How Sling Health grew from a Washington University organization to a national model

In January 2013, their second year of the M.D./Ph.D. program in biomedical engineering at Washington University, Stephen Linderman and his classmates made two critical observations: First, clinicians had persistent medical problems they wanted to solve. Second, their class consisted of an unusually high number of biomedical engineers—six or seven as opposed to the usual one or none at all.

President of Sling Health Network Stephen Linderman with St. Louis Chapter President Ian Schillebeeckx (Photo: Wesley Law)

“Coming from an engineering background, our perspective was, why don’t we make it better by the time we practice?” says Linderman, now president of Sling Health Network, formerly known as IDEA Labs.

The resulting organization was called IDEA Labs (the founders changed its name in September). It began as a WashU student group in 2013 and became an incorporated nonprofit in April 2014 with a three-pronged mission: solve medical problems, train innovators and improve healthcare. To that end, the program brings together interdisciplinary student teams with the intent to create startups that produce solutions.

Fast Traction

The organization took off on WashU’s campus right off the bat: “Even within the first week it became a much broader thing than an interest group,” says Linderman, who adds that it grew to include biomedical engineers, medical students, business students, law students and other types of engineers. “We really are bringing together people from the entire campus.”

But it also grew geographically: Sling Health’s St. Louis teams now boast students from SLU and UMSL, and due to the universal issues it seeks to solve, Sling Health organically expanded to branches in Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, New Orleans and Ann Arbor.

To keep up with the rapid expansion, Sling Health moved into CIC@CET in 2014. Linderman says the change of scenery was more than just cosmetic: It enabled students to get off campus and start figuring out how to get their solutions implemented clinically.

“We wanted teams to see it not just as an academic project, but as something much more tangible,” he says, adding that the neutral location offers up a greater pool of talent for the ambitious students. “Teams inevitably need particular skill sets they can’t find at a single university. By bridging campuses across the city, we are able to start satisfying those skill niches.”

>>