Mayo Innovation Scholars get real

June, 2011

During the 2010-11 academic year, teams from 11 Minnesota private colleges and universities had the opportunity to participate in the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program, a unique interdisciplinary program that requires students to apply both scientific and business knowledge in a real-world setting. Teams of four undergraduate students with backgrounds in science and economics work under the leadership of a business graduate student to analyze the feasibility of potential new products or therapies submitted by Mayo Clinic scientists and physicians.

Here, two scholars share some details of what they learned and what the experience meant to them.

A rare opportunity
By Leon Clark, Jr. '12, St. Olaf College

St. Olaf Mayo Innovation Scholar program participantsCollaborating with Mayo Clinic as an undergraduate is something that few students in the country can say they did. Providing recommendations to Mayo technology licensing managers on what they should do with a Mayo invention idea is something that even fewer students can say they did. Luckily, I had this opportunity this past year as a participant in the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program. I worked on a team of four undergraduates from St. Olaf College and one MBA student from Augsburg College to develop a business plan for a forearm positioning device used for CT imaging.

This project was unique to the undergraduate experience in that it involved students from multiple disciplines learning from and working with each other. My team consisted of a math major, biology major and two economics majors. Although we had different levels of experience in science and business, we came into the project with the general consensus that everyone would be doing interdisciplinary work. We had a biology major learning about licensing strategies and how to do a financial analysis, and economic majors in the cadaver lab learning about the wrist anatomy and the concept of torque generation from the forearm.

The majority of the research for this project was done during January, our Interim term. Locked up in a small room in our science building for 40, 50 and sometimes 60 hours a week, we worked diligently to confidently outline the product's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, develop a market analysis, make financial projections and formulate a solid recommendation for Mayo Clinic. During the course of the month-long project, there was not only important work done, but strong friendships formed and lifelong skill building tools gained.

This project has caused me to appreciate all the factors that are involved in bringing medical discoveries to the patient's bedside. One has to evaluate the need for the product, take into account legal and regulatory matters that could affect the sale of the product, consider ethical and economic issues and foresee distribution of the product based on demographics and many other factors.

All of the members of my team are in the process of applying for graduate school and jobs and this program has become the focal point of interviews. Being able to improve on oral and written communication skills, critical thinking and self sufficiency are some of the things that a liberal arts education seeks to achieve and this is what the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program has helped me do.

Many backgrounds, one vision
By Rachel Goldenstein '12, University of St. Thomas

St. Thomas Mayo Innovation ScholarsAt its core, the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program unites innovation with feasibility, medical technology with commercialization potential, science with business. It accomplishes these tasks by empowering undergraduate students to observe, research and draw conclusions about how innovation and its medical potential are able to thrive in the business world. By reviewing a patent proposing a new technology of hypothermic therapy for disease treatment, our team was able to fulfill these objectives.

As a biology major and member of the University of St. Thomas team, I was fortunate enough to work alongside colleagues Shakeyla Barber (Neuroscience), Justin Scharpen (Entrepreneurship, Marketing Management) and Martha McCarthy (Entrepreneurship and Business Communications). With diverse academic and personal backgrounds, we all entered with our own expectations and knowledge base. Yet it was these distinct outlooks which enabled us to comprehensively accomplish our overarching tasks. Together, we were able to draw upon one another's strengths, but more importantly strengthen each other's weaknesses, which provided constant learning opportunities. It was not designed to be easy, but the friendships made, the frustrations and victories shared, the days spent at meetings and the nights spent at the library resulted in an experience I would not change for the world.

With the leadership and constant support of MBA student Sean Elder, our team was able to maintain a clear direction. With the guidance of our faculty mentors, we were able to see for ourselves just how intricately woven the disciplines are and how much one can inform the other. Working closely with the licensing manager and inventor, we provided a thorough review of the technology in a brief presentation and comprehensive written analysis. In return, we unified our vision with theirs — a vision which is ultimately centralized around the patient. In our final recommendation we advised continued research into the technology and identified three potential licensees capable of fully developing the technology's potential.

The Mayo Innovation Scholars Program unifies. The uniqueness of this program lies in its demand that students unite science with business, innovation with feasibility and ultimately student with student.

The Mayo Innovation Scholars Program was designed by retired Medtronic executive and former Minnesota Private College Council board member John Meslow in 2006. It is a collaborative initiative supported by the Medtronic Foundation, Mayo Clinic and the Minnesota Private College Council.