A little more than a month ago, four groups of entrepreneurs faced off in a conference room at Bryan Health's West Campus.

As with most business plan contests, the entrepreneurs were there to pitch business ideas before a panel of judges.

But this was no ordinary pitch contest. Instead of a cash prize or small equity investment, the entrepreneurs were vying for an exclusive right to develop a product to help Bryan Health solve two "challenges" it faces on a daily basis in dealing with patients.

The business that eventually won the contest, Synerscan, is working on software that will help the hospital better track hand-washing protocols among its staff and how often nurses check on patients in their rooms.

Brett Byman of Synerscan said he and the company's other three employees are "extremely excited" at the opportunity to work with the hospital.

Normally, a start-up company has to come up with a product on its own and hope there is a market for it, Byman said. Rare is the chance to have a built-in market from the start.

"The barrier to entry into an industry like this is so fierce," he said.

Byman can thank some forward-thinking Lincoln businesspeople for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

More than a year ago, a group started meeting regularly to figure out ways to try to boost job creation in the health care sector in Lincoln.

The initiative was spearheaded by the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development, a collaboration of the city and Lincoln Chamber of Commerce that tries to boost economic development opportunities in the city.

Jason Smith, vice president of the partnership, said that at some point the idea was floated for the unique pitch contest, which came to be known as Health Care Connect.

"Kim (Bryan Health CEO Kim Russel) was one of the first that jumped up and said, 'We'd like to do something like that,'" Smith said.

Bryan then put together a list of challenges and problems for which it needed solutions, and the group chose the two they liked the best.

Those turned out the be the hospital's hand-washing protocol and its system for "rounding" of patients by nurses.

Those two processes now are done the old-fashioned way, tracked through observation and written down on paper.

Synerscan's task was to come up with ways to make these processes more efficient and easier to track and to do so in a cost-efficient manner.

Byman said Bryan literally was having someone "follow nurses around to measure how many times they wash their hands."

Synerscan came up with a system that uses sensors on soap dispensers and radio frequency identification tags embedded in ID badges to keep track of who washes his or her hands and when.

On the issue of keeping track of when nurses do their "rounding" -- when they visit patients -- Byman said Bryan wanted a paperless system to replace the paper logs the hospital was using.

Synerscan came up with a software-based system that nurses log into. The system identifies each nurse and what room he or she has visited.

"Nurses can pull up a real-time database to see which rooms have been hit and which haven't," Byman said.

The system also allows families to receive notifications via smartphone about their loved ones, he said, which is much more efficient than the current system, which requires nurses to make phone calls to families, sometimes hourly for those who are seriously ill or injured.

Synerscan and Bryan soon will enter a 120-day "test bed" period, testing the product and making prototypes.

Bryan is under no obligation to purchase the project once that period is over, but the hospital system's chief information officer, George Carr, said he's optimistic.

"We're still very hopeful that we're going to wind up with a good success coming out of it," he said.

Even if Bryan ultimately decides the product is not for them, Carr said the Health Care Connect program will have been worth the time and effort.

Carr said working on a project such as this helps Bryan fulfill its mission and vision, both of which address collaboration.

"That's what drives us to look for opportunities like this," he said.

Byman said he's confident that Synerscan will win a contract with Bryan Health, but even if it doesn't, he agrees the time and effort have been worth it.

The company will have a working product that has been tested in one of the Top 50 cardiovascular hospitals in the country and there's a market of thousands of health care facilities with the same kinds of problems.

For the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development, the effort definitely has been worth it.

The partnership already has plans for another pitch competition at the end of May. This one will involve Tabitha.

Smith said he's hoping to work with other city health care providers in the future.

"It wouldn't work without them," Smith said. "They're the ones that have the facilities and the issues."

Reach Matt Olberding at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.