I participated in three extra curricular activities to further explore my big question.
The first activity I participated in was the TechTITANS competition. This competition is an “idea competition” that provides professional feedback to participants about their ideas. This feedback was very useful to me as I was able to determine exactly what I needed to improve upon when pitching my idea.
One bit of feedback that really stood out to me was that “the idea already exists as a product.” It was after this that I realized I was pitching the idea completely wrong. Instead of focusing so much on what it will do and how it will help people, I needed to focus more on exactly why the idea is different from what is currently on the market. For example, there are meters out there that will tell a patient what their INR is and there are software programs for healthcare professionals that use algorithms to tell patients how to adjust their dose, but there are currently no products that combine the two technologies into a one-step device! Especially a one-step device that is as easily accessible to everyday people as the ubiquitous diabetes blood sugar monitor.
In a way, I was disappointed with my experience in the TechTITANS competition. I feel like it was less of an idea competition and more of a “look how great my video is” competition. I felt like all of the top 10 participants and the winners all had professional-looking, well done videos. I do understand that their professional videos show how serious the teams are about their ideas and about the competition, but some participants may just lack the skills necessary to produce a video of such caliber or cannot afford to hire someone to make the video for them. I feel that a better solution (to more even out the playing field) would be to hold 90 second pitches in person.
Another experience I had with the TechTITANS competition was the chance to watch the final 10 winners give their presentations in person. I learned a lot from their presentations and I was able to hear some of the questions that the judges were asking the teams when evaluating their ideas. While I do not plan on participating in the TechTITANS competition again, the questions asked are probably some that I will be asked in my own experience in pitching my idea or device to investors or other interested parties.
In total, the TechTITANS competition was a good experience for me even though I will not be participating again. If anything, I may choose to participate in the other competition held by the Utah Entrepreneur Series like Opportunity Quest.
*Technology Venture Development Internship
The next two activities I participated in, the Technology Venture Development internship and an internship with a medical device startup, both came to me out of pure luck (or destiny?). In both cases, I was desperate for a job of some sort–I would have taken anything! The TVD internship was one of many jobs I applied for even though, at first, it seemed like it would not be very useful to me as an engineer. I was very wrong!
The internship I had at TVD was one of the best learning experiences of my life. Not only was I able to greatly improve my writing skills, but I was able to work directly with all of the major entrepreneurship programs on campus. The internship has allowed me to identify was to find solutions to my problem. I have been introduced to just about every technology/business/idea/innovation competition and program on campus and have had to write extensively about them. In addition, I have had the chance to interview the organizers of competitions and programs as well as some participants. This has given me invaluable information about which programs I might be interested in and the opportunities that are available to me. Through this internship, I have been introduced to the TechTITANS competition that received good feedback from. I have also met and begun to develop professional relationships with many researchers on campus who could serve as mentors to me.
In the process, I have been given a comprehensive introduction to medical device innovation through many facets. I have learned about it from seasoned innovators, beginning innovators and everyone in between. I have also been provided with a behind-the-scenes look at medical device innovation. All of these experiences have been extremely useful to me in thinking about my idea for my device.
Furthermore, I have been able to learn about new programs, centers and opportunities before they are even announced to the public. This insider knowledge has allowed me to better plan the opportunities and activities that I would like to participate in in the future like the New Venture Development program. Even though most of the programs are for graduate students, my experience in writing about them and working with individuals involved in them have let me narrow down my choices to what I might want to participate in well before I am even in graduate school. This will let me pinpoint the exact programs and activities that will help me the most in developing my device.
Finally, as mentioned before, my writing skills have greatly improved due to my internship. I have especially improved my technical writing skills which will prove to be invaluable when writing about my device during development and marketing.
*Medical Device Startup Internship
My third activity also came to me out of luck. For graduation requirements, I am required to complete a senior project from research conducted in a research lab. In an attempt to start the project early, I emailed every faculty member at the University who I thought might be involved in any way with Materials Science. To my dismay, did not get any replies! I then sent out a second round of emails, determined to find a research lab. I got one reply out of about 30 emails sent. Luckily, one positive response was all I needed. Excitedly, I set up an appointment to meet with the faculty member who offered me a position–with no idea at all of what I would be researching!
Amazingly, the one reply I got was an opening for a materials science student in none other than a medical device startup! It was at this point that I was positive that it was no longer luck, but destiny, that was providing me with all of these opportunities perfectly suited for my passion.
My experience at the startup has been very good so far. Not only am I working on developing a medical device, I am learning how to develop the device under the regulations of the FDA. I am learning all about Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and how to keep a professional lab notebook that can eventually prove my involvement in the project. I am also learning a lot about how to maintain a laboratory since I have been provided with my own lab area and equipment in the new, state of the art bioengineering building!
Furthermore, I will eventually have the opportunity to learn about patents and how to patent a technology as the startup moves forward in patenting the technologies it develops. I may even be included in any patent that the company may apply for.
This opportunity has truly been the highlight of all of my experiences related to the Innovation Scholar program. The things I have learned and will learn as I continue to develop the device will directly translate to the development of my very own medical device! Additionally, I have access to many seasoned professionals who have been developing medical devices for years. I also have opportunities to collaborate with practicing medical doctors and talk to them about my device and the need for the device. I am excited to gather input from the doctors and refine the idea for my device until it is perfect.
The part about this experience that most excites me is that the project I am working on is essentially my own. I am not just completing mundane tasks that are asked of me, I am actually researching and designing, developing and learning. I am a part of the team and my opinion is held as highly as any other. The experience in working for a real medical device company will be invaluable to me as I search for jobs related to my passion or apply to graduate schools in order to gain further experience in medical device innovation so I can be better prepared to begin the development of my device—especially because of the role that I have been allowed to play in the devices’ development.