Medical Innovators

Modern medicine relies on technological innovation, and one cross-disciplinary class of Northwestern students is addressing the challenge of discovering and developing new medical devices.

Last year 80 undergraduate and graduate students from across four Northwestern schools worked in teams in NUvention: Medical Innovation, a two-quarter course offered in the fall and winter that matched students in medicine, engineering, law and business with the ultimate goal of improving patient care and attracting venture capitalists.

When the class began, the students identified unmet clinical needs by shadowing doctors, observing surgeries and interviewing support staff. In interdisciplinary teams, students developed concepts to meet those needs and took their ideas through the entire product development and business cycle process — from prototype to elevator pitch to a full-blown business plan to interested investors. Each of the 11 teams received $10,000 and the opportunity to develop their concept into an experimental device.

The interdisciplinary collaboration proved more successful than anticipated.

"What you'd expect is that Kellogg students would drive the business plan, law school students would drive the patent drafting and so on, but that's not the case. All the students seem to be involved in each part of the process," says Michael Marasco, clinical associate professor of industrial engineering and management sciences and director of McCormick's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The course, the brainchild of recent Feinberg graduate Swami Gnanashanmugam (FSM08), is part of NUvention, an interdisciplinary academic partnership coordinated by the entrepreneurship center.

Gnanashanmugam estimates that up to 50 percent of the products developed for the class have commercial potential. About half of the 11 student groups from the first class are moving forward with plans to develop their product for the market.

Marasco, who co-teaches Medical Innovation with NUvention program chair and adjunct professor Edward Voboril (McC65), is one of 11 professors involved in the course from among the four schools. The success of the class has led faculty to consider expanding the model into other disciplines such as nanotechnology, computer science and health policy.

— Scott Sode (J08)