image title

HEALab to offer entrepreneurial services to downtown, health-centric community

Health-centric entrepreneurs have a new resource in downtown Phoenix: HEALab.
September 6, 2017

Recently launched initiative to provide mentoring, workshops, physical space and more to ASU students and the public

Arizona State University has a reputation for innovation, so it’s no surprise that its schools are brimming with resources to support entrepreneurial and solutions-based endeavors.

There’s the Center for Entrepreneurship at the W. P. Carey School of Business for enterprising businesspeople, E+I at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering for aspiring rocket scientists and the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication for go-getting journalists.

But when it came to budding health-care professionals, there was a gap. Healthcare Innovation Program Director and Clinical Professor Rick Hall filled that gap Wednesday with the soft launch of HEALabHEALab stands for Health Entrepreneurship Accelerator Lab. on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campusHEALab occupies the same space as Taylor Place Kitchen, on the south side of Taylor Place..

Hall pitched the idea of a health- and wellness-centric entrepreneurship lab six months ago to leaders at the College of Nursing and Health Innovation (CONHI) because, he said, “There was a little bit of a vacuum on the downtown campus for entrepreneurial activity. There are great colleges that have students with entrepreneurial aspirations, but we didn’t really have the resources that you see on some of the other campuses.”

There were times when Hall, who teaches entrepreneurial courses for CONHI, was approached by such students and had to refer them elsewhere.

“So now,” he said, “instead of sending students away to SkySong or somewhere else, we have our own lab on campus where we can encourage students to come in, work together to ideate solutions to problems related to health and take the next step, and help them work on things like business plans and marketing, things that they need to start up their solution.”

At Wednesday’s soft launch, Hall was working with dietetics undergraduate Erin Washbon on a business model for her diabetic meal-kit company, which she hopes will help recently diagnosed diabetics adjust to the lifestyle change by providing well-balanced meals along with educational information.

The way Hall and Washbon have approached the business plan — fluidly, by writing, erasing and rewriting lists under headers with labels like “resources,” “value proposition” and “costs” on a whiteboard instead of typing up a more traditional, fixed 10-page document — allows for flexible thinking and the ability to adapt as customers, markets and needs change.

It’s a brainstorming process Hall foresees all mentors and mentees at HEALab employing, followed by building a prototype and testing it out. Washbon, a junior, hopes to have a solid enough plan to pitch at one of the many ASU startup competitions before she graduates.

“There are so many invaluable resources at ASU, it would be silly not to take advantage of them,” she said.

And you don’t even have to be a student to do so.  

Drew Saenz, a former student of Hall’s who graduated in 2015 with a degree in exercise and wellness, started a successful company called Team Up that focuses on providing fitness training to special-needs kids. He’s looking to branch out into corporate wellness and visited HEALab on Wednesday to brainstorm with Hall on ways to do that.

Hall immediately introduced Saenz to Washbon and urged them to exchange contact information. It’s clear he relishes these kinds of moments, opportunities for like-minded individuals to connect, share and perhaps create something new.

“A year from now, they could have a business together,” Hall said.

There are a handful of other projects Hall has been working with that he hopes to bring into the fold at HEALab, including a fitness app that uses an avatar to show people how their body will change; a nonprofit that hopes to provide detox services to infants of opioid-addicted mothers; and a business that would provide insurance for preventative health rather than treatment.

As it evolves, HEALab plans to offer a monthly speaker series (beginning Oct. 11); weekly networking and idea-generation meetings; pitch competitions; mentoring and office hours; a space in which all that can happen; and more. And it’s all available to students, faculty, staff, alumni and the general public. 

“That’s really unique and smart because if we’re helping the community, it just helps us, and it helps with ASU’s mission of social embeddedness in the downtown area,” Hall said.

HEALab will also provide services to participants of Prepped, a free six-week program offered by ASU’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation that began last year as a way to support entrepreneurs from underserved communities start food businesses.

The official grand opening of HEALab will be in October, but Hall encourages anyone interested in what it has to offer to stop by and check it out on the ground floor of Taylor Place, a residence hall on the Downtown Phoenix campus.

“Our goal,” said Hall, “is to connect the dots between these enormous opportunities for innovation and the resources to make them happen.”

For more information about HEALab, visit its webpage at


Top photo: Erin Washbon meets with the director of the HEALab, Rick Hall, at Wednesday's soft launch of the entrepreneurial space. The startup incubator is geared toward health and wellness students on the Downtown Phoenix campus but is open to students of any major, as well as faculty, staff, alumni and the general public. Photo by Anya Magnuson/ASU Now

image title

ASU engineer on rebuilding after a hurricane: First, sweep the porch

September 7, 2017

Starting small is key to disaster recovery, says expert who lived through Katrina and created a firm to help rebuild New Orleans

When Tony Lamanna bought his home in New Orleans, the civil engineer discovered a hatchet in the attic. The hatchet was stored there to chop an escape hole through the roof if the house flooded up to the attic. It’s a Gulf Coast precaution. When he sold the house, it stayed there.

Lamanna, now an associate professor in Arizona State University’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, was teaching at Tulane University when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005.

When Tulane started shutting down its engineering programs, Lamanna stayed and started an engineering firm to assist rebuilding the city. His expertise eventually grew to encompass building repair, rehabilitation, retrofit and adaptive reuse.

Like the rest of the nation, he watched this past month as Hurricane Harvey slammed into metro Houston, covering 70 percent of Harris County’s 1,800 square miles with 1.5 feet of water, killing about 50 people, damaging or destroying 200,000 homes and displacing more than a million people.

“This is going to be a massive, massive cleanup process,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told “Good Morning America.” “This is not going to be a short-term project. This is going to be a multi-year project for Texas to be able to dig out of this catastrophe.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner made a public plea over the holiday weekend.

“Over 95 percent of the city is now dry,” he told NBC News. “And I'm encouraging people to get up and let's get going.”

It turns out that’s the best advice anyone can give. ASU Now spoke with Lamanna about first steps and next steps. 

Question: Large-scale — you’ve got to get the power and water on before you do anything. What are the next steps after that?

Answer: There’s a lot going on there. Probably if your house was flooded the power company is going to pull the meter because they don’t want you just turning the power back on. You’re probably going to need a licensed electrician to certifty your house before they give you your meter back.

It’s “start inward.” It’s such a monumental task for cleaning up after. What do you do when the city is destroyed? The best piece of advice I got came from a friend of mine in New Orleans who is German. He had a mother who lived through World War II. She lived in Dresden, so the city was destroyed. What do you do? Take care of your house. Sweep the porch. Sweep the debris. Fix what you can fix in your house. Then you help the neighbors with their house. Then you help the neighborhood. And you just go out from there. You have to start small. This is what happened in Katrina. You see it when there’s disasters ... there’s going to be some level of shock there, but you have to start doing something.

Q: What are city officials looking at at this point? They want to get the trash picked up, all the debris that has been hauled out to the curb.

A: There’s going to be staging areas. In New Orleans they have West End Boulevard where they just immediately piled everything. ... After Katrina there were houses in the middle of the road, so you had to get stuff cleared to move through the area. They need to have first responders able to get to people, so they’re clearing a path.

They’re checking out their infrastructure. A lot of neighborhoods flooded after the fact because they had to relieve pressure on levees.

Q: There was still flooding as of this week. People are still getting flooded out.

A: That’s probably their number one concern right now, that they don’t have failure in the infrastructure system, in the water control system. If a levee goes, everyone gets flooded. So it’s right now it’s selective flooding to relieve pressure. I’m pretty sure the backs (of the levees) aren’t armored. You armor the front for water lapping up against it. Often the back side only has grass. If it overtops, it’s going to erode. It’s funny because the Army Corps considers grass to be armor.

Q: The governor of Texas said it’s going to take years to recover from this. Is that accurate?

A: Actually it might be even more because of the magnitude. The metro New Orleans area when Katrina hit was 1.5 million (people). What’s Houston — 6.5 million? And this is not just Houston; this is Beaumont, Port Arthur, this is major.

Officials are probably focusing on infrastructure right now. As much as they need to take care of residents, getting the port facilities back in business, getting the business infrastructure back in place is important. Getting the schools open; after Katrina, most schools didn’t think about opening for a semester, let alone a year. ... Schools are important, because you’re going to start losing professionals who have kids. ... That’s a big thing.

Q: There’s talk of buying people out and not letting them build in certain areas.

A: This is another discussion. Part of the puzzle is what do you do next? It’s politically insensitive to say, “We’re not rebuilding that area” in general because those areas tend to be poorer. ...

I feel that could potentially be a plan for next time, that we don’t rebuild certain areas. You make the plans now for the next time, because you’ve got these large swaths of the city where we’re providing police protection, fire protection, and you’ve got the infrastructure, water, sewer and very few residents. I think there’s an opportunity — not for this time, but for next time — for Houston to say, “We need to further develop this spillway; when the water gets high we can open it up and flood these grassy plains or baseball fields or something,” and not allow construction there.

Answers edited for clarity and length. Top photo: Flooding in Port Arthur, Texas. Photo by SC National Guard (170831-Z-AH923-023) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons