For the past two years, The Center for Bioengineering Design, a Course and Program Grant-funded initiative at Johns Hopkins University, has provided bioengineering graduate students the tools and support to develop new medical devices.
One of the Center’s team design projects was recently given a licensing deal with Seguro Surgical, a Maryland company specializing in the commercialization of surgical instrumentation.
“SeguroSurgical’s…product line (the Lap-Pak) was borne out of one of our design team projects,” says instructor Robert Allen. The Lap-Pak is a device that cleanly and quickly repositions the bowel during a surgery.
Tina Seelig is the Executive Director for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP), the entrepreneurship center at Stanford University's School of Engineering. STVP is dedicated to accelerating high-technology entrepreneurship education and creating scholarly research on technology-based firms. STVP provides students from all majors with the entrepreneurial skills needed to use innovations to solve major world problems.
Tina teaches courses on creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the department of Management Science and Engineering, and within the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. Tina was recently awarded the 2009 Gordon Prize from the National Academy of Engineering, recognizing her as a national leader in engineering educational. She also received the 2008 National Olympus Innovation Award, and the 2005 Stanford Tau Beta Pi Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. In 2004, STVP was named the NASDAQ Entrepreneurship Center of the Year.
Bernie Roth researches the kinematics, dynamics, control, and design of computer-controlled mechanical devices. In kinematics, he studies the mathematical theory of rigid body motions and its application to the design of machines. His design interests include organizing and presenting workshops on creativity, group interactions, and the problem solving process. In addition he is one of the founders of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (the d.school) and is active in its development; currently, he serves as Interim Director.
Tanisha White-Phan is a recent graduate with her Master's degree in Business from the Global Social Sustainable Enterprise (GSSE) at Colorado State University. She is a founding member and co-executive director of Running Water International (RWI), a social enterprise established in 2009 during her participation in the GSSE program. RWI manufactures and sells household water treatment systems for rural households in Kenya. Additionally, Tanisha spent two years working in China as an instructor at Tianjin University of Finance and Economics. Tanisha has spent time as a volunteer in several outreach programs in Mexico, Vietnam, Los Angeles and most recently Denver mentoring at-risk youth. Tanisha's personal mission is to use her skills to empower and educate people in developing economies to create sustainable economic impacts that change lives.
Shiva Haghighi is a graduate research assistant in Engineering Education and Civil Engineering. She received her BS in civil engineering from Purdue University with an emphasis on structures. She is continuing her studies in Civil Engineering in the area of architectural engineering and green building design. She has done internships with American Structurepoint and Bechtel Corporation, as well as conducted summer research at Purdue; project topics include heat straightening repair of steel beam bridges and its effects on structural properties and nighttime construction safety strategies. Her research interests include green building and urban planning and design. Shiva is a LEED-accredited professional and an Engineer in Training (EIT). She is a past President of both the Civil Engineering Student Advisory Council and the Purdue chapter of Engineers Without Borders, and continues to serve as a member of both groups.
Jeff Brown is an assistant professor of engineering at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. In addition to his traditional research interests in nondestructive evaluation of reinforced concrete, Jeff is also engaged in research investigating the sustainability of technology transfer at the grassroots/community level. Jeff is the faculty adviser of the Hope College student chapter of Engineers Without Borders - USA, and prior to obtaining his PhD in civil engineering from the University of Florida he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania.
Jeff Brown has applied for and been awarded 1 grant
Improving Drinking Water Quality for Rural Villages in Africa: A Pedagogy for Empowerment
Began May, 2007 and ended December, 2008
This research seeks to develop an educational framework for training motivated entrepreneurs and NGOs in the effective construction, use and promotion of Manz Biosand Filters. This existing point-of-use filtration technology has shown potential for improving drinking water quality in resource-scarce environments. What is still needed, however, is a model for effective engagement in underdeveloped communities that will result in empowerment rather than reliance. The technology required to address the issue of poor drinking water quality exists, but the means through which this technology can be transferred to communities in need is not well understood. The result of this research will be a series of appropriate activities that impart the knowledge and skill required to initiate and sustain a drinking water project from within a community.
With the team:
Mrs. Amanda Barton Assistant Professor of Nursing, Nursing, Hope College
Mrs. Tracey Nally Director of Federal Grant Programs, Division of Natural Sciences, Hope College
Dr. John Krupczak Chair, Engineering, Hope College
Dr. Susan Cherup Professor, Education, Hope College
Dr. John Krupczak Associate Professor, Engineering, Hope College
EpiPlan Evan Edwards knows a thing or two about business plans. The recipient of an NCIIA Advanced E-Team grant in 2000, Edwards has been working toward commercializing his invention—a credit-card-sized epinephrine injector for people with severe allergies, dubbed the “EpiCard”—for the past few years. We spoke with Edwards about what goes into a business plan, the lessons he’s learned about writing them, and his advice for nascent inventors looking to build a company around a new technology.
You can do it The fact is that if you’re smart enough to come up with a worthy invention or a worthy product, you’re smart enough to write a business plan. All you have to do is take advantage of the resources out there, and there are a ton of them. The first and best resource is people you know: mentors, professors, entrepreneurs, people who have been there before. Beyond personal help, there’s a multitude of online help sites, books, etc. When Eric [Evan’s twin brother, who is vice president of EpiCard] and I were looking to polish up our plan for the Darden Business Plan competition at the University of Virginia, we went to Barnes & Noble, and ended up finding several books on writing effective business plans that really helped us out. We were the only student engineering entry, and undergrads at that, and we finished in the top four and won a period of incubation with Darden.
It’s gonna change—a lot Business plans are ever-changing. The first business plan we wrote for EpiCard was about ten pages. But as the scope of the company expanded we included more and more in the plan; for instance, we started looking to find ways to tap into the military market, so we included more of a military bent into it. And then we realized we didn’t have to stick to injecting epinephrine alone, and incorporated into the business plan our research into other drugs and pharmaceuticals that could be used in EpiCard—insulin, and nerve gas, smallpox, and anthrax antidotes. And we’ve continually revised and updated the market analysis and financial projection sections, refining, adding content. It’s a constant process.
You’ll learn more than you think When we started writing the business plan for the Darden competition we found competitors we never even knew existed. Knowing those competitors were out there was critical for us, and it’s critical for a lot of NCIIA E-Teams. Many E-Team inventions are an improvement to what’s already out there; you say, “I like this device, and I know a way I can make it better.” And you assume that one device is your only competition. But as you start researching you find other patents, other companies that are looking into the same things you’re looking into. These might be global companies, so that even if you have a patent in the US you might have to worry about international companies entering into the market. So it’s important to understand that while you’re developing the business plan you’re also finding out about things that are extremely important to your venture’s chances of success.
Act on the feedback you get You’ll learn a lot about your company’s strengths and weaknesses when you go to present your business plan to venture capitalists and angel investors. We’ve made the rounds and presented our plan, and the feedback we received from the angels and VCs was very specific and very helpful. We’ve been a family-run business, but the VCs pointed out that it looks bad if your entire board consists of family members, and recommended we look into that and reformulate the company. So we went out and talked to key people in the pharmaceutical industry, some doctors, and got them on board, and that’s definitely helped solidify our credibility.
As you’re developing your business plan, and you start presenting it to these certain groups, you realize the areas of your business you need to focus on the most.
Lean on others I come from an engineering background, and my brother from biology, so we knew we had a good product and knew the market, but we had no idea when it came to the financial data. If you go to investors with data that’s questionable or inaccurate, they’ll call you out. They’ll say, “Where did you get that number from?” You need to know your information; you need to know your sources. When we incubated with Darden they provided us with a panel of experts that really helped us with the financial side.
And that brings me to the real piece of advice I want to give: you have to interact with people. Talk with local businesses, join a venture group, join an on-campus entrepreneurship club. By going to their meetings and attending their seminars you’ll gain an understanding of how to write a business plan, or how to valuate your company, or how to do the financials. Whatever you need. You’ll make your strengths even stronger and you’ll shore up your weaknesses. By being in the company of businesspeople at Darden, by being around entrepreneurs, I was able to feed off them and really learned a lot about how to run a business.
At age forty-seven, Polak was a successful Colorado psychiatrist with a wife, three daughters and $3 million in real estate. But in his extensive world travels Polak witnessed more and more the debilitating effects of extreme poverty on the world’s rural poor—who often make less than one dollar a day—and became curious about ways to help. Gradually it became clear to Polak that in order to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of subsistence farmers, there was only one place to start: water.
“You could see how essential water was to alleviating poverty,” says Polak. “If you wanted to do anything, you had to start with these small farmers and irrigation. The power to control water is absolutely crucial to them. That fact should shape all development policy.”
Inspired to help however he could, in 1981 Polak formed International Development Enterprises (IDE), a nonprofit that develops and facilitates the sale of affordable, simple, income-enhancing products to the poor, with a special expertise in water technologies for small-scale irrigation and safe drinking water. Over the years IDE has helped millions of rural farmers in the world’s poorest countries increase their agricultural productivity, providing them with a basis for food security, income generation, integration with markets, and the beginnings of an upward spiral out of poverty.
Needless to say, IDE would be nowhere if they couldn’t sell their products. But how do you sell to the world’s poorest people? How do you design products for them, and then get them to buy them? As with any business, marketing is essential to IDE’s success and at the same time comes fraught with challenges.
The first challenge, according to Polak, is molding IDE’s products around customer need—that is, making them so cheap that the world’s poorest people can afford them. Says Polak, “We focus on people who make less than one dollar a day. If things aren’t extremely cheap, they can’t afford them. Affordability is the key issue; it’s the absolute bottom line. In just about every product we sell to the poor there seems to be a threshold point of about one-fifth the conventional price; when we reach that threshold, sales take off.”
To reach that threshold, IDE develops products that can be made inexpensively by using locally available materials. An example is the IDE treadle pump, two million of which have been installed worldwide since its introduction in 1985. The pump consists of two metal cylinders with pistons operated by a natural walking motion on two treadles, like a stairmaster; the individual walks up and down on the treadles and in the process brings water up to the surface. The pump is manufactured locally in simple metalworking shops, and the treadles and support structure are made of bamboo or other inexpensive, locally available material. The unit sells for $25-50, and enables farmers to generate more than $100 a year in extra income.
A second challenge has to do with the attitudes and inclinations of the poor themselves. Many poor people aren’t willing to cough up what is to them a large sum of money for devices they’re not sure will work. Says Polak, “We feel that the best way for poor farmers to prosper is by growing labor-intensive, high-cash crops. But if the farmers grow rice like they usually do, they’ll have enough to eat; they’re averse to risk because they want to avoid going hungry. Poor farmers are very risk averse. So we have to lower the risk—find ways to show them that moving to a high-income crop is a good thing.”
IDE goes about this in a variety of ways. “First, we don’t ask them to give up rice and move straight to high-value crops right away. We start off by helping them improve their yield on staple crops through procedures like the use of urea granules planted in the ground between rice plants, which give them bigger yields and cost less than fertilizer because they don’t wash away. Once they’ve seen that we can help them grow enough rice to feed their family, they’re much more open to growing higher-value crops.”
Another IDE risk-mitigation strategy involves the marketplace itself. Because a poor farmer can never predict the market price of any crop she grows, IDE doesn’t promote just one high-value crop, instead promoting predict the final value at market, farmers can play the odds. Maybe on one crop they’ll make out like bandits, three will do OK, and one they’ll feed to the pigs.”
And what about getting the word out? How do you make poor rural farmers aware of your product? When it comes to promotional techniques and advertising, IDE takes the only route available to them: they get out in the village streets and push the product. “Let’s say that we want to sell treadle pumps,” says Polak. “We’ll put on a demonstration in a village fair that draws a lot of people. We’ll have a three-rickshaw procession: I’ll be on the first rickshaw, and I’ll have a microphone and will shout, ‘Come see this demonstration!’ The second rickshaw will have someone demonstrating how to work a treadle pump, and a third rickshaw has somebody handing out leaflets.”
“In Bangladesh we sometimes use a troubadour group. It’s a little three-person orchestra that plays a song about a treadle pump. And also in Bangladesh, because there’s a very big market there, we made a ninety-minute movie with the treadle pump as the main part of the story. We played that movie to an audience of over one million in a year.”
Indeed, numbers in the millions frequently come up when talking about Polak and IDE. IDE’s efforts around the world are estimated to create more than $200 million of additional income each year for the rural poor, and the number of lives touched reaches the tens of millions.
Doug, founder of the School for Startups, will give the keynote address at Open 2010, the NCIIA Annual Conference. Known in the UK and the US as an outspoken and leading entrepreneur, Doug will address:
Why the public interest is best served by self-interest;
Why the most successful enterprises are all social enterprises;
Why entreprenuers are never born only made;
Why the US must learn to export entrepreneurship not merely to the rest of the world but the rest of the nation;
Why governments can only create playing fields;
Why capital is not what limits the rate of entreprenuership; and
Why universities are our best hope for cultural change.
Breakfast plenary, Saturday, March 27, 8:30am
Steve is the author of the hottest book on marketing today: Four Steps to the Epiphany. He started up eight high tech companies during the boom time in Silicon Valley 1978-1999; he's since taught entrepreneurship at U.C. Berkeley, Stanford University and the Columbia University/Berkeley Joint Executive MBA program. The "Customer Development" model that Steve developed in his book is one of the core themes in these classes.