Six graduate students at the University of Washington wanted a challenge. They received that and more in two Summer Fellowship programs offered by, or in partnership with the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. The six fellows contributed to six different projects with real promise, including new medical devices, tools for improved patient experience, and a system for more efficient healthcare management.
Three of the summer fellows tackled technology-based projects as part of the ITHS/WRF Summer Commercialization Fellow Program. The program was originally conceived with funding from the Washington Research Foundation (WRF) twenty years ago before joining forces with the Institute for Translational Health Sciences (ITHS) as a partner in 2012. Together, the program has empowered MBA and graduate students to deliver solid business assessment input on projects out of research labs at the University of Washington, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Seattle Children’s. That input has helped support critical commercialization development decisions as the principle investigators push their ideas forward.
This year an exciting twist was added to the summer fellow experience with the addition of the Population Health Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship and three fellows to the cohort. They focused on projects that had technology or services aimed at addressing challenging issues like mental health, substance abuse risk, and access to supportive professional services. Saswata Dey, a Foster School MBA candidate from India, came on board as one of the new Social Entrepreneurship Fellows and walked away learning a lot about the U.S. healthcare system. He worked on FOCUS—an app that has interactive tools built into it to help patients manage different facets of their care, especially for mental health. In the future he hopes to apply what he learned, including aspects of the complicated decision-making and regulations of the U.S. system, to improve care in his home country where there is a serious shortage of medical providers.
The other five fellows shared the same idea of making a difference long-term with their projects. Commercialization fellow Jake Nazarian worked on a technology that aims to measure blood volume for patients in potential need of transfusions. His approach involved talking to a number of physicians in different hospitals and care situations. Much to his surprise, many were not particularly excited about the technology, mainly because they didn’t see it changing the care approach they would take anyway. That forced him to dig deeper into who might have a big need for the kind of measurement this technology was meant to deliver. Channeling his experience as an emergency medical technician, Jake found physicians in specific care situations interested in using the blood volume measurements to support their care decisions, leading to a clearer focus for the technology.
MBA student Vivian Wei also found herself adjusting her understanding of the potential application of a technology on the commercialization side. Her project was a software system developed to help optimize management of operating rooms in the hospital. While the system is proving useful within the group that developed it, Vivian discovered that a wide-scale launch wouldn’t be advisable without the team gathering more data on both the value of the system as a tool and its potential return-on-investment.
Fred Yeboah, a PhD student in Molecular and Cellular Biology, worked on a commercialization project aimed at improving the process doctors use to keep a healthy microbiome in their patients during chemotherapy or antibiotic treatment. This project really spoke to Fred because of his interest in the interface of science and business. However, he learned quickly that gathering potential customer input is not that easy, especially when those customers are busy doctors.
However, social entrepreneurship fellow Elizabeth Esborn found it easier to gather information from academic professionals. The Master’s in Public Health student worked on a project called EMAR, which explores the potential of social robots in supporting kids in a school setting. Elizabeth was able to learn key information about how schools make decisions about new programs and technologies and how they are implemented practically and financially. This information will be valuable as the UW investigators think about schools as their primary customers.
Exploring the business side of making non-profits viable drew our final social entrepreneurship fellow Karissa Masciel to her project. As a sociology student, she gathered a unique perspective alongside Communities that Care, as they explored directions team leadership could take to expand their services. “It was (really) cool,” she said. “I now have this new lens I can look through at things.”
Each of the summer fellows worked independently, yet closely with their technical teams and as a cohort. They shared insights, contacts, and specific knowledge-based information with each other, making for a very rich experience. Past fellows have used these experiences to take on roles in innovation management, business development, and management consulting.
Some, like MBA graduate Logan Jacobs, went on to become CEO of the spinout from his summer fellow project. His company, Tournitek, graduated from the Jones + Foster Accelerator and has ramped up developing and fundraising around its solution to fighting limb amputations from serious injuries. Sabrina Kamran, a PhD student in Pharmacology and a Foster School Technology Entrepreneurship Certificate student, is now working as a business development manager at a biotech startup in Boston. Prathamesh Bagade, who helped a researcher at Seattle Children’s during his summer fellowship, is now employed as a product innovation manager at Fluke Corporation in Everett. Other examples of past fellows and their career paths include Tim Everson who is a consultant at PWC and Shivani Gupta who is an innovation development officer at Xinova in Seattle.
These are just some of the examples of how the fellowships have proved instrumental in helping students explore new areas of work and develop useful skills sets that don’t just add to a graduate student’s academic career, but a lifetime of work.
To learn more about the summer fellowship programs, head to startup.uw.edu.