Meet the Team: Ari Lightman

Ari Lightman is a Professor of Digital Media and Marketing as well as Commercialization Advisor at the Center for Machine Learning and Health (CMLH) at CMU. He teaches classes at the intersection of marketing and IT, advises data analytics students, and provides outreach to corporations to engage with student projects. Professor Lightman also develops and teaches executive education programs at The Heinz School and is the faculty lead for the Roche Accelerate IT program within the Tepper School of Business. He focuses on the commercialization aspects associated with funded and prospective projects. This includes reviewing their commercial potential (market assessment, competitive analysis, feasibility, viability) and identifying connections to the venture and healthcare community. One of Professor Lightman’s first initiatives was to assemble an advisory board of practitioners and healthcare venture experts that has been instrumental in shaping the strategic direction for the CMLH.

Ari Lightman bio photoWhat led you to the PHDA?

Several years ago, I was asked to put together a class on digital transformation in healthcare for our Master’s Medical Management (MMM) program – which I still teach. Around that time, I also put together a class on Digital and Mobile Health for the American Association of Physician Leadership (AAPL). This led me to speak at several conferences focused on data, digitization, and analytics in the healthcare space. When funding for the CMLH was announced, I approached the former director to discuss some of my ideas on changes that I was seeing due to digitization and consumerization of healthcare. He asked if I could help advise the emerging center. When Joe Marks, Executive Director of the CMLH, came on board, we continued the relationship.

Where are you originally from?

Long story short – I was born in Israel (father was finishing PhD at Weizmann Institute), both of my parents were Canadian, and I grew up in the states (Ohio).

Why did you decide to move to Pittsburgh?

I originally moved to Pittsburgh from Toronto to pursue a Master’s in Engineering. I came back three years later to pursue my MBA at CMU and brought along my wife who also got her Master’s from CMU.

Where did your career begin? What did you do? What were the most important lessons you learned there?

My career began at a startup in San Francisco in the summer of 1999 as a product manager. I was responsible for one of their most profitable product lines and led a team of developers, content writers, and DB architects. It was an incredible experience that taught me about the value of communication, culture, teamwork, and perseverance as well as the nuts and bolts of building a startup. I learned about the tremendous benefits of working in an entrepreneurial, fast-moving, dynamic environment – while also learning about the risks associated with these types of ventures.

What have been your biggest takeaways from the PHDA?

Healthcare digital transformation requires a community-oriented approach. Clinical experts, data scientists, researchers, investors, patients, and practitioners need to work in concert to create viable commercial generating opportunities.

What trends are you most excited about today in data and healthcare? Why?

I spend a lot of my time looking at online patient communities and social data associated with health and wellness.  I think there is a tremendous amount of unstructured social data that can be used to understand trends, sentiment, and patient-reported information on everything from treatment to disease progression. From a pharma perspective, we have done studies on this data to understand accessibility, availability, and affordability of drugs within large populations of patients. The ability to build community online, engage directly, and leverage patient-generated information to assess efficacy and efficiency of care fascinates me. This approach is not seen as clinically viable in the present day so we will have to understand how this rich dataset can be used to advance healthcare. In order for this to happen we will need to address bias in reporting medical misinformation, and get a better handle on how to use this powerful and pervasive dataset. Some options are exploring how it can be merged with clinical studies to reduce cost, directly engage interested parties, build reliable merged datasets for clinical studies, accelerate development of clinical trials, and/or increase efficacy.

Where do you see Pittsburgh in the next 5 – 10 years? Where do you see the PHDA?

Pittsburgh will continue to reinvent itself as investors, researchers, and technologists who collaborate, innovate, and build opportunities for new technology developments. One unique aspect for Pittsburgh is accessibility and willingness to help. This includes corporations, community development organizations, universities, and the entrepreneurial community. There is a sense of comradery and outreach unlike any other region, which will continue to seed new entrepreneurial development as well as intrapraneurship opportunities within some of our region’s largest organizations. There is a lot of energy, resources, and time being spent on these activities. We need to see more collaboration rather than competition, and I think the PHDA is a great example of cooperation focusing on the unique strengths each institution (UPMC, Pitt, CMU) brings to the consortium.

What’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

Based on my unusual set of circumstances, I had three citizenships at one point.