Many of the best products on the medical device market stemmed from a nurse or a physician recognizing an unmet clinical need. Something that would make their jobs easier and improve the quality of care for their patients. But navigating the product development landscape is easier said than done, especially if you don't have a lot of time or funding.
During the BIOMEDevice Boston Conference, a panel of industry experts offered advice on this challenge in response to two physicians' questions. The first question, from a Mayo Clinic physician, was how might a physician such as himself approach engineers that could help build a product based on their design idea?
"A good place to start with very little funding would be academia," said Donna Bibber, vice president at Isometric Micro Molding.
She also recommended managing expectations. In other words, be open to getting something in your hands that might not be exactly what you're looking for, but that can get you through the feasibility stage, which will then help you raise additional funding.
"The question of 'hey, I have this great idea but I don't have any funding' is a challenge for sure," Bibber said. "But people are so visual. If you have something in your hands that you can get everybody excited about and you have a really good design and a good product, funding should follow. Then you can take steps to get from academia to someone with a little more experience and you can scale up."
Social media can be another place to start, says Rafael Diana, a senior R&D engineer at GE Healthcare. And don't be afraid to just pick up the phone.
"Most engineers would probably be delighted to hear from a physician, frankly, because we don't get calls like that all the time," Diana said. "If we don't have an answer for you we probably know someone who may know someone who does."
Andrew Kelly, director of applications engineering at Cirtec Medical (formerly Cactus Semiconductor), said in addition to looking at academic programs, there are government grants available such as the small business innovation research (SBIR) grants or small business technology transfer (SBTT) grants. Of course, there is a downside to that route.
"Applying for the grant is a job, it really is, and it's a job that might turn into a big fat zero," Kelly said. "I've been doing this a lot of years and we've done a lot of things but we're just not even scratching the surface. There are so many of these things that, in my opinion, are very solvable technically and it's really the financial and the logistics and getting the right people to put the right money in the right place to get these done."
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For product ideas requiring miniaturization or micro manufacturing that already have secured some funding, Bibber's company (Isometric Micro Molding) may be able to help. If funding is an issue, then academia or innovation incubators are likely your best bet, Bibber said.
"It's a matter of talking to people and saying 'who have you used to make the one in a row prototype ... networking to find who you need," she said.