The key ingredient for medtech innovation

MIT Venture Mentoring Services

In 2003, Todd Zion was a PhD student at MIT with a great idea for a new way to calculate insulin dosage in diabetic patients. By 2011 he had started a company called SmartCells, secured funding and sold the company to Merck (NYSE:MRK) for $500 million.

SmartCells raised about $9 million along the way to fund development of its insulin formulation. But for Zion, the most important ingredient in SmartCells’ success wasn’t funding, product development or even the business plan.

"It was about having a safe place to go with a good idea," Zion told MassDevice.com.

That safe place was MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service, which provides networking, legal advice, and business coaching services to any MIT affiliate with an idea for a product.

The business landscape for innovation looks a lot different than it did 20 years ago. Government grants are down, research & development budgets are being slashed and the venture capital industry has become timid about backing medical and technology startups. That makes it difficult for good ideas to be nurtured long enough to develop into finished products.

But at MIT’s VMS and other incubators, a new innovation model is emerging to combat this tough environment.

Venture capitalist Henry McCance terms this emerging model the "Venture Research Model," which relies on the ingenuity of the scientist or technologist trying to move their idea from the lab to the shelves.

The problem is that scientists are not trained entrepreneurs. That’s where the Venture Mentoring Service comes in. Founded in 2000, it was the 1st of now 26 similar mentoring services based at academic institutions. Although they don’t provide funding or formal business accreditation, they do provide a structured environment for inventors to develop companies under the guidance of several professional mentors. It’s free and never lays claim to any intellectual property developed under its wing. At MIT, anyone can use the service; the only 2 requirements are membership in the wider MIT community and an idea that doesn’t violate the laws of physics.

Director Sherwin Greenblatt, likens the world of startups to a full-contact sport, saying his job is to provide good coaching.

"You don’t become an entrepreneur if you study it. The way you learn to become an entrepreneur is you actually make a commitment and you play the game, and you learn by doing," he told us. "A good coach, or mentor, can help you learn faster and help you develop whatever potential you have."

Danielle Zurovcik, a PhD student, developed a wound-treatment device that applies pressure via mechanical rather than electrical power. She was excited about the potential for this device in rural areas lacking access to electricity.

"When I first started working with VMS, I didn’t even know what my goal was," Zurovcik said. "With their help, we formed a team and that team really helped me understand the financials and even came to investor meetings with me."

Zurovcik’s company, WiCare, has now successfully deployed the product in Haiti and Rwanda, as part of the relief efforts there.

MIT alumni Richard Whalley and James White founded a company, Common Sensing, that’s developing a diabetes self-management tool to allow patients to track trends and patterns in their glucose levels. They’ve used MIT’s mentoring service for networking and legal consultation.

"The biggest unexpected challenge is how hard it can be to get in touch with people, especially doctors, and that’s one of the big ways VMS has helped our company," White said. "That’s a big advantage the MIT community has."

Over the years, Greenblatt and the mentoring service team have seen technology ranging from high-end lingerie to nuclear reactors. The headquarters are tucked away in a small, cramped office among the classrooms in the central MIT building on Massachusetts Ave. It’s run by 3 full-time employees and relies on grants and donations. In 2006, after receiving a grant from the Kauffman Foundation, Greenblatt and his team started a program to expand their venture mentoring service to other universities.

"Today we have a very vigorous outreach program that helps others start their own venturing mentoring activity," Greenblatt said, noting that the MIT model is now in place at 26 other academic institutions.

Jim Collins, 1 of the founders of the field of synthetic biology and also a professor at Boston University, said innovation and product development in science and healthcare is in a "period of stasis." What’s needed, Collins believes, is a hybrid model involving universities working with investors and inventors to carry inventions and discoveries into the marketplace.

MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service was one of the first university-based programs designed to address this need and has helped 100s of companies get off the ground. But it relies heavily on its mentors, asking them to donate time and money to keep the program going.

SmartCells’ Zion feels that the program will be successful in the future because those who benefit from the mentoring will return to the program as mentors, as he did.

"Mentorship in general is an unbelievably valuable resource," Zion told us. "When it comes to entrepreneurship, it can often mean the difference between a company getting off the ground and never seeing the light of day. The right kind of mentorship can really make that difference."

RSS From Medical Design & Outsourcing

  • Emuge expands solid carbide thread mill program with new 3XD sizes
    Emuge is now offering an expanded line of Solid Carbide Thread Mills in their popular THREADS-ALL Program, to include new 3XD sizes designed for maximum reach. A total of 17 new sizes have been added, from miniature to standard size tools, providing maximum versatility in a wide range of thread milling applications. The 3XD THREADS-ALL […]
  • Start of helpful humanoid robots? CITEC uses compact LDS component as sensor array
    Editor’s Note: LaserMicronics, a service provider for laser-based manufacturing, has released the whitepaper “Robot hand with a sensitive touch: LDS tactile sensors for sensorimotor skills.” The paper describes a 2014 project from the CITEC department at Bielefeld University in Bielefeld, Germany, where researchers created a tactile sensor resembling a human fingertip. The sensor was then […]
  • Nature meets technology: Festo’s BionicANTs cooperate to solve a common task
    Editor’s Note: Festo, an industrial control and automation company, has released the whitepaper “BionicANTs: Cooperative behavior based on a natural model.” The paper describes the BionicANT, a creation of Festo engineers that duplicates the physical anatomy of its natural counterpart and reproduces the insect’s cooperative behavior. Festo engineers have used the delicate anatomy of an […]
  • Acorn Regulatory streamlines approval process drug-device manufacturers
    Acorn Regulatory, an ISO-certified medical device and pharmaceutical consulting firm, is streamlining procedures for U.S. manufacturers of drug-device combinations with customized programs that successfully overcome challenges in meeting European regulatory approvals. Focusing on small to mid-size companies, Acorn Regulatory has put in place a comprehensive step-by-step process that provides the correct regulatory pathway for medical […]
  • Athermal laser machining cuts bioabsorbable polymers and more
    A the recent MD&M East trade show in New York, Norman Noble, discussed the capability of athermal laser manufacturer. The company has developed the Noble S.T.E.A.L.T.H. (System To Enable Ablation Laser Technology Haz-free). The athermal laser machining process was developed to create precise features in any material, including bioabsorbable polymers, shape memory metals and other […]
  • Exciting possibilities for metallic glass in the medical device world
    Researchers are exploring the potential of metallic glass as a versatile, pliable material that is stronger than steel, with a bevy of possible medical device applications. Yale University engineers have discovered a unique method for designing metallic glass nanostructures across a wide range of chemicals, a technique that could have applications for everything from watch […]
  • Strong Precision Technologies’ medical divisions to unify under MedTorque brand
    Strong Precision Technologies announced on July 2, 2015, that its two medical divisions will now go to market under a single brand, MedTorque. The move reflects the increasing integration of the division formerly known as Inland Midwest with MedTorque, its sister division in Kenosha, WI. “We will continue providing our customers with the personalized level of service […]
  • Olympus offers next-day product replacement guarantee for medical devices
    Olympus, a medical and surgical procedures solutions company, announced that it is guaranteeing next-day replacements for surgical equipment at no additional charge. Olympus is the first surgical product manufacturer to offer this type of guarantee. The service became available to customers with an Olympus Full Service Agreement earlier this year. “Canceled procedures can be costly for healthcare facilities […]
  • More accurate prediction on prognosis in multiple myeloma from SkylineDx
    SkylineDx, a biotechnology company specializing in the development and commercialization of genetic tests, is launching its MMprofiler assay. This test enables clinicians to more accurately predict the prognosis of patients with multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer) than traditional methods. The MMprofiler measures the activity of 92 genes which are directly or indirectly related to the […]
  • Flint Mobile swaps card reader for camera, accept mobile payments anywhere
    Flint Mobile, the swipe-free mobile payments app, has significantly expanded its payment management and loyalty capabilities for small, service-centric businesses, like the ones run by on-the-go medical equipment professionals. The toggle-free mobile technology makes the process quite simple for both parties, as all transactions are conducted through the mobile device’s camera without the need of any external […]
  • Should scientists be allowed to genetically alter human embryos?
    Scientists have at their disposal, a way to explore the possible prevention of genetic diseases before birth. But should they? Currently, the most promising path forward involves editing the genes of human embryos, a procedure threaded with controversy. An article in “Chemical & Engineering News” (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society (ACS), parses […]

Leave a Reply