the software. The first step, says Yael Hochberg, a Rice entrepreneurship professor who is leading the researchers, is to aggregate data from commercial databases like Crunchbase and AngelList.

“Those databases are not set up to search by technology,” she says. “They’re set up to search by company. But if you don’t know what company to look for, it’s difficult to find the innovations you need.”

Hochberg says the CHIP software will use machine learning to classify technologies and tag them to allow more meaningful searches.

So far, the collaboration also includes Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. As the hospital and the space health institute input their innovation needs into the CHIP database, the goal is to add additional parties that may want to be part of the program. Hochberg says as more and more data are added, the platform will leverage A.I. tools to enable “smarter,” more sophisticated searches and also analyze the searches themselves in order to have a better understanding of what the startups and institutions need.

“What are the startups looking for? What kinds of arrangements are they willing to engage in with corporates?” Hochberg says. “What can corporates put on the table that would ensure startups feel secure? This will help everyone communicate in ways that are win-wins for both sides.”

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