Skunkworks: Facilitating Innovation to Solve Health Care Problems

What is Skunkworks?

Skunkworks, presented by Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation, is a unique innovation event series hosted by Providence Research (PHIR+E) in partnership with the St. Paul's Foundation. Providence Health Innovation, Research + Engagement (PHIR+E) is part of Providence Research’s Innovation arm.  PHIR+E’s Skunkworks' program objective is to develop a culture of innovation at Providence Health Care, by applying critical thinking to problem solve complex local health problems, which resonate globally. By bridging the gap between diverse individuals and populations, with clinical research scientists and medical professionals, our goal is to help solve the challenging health issues of our times.

The term "skunkworks" originated in the 1940s as an alias for an American engineering lab that worked on top-secret and innovative programs at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. Today, the word “skunkworks” describes a project developed by a loosely structured group of people who identify issues and pilot creative solutions.

Find out more about our previous Skunkworks events below. 

Skunkworks: Hacking Aging 

Empowering aging through innovation - solving the most pressing challenges facing the older population.

October 12-13, 2023

Best Western Premier Chateau Granville Hotel & Suites & Conf. Centre,

1100 Granville St. Vancouver, BC V6Z 2B6

View the agenda here.

What does skunkworks mean?

The term originated in the 1940s. Skunk Works was an alias for an American engineering lab that worked on top-secret and innovative programs at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. Today, the word “skunkworks” describes a project developed by a loosely structured group of people who identify issues and pilot creative solutions.

About this event:

This isn’t your typical conference or seminar. Building off the success of Hacking Pain and Hacking Wounds, we hope our third Skunkworks event, Hacking Aging, will be a catalyst for innovation. There are many challenges around aging waiting to be solved, but often researchers, health care professionals, caregivers, and patients do not have a chance to collaborate and share expertise to ideate together.

Skunkworks brings multidisciplinary teams together and empowers them with mentorship and rapid problem solving tools to address challenges related to older adults.

Why Aging?

Aging is inevitable, but the trick is to live well while we age. Statistics Canada noted in the 2021 census that our fastest growing population is seniors over the age of 65. Globally, the World Health Organization noted that the population aged 85 and older is one of the fastest -growing age groups.

The older population has unique needs and issues. Many face activity limitations, and have specific needs related to health and home care, transportation, and financial security. These issues will also impact younger generations and family members who often help with care. Learning how to adapt new understandings of the aging process will define proactive or pre-emptive aging for generations to come. Aging is a real-world problem that needs creativity, collaboration and innovation to solve.

Registration is limited to Providence Health Care, Providence Research, staff from partnering health authorities, affiliated academic partners, and patient partners. Exceptions may be made by the organizing team on an individual basis.

How does the program work?

User perspectives and problems experienced by older adults, staff, and caregivers will be discussed on Thursday morning. In the afternoon, participants can vote with their feet and join a team that is tackling a problem they are passionate about. 

Teams will spend Thursday designing, building, testing, validating and fine-tuning their prototypes or solutions. Mentors will be available to refine ideas and provide advice. Fuel up on complimentary breakfast and lunch. On Friday morning, teams will present their prototypes to the judges for a chance to win awards.

The final pitch event will be attended by thought leaders and other innovators and shared widely on social media and other platforms. This is the day not to miss!

What's in it for you?

By participating in this fun and competitive event, you are an innovator! Our innovators will have access to the following opportunities and experiences:

·       Network and collaborate with industry professionals as well as like-minded, multidisciplinary innovators.

·       Develop skills in ideation, prototyping, and pitching that will help you come up with impactful solutions to real problems.

·       Learn from influential mentors and judges from business (innovation and entrepreneurship), product development, applied research, and education (e.g. engineers, technologists, industrial designers, manufacturing specialists, and design thinkers) as well as patient partners.

·       Work with a health professional on a challenge that interests you.

·       Apply your knowledge to a meaningful health care challenge.

·       Build your leadership and teamwork experience.

·       Receive support, mentorship, and expertise to bring your ideas to life.

·       Be part of a solution (e.g. minimum viable products: an early version of a solution that could range from a product to a service) that can be fast-tracked for further development and implementation in a healthcare setting;

·       Enjoy complimentary breakfast and lunch (day 1 and 2).


There are two ways you can participate in Skunkworks: Hacking Aging – as an Innovator and as a Challenge Champion.

Have you seen a problem facing older adults in the areas of hospital, outpatient, and long-term care? Submit that challenge to have the opportunity to present it to your fellow Innovators.

You don’t need to submit a problem to be an Innovator at Skunkworks: Hacking Aging, but Innovators and Challenge Champions both need to register to attend. 


Registration for Innovators: Registration is now closed. If you would like to be added to the wait list, please email: 

Skunkworks: Frequently Asked Questions

The real world challenges experienced by older adults are complex! How can we solve it in 1.5 days?

We recognize that complex problems are solved in years, not days. This event will tackle a piece of the larger problem. During the 1.5 days, you will get a chance to figure out what that piece is, and start the development of a solution (e.g. prototype). Participants will build their journey map around the client or user that they have chosen to focus on, and will identify pain points or barriers they want to work on.

Is the event in person or virtual?

This event is planned to be in person, as there are no restrictions on organized gatherings and events in BC at this time. 

It will take place at Best Western Premier Chateau Granville Hotel & Suites & Conf. Centre, 1100 Granville St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2B6

How much does it cost?

The event is 100 per cent free for all participants. However, registration is limited to Providence Health Care, Providence Research, staff from partnering health authorities, affiliated academic partners, and patient partners.

What problems will be discussed?

We are gathering many user perspectives to prep for the understanding phase of the design event.  Participants are also encouraged to think about the biggest problem areas from their perspectives. They will have the opportunity to present them at their tables during day one of the event.

What is the eligibility criteria to submit a problem or challenge?

Participants from Providence Research and Providence Health Care who are researching aging or who treat older adults can submit a challenge they have seen facing older adults in the areas of hospital, outpatient, and long-term care. We encourage patient experts and those with lived experience, caregivers, Providence Health Care and Providence Research staff to submit challenges.

Who can participate as an innovator?

Skunkworks is a multidisciplinary design competition open to anyone, including researchers, doctors, healthcare professionals, patient partners, post-secondary students (e.g. design, health, engineering, computing and business students), and industry experts.  Exceptions may be made by the organizing team on an individual basis.

If you were trained in medicine or the life sciences, your experience in the lab, clinic, or community will help shape the critical early stages of design to ensure relevance to the biological problem or human health impact.

If you hail from an engineering or hard science background, your programming, app development, mechanical and electrical design skills will be highly relevant to addressing the challenges posed.

If your background is in business, your intuition for marketing, finance, pitch competitions and/or entrepreneurship will help set your team apart with a clear plan for impact with the technology solution.

What is the level of commitment required

The Challenge Champions and Innovators are expected to be present for the 1.5 days of the Skunkworks event occurring on October 12 and 13, 2022.

Who is facilitating this event?

The dynamic duo Marlies van Dijk and Josh McCutcheon, who hosted Skunkworks: Hacking Pain and Hacking Wounds, will return to guide the participants through the challenge at Skunkworks: Hacking Aging. Marlies and Josh are from The Pivot Group - a small but mighty design firm with deep knowledge of the health system (they are both nurses!). 

The Pivot Group is made up of a group of passionate change agents who help teams get unstuck and think differently to create action, and provoke conversations to shift direction. Marlies and Josh use design thinking as a core foundation to tap into abilities and viewpoints that are often overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices.

How can I prepare for the event?

Keep an eye on our resources page for some relevant information. As the event will seem to go by very quickly, we encourage you to have a bit of insight into problem identification and development, pitching your ideas and the judging criteria prior to the event.

How can I assess materials for prototypes?

You will have access to craft materials during Skunkworks: Hacking Aging.

How will the winning teams be selected?

Teams will demonstrate their solution and pitch their plan to a panel of judges on Day 2 of the event. Judges will evaluate teams based on several criteria. Check back on our website for updates, or get updates once you've registered.

What are the prizes?

Although this is not the focus of the event, we believe a big part of medical innovation is translating and implementing your brilliant ideas. We will have over $5000 in monetary and in-kind prizes to award; stay tuned for more information.

What does a team look like?

  • All teams must be led by a PHC or Providence Research staff member
  • Teams should have 4 to 5 people
  • Diverse mix of skills

How are teams formed?

After the presenters have pitched their problems, presenters will be asked to stand around the room. The other participants will be asked to “vote with their feet” and choose the problem they are most interested in hacking.

Who can I talk to for more information?



We hope to see you there!








Change Maker Sponsors


Lunch & Breakfast Sponsors 




Community Supporters 


In Kind Acknowledgement                     

Prize Sponsor

If you are interested in learning more about future sponsorship opportunities, please contact:

Peter McLoughlin
Manager, Corporate Partnerships


2022 SKUNKWORKS - Hacking Wounds

Skunkworks: Hacking Wounds 

Skunkworks: Hacking Wounds, the second annual Skunkworks event, occurred on September 22-23, 2022. It was designed to tackle the challenges faced by patients and communities when dealing with wounds, both in Canada and around the globe, and brought together a diverse group of people to find solutions to this significant health issue. 

Skunkworks Event Featured in Hospital News

Watch the video from Skunkworks: Hacking Wounds

“Somebody gets hurt, we’re there, to lift up the hearts and the minds, so they heal.” Musqueam Knowledge Keeper Sulksun (Shane Pointe) opened the event, which took place on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Coast Salish People, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. “The most beautiful word, for me, in Coast-Salish language is nuts amaht. Nuts amaht simply means ‘we are one.’”

“I believe that the best way to deal with challenges is to get the best, brightest and most diverse minds that we can get in rooms like this, and let them loose to ideate and come up with solutions,” said Dr. Darryl Knight, president of Providence Research, in an address he gave at the welcome on the first day. 

Read a full recap of the event here.

Thank you to all Skunkworks: Hacking Wounds participants, mentors and judges for attending the event. We'll see you next year!



Skunkworks: Hacking Pain 2021 

Skunkworks: Hacking Pain was our inaugural Skunkworks event. Find out more here.

Interested in helping out? You can partner with us, become a sponsor, or sign up to be a mentor!  Email