The National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (NSF I-Corps) specializes in the commercialization of academic technologies, and the ENMED program is excited to house the next level of innovation by integrating NSF I-Corps within their second semester curriculum.
Innovation begins with empathy – students listening to the needs of their society. At the School of Engineering Medicine, empathy is followed by invention and iteration, and first-year students explore the complexities of where health care directly meets innovation. Historically, this second semester course of the ENMED program focuses on invention; students identify a problem in various medical areas and build prototypes to solve those problems. However, by the ENMED program partnering with the NSF I-Corps, students seek out specific issues or needs of doctors, nurses, and patients, invent a next-level design, and iterate their findings to meet the exact needs of medicine. Over the next 16-weeks, 12 teams of four students will conduct 30 discovery interviews each, meeting with medical personnel across the country to identify their wants and needs to improve patient care, all pursuing a $3,000 prize to further their technological theories and inventions. The NSF I-Corps integration will allow students to begin working on their technology or devices with motivation to carry on their findings through the summer and third semester courses.
With this addition to their curriculum, students will gain a skillset to help them through the commercialization process. Dr. Andrew Robbins, a research assistant professor at the School of Engineering Medicine, specializes in innovation and is instrumental in mentoring and teaching students. “The core idea of innovation is translating technology to society, not just inventing,” said Robbins. He conceptualizes that while good ideas may not be hard to come by, creating and designing technology that is tangible to the public and meets their specific needs, is. The NSF I-Corps integration within the ENMED program develops students’ entrepreneurial skills, improves their odds for commercial success, and establishes a product-market fit. As Robbins sees it, this type of innovation not only becomes an opportunity for ENMED students, but a resource that is unique to our medical students.
While medical students around the country have the opportunity to participate in a regional I-Corps workshop, there is exceptional difficulty to add this in a normal medical student’s schedule. With the integration of an ENMED-focused NSF I-Corps course, the resourcefulness of the I-Corps processes is embedded in students’ curriculum, reducing extra time from an already-busy medical student. Unlike most medical schools, ENMED students will spend the next semester interviewing medical personnel, discovering unique needs in medicine, and creating a promising future for doctors, patients, and nurses, all within their curriculum. “The hope is that students will discover needs and problems we did not know before, and they will come up with technology that meets these needs and attracts consumers,” stated Dr. Robbins. The ENMED-focused NSF I-Corps program is both unique and innovative, and the School of Engineering Medicine is excited to see what their students invent and translate next.