Innovation Lab puts new spin on 'operations' management
course gives students the tools to create products that help
physicians and patients
the five-hour procedure draws to a close, the Northwestern
team compiles a list of unmet medical needs. They brainstorm
for devices that could make the surgery easier or the patient's
recovery less painful. The group includes two medical students,
two engineering students, a law student — and two part-time
Kellogg MBA students, Bhawani Singh and Bin Li.
students are enrolled in Medical Innovation, a new
interdisciplinary course that focuses on product development
for the biomedical industry. Over two quarters, professors
from the Northwestern medical, law, engineering and business
schools guide students through the innovation lifecycle, from
ideation to prototyping, legal protection, market sizing and
business plan development. At the end of the course, the students
present their prototype to a panel of potential investors.
of the 11 teams that participated in the class this year,
nine are incorporating to develop the products they created.
breadth of training that this class provides is invaluable,"
says Singh, who wants to bring about technologies that improve
patient outcomes. "I don't think you can get that in
such a short time anywhere else."
team noted the difficulty in controlling pain after cardiovascular
surgery and sought to create an alternative to pain pumps
and narcotics. They produced a biodegradable polymer infused
with pain medication, to be inserted in a patient at the end
of surgery. The polymer releases the medication gradually,
and as it does so, it dissolves.
member of the team weighed in on the idea's viability: the
medical students on the clinical value of the device; the
engineers on its technical feasibility; the law student on
intellectual property issues; and the Kellogg students on
its commercial potential. Throughout the experience, the team
members learned to speak each other's language and appreciate
had to trust each other's judgment on the areas in which our
teammates had more expertise," Singh says. "We had
to work a little harder to make sure we were communicating,
but we did so, because without that we couldn't move forward."
Löffler, Kellogg professor and director of biotechnology,
says that is among the top goals of the course.
an experiential class in this field is key, because you get
to experience the whole process of product development,"
Löffler says. "But what's most important is that
these students learn how to perform in cross-functional teams.
The expectations, the incentives, even the language of each
group is so different. But that's exactly what they'll face
when they go to work for a biomedical company. The better
they understand each other's mindset, the more successful
they will be."
Flyg '08 and his team met that challenge. The group designed
a device to help neurosurgeons implant wires in the head.
The device is an improvement over the tool doctors currently
use, which Flyg says is "very unwieldy."
model has an improved tip for difficult tissue, and a better
handle for maneuverability," he says.
Flyg and his team only developed this product after scrapping
their initial plans for another invention, an infection-control
device that seemed promising in theory but less workable in
of the reasons I was so impressed with this class was that
it allowed us to take our knowledge from other classes and
apply it in a safe environment," he says. "It gave
us the opportunity to take a risk and 'fail,' and then take
that knowledge and apply it to something new.
what happens in real life," Flyg adds. "You learn
entrepreneurship primarily by doing it, and that's why experiential
learning is so important. Here, we had phenomenal resources,
the support of the faculty and the ability to leverage expert
knowledge. We were given everything we needed to learn and