Venture Into Biomedship

Enrolled in a new Purdue program, two biomedical engineering graduate students learn that a product's business development is every bit as important as its engineering.

Last year, 16 graduate students from the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and the Krannert School of Management shared space in Discovery Park, Purdue’s research complex, to learn about biomedical innovation and management. They split into groups of four, with two engineering students and two business students in each group, to tackle real–world medical problems and attempt to solve them by creating new medical devices. The students were expected to take their device through the steps of conception, feasibility determinations, FDA approval, business plan development, presentation, and patent application.

Purdue’s Biomedship Program—a new one–semester certification program that the students participated in—aims to prepare the next generation of leaders in the medical–device industry by focusing on biomedical entrepreneurship and innovation. A partnership among the Weldon School, Krannert, and the Indiana University School of Medicine, the program incorporates mentors, coaches, and expert panelists from venture capital firms, life science companies, biomed and biotech start–ups, and universities.

Biomed doctoral students Theresa Gordon and Lester Smith took part in the program last year to design an implantable device that monitors the volumetric flow rate of blood moving through a coronary artery bypass graft. Smith feared that the business element would bring a cut–throat atmosphere to their work, but instead, he says, “It was the most effective team I have ever worked with.”

For Gordon, being able to work so closely with the Krannert students meant having the opportunity to view product development from the business side and to get hands–on expertise writing the required business plan. “It’s a great opportunity to get exposure to something that normally you wouldn’t be able to get exposure to,” she says. The engineering students were able to learn from the business students and vice versa.

Along with the collaborative effort, each week the students heard presentations from top thinkers in the industry. The students were given opportunities to speak with these industry leaders in small dinner settings. From these dinner meetings, the students developed relationships that extended beyond the length of the speakers’ visits. Smith and Gordon worked especially with Susan Rowinski, a senior managing director at Princeton Reimbursement Group in San Francisco. From a distance, they collaborated through e–mail with Rowinski to get advice on their project. “She answered some questions we didn’t even know we needed to ask,” says Smith.

Smith he isn’t sure what he wants to do when he finishes his studies, but whether he goes into a biomedical firm or enters academia, he says, “Biomedship will contribute to my understanding.”

Experiencing the interplay between product development and the market has improved his understanding of the industry; he now knows to keep in mind the goal of how a product will be used and marketed. “Ideas die,” he notes, “because although they may be good, where they will be applied is not considered.”

Gordon would like to pursue her MBA and work in a managerial position in a large biomedical firm. But “the Biomedship Program is really good for anybody,” she says, regardless of what you eventually want to do.”