Prevention and Community Health Professor Wins First Place in GW New Venture Competition as Part of Urgent Wellness Team

A team of Milken Institute SPH students and professors won the final round of the ninth annual GW New Venture Competition on April 20.

Team members Freya Spielberg, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor in Prevention and Community Health and director of community-oriented primary care at the Milken Institute SPH, Aubrey Van Kirk Villalobos, M.P.H., M.Ed., director of cancer control and health equity at the Institute for Patient-Centered Initiatives and Health Equity at the George Washington University (GW) Cancer Center, John Barabino, M.B.A., and Luigi Leblanc, M.P.H., CPHIT, won $15,000 for their startup, Urgent Wellness. The team also received $5,000 in a special category prize from the AARP Foundation’s Older-Adult Focused Innovation.

Twelve teams, out of the initial 116 entries, took part in the competition, which is one of the largest collegiate entrepreneurship competitions in the country, was organized by the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship within the Office of the Vice President for Research. Participants competed for $300,000 in cash and in-kind prizes. 

Urgent Wellness is a new health care enterprise that aims to provide health care services at reduced costs to underserved communities. 

“Urgent Wellness stems from the idea that you can improve health outcomes and health disparities while reducing health care costs,” said Villalobos. “Our centers will be staffed by skilled Community Health Workers (CHWs) and provide disease prevention education, chronic disease management counseling and tools, and acute care telemedicine. This will help save money from unnecessary emergency room visits and avoid hospitalizations by helping people better control their health.”

For example, there are about 200,000 people covered by Medicaid in the District, and many are frequent ER visitors. However, 26 percent of hospital admissions are preventable—a fact Urgent Wellness used in their presentation and hopes to help alleviate. Urgent Wellness centers will be placed in low-income housing projects, homeless shelters and community-based service organizations in Washington, D.C., with plans to eventually expand to other markets. 

Before the Venture Competition finalists gave their presentations, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a GW alumnus and former entrepreneur and businessman, delivered the keynote address. He reflected on the importance of entrepreneurship and the need to expand innovation beyond the three major hubs in the United States: Boston, Silicon Valley, and New York. “All of the net new jobs created in America have been created by startups,” Warner said. 

Largely bypassing talk of partisanship or politics, the only time Warner mentioned the Senate was when he said that he is looking for ways to expand entrepreneurship there. He told the audience that business innovation needs to combine with policy and it can’t be left to the politicians. “There’s no place better than George Washington University to combine policy and business ventures," he said.

Learn more about this year’s GW Venture Competition here, and you can read more about Urgent Wellness on their website