Megan Yeigh joined the TREAT team in June, 2017 as the current TREAT Entrepreneur Fellow. In this perspective piece, Megan discusses how the academic calendar can be a challenge for engineering students learning product design and development and how her TREAT Fellowship has filled in knowledge gaps.
In an engineering degree program, students are taught to ideate, conceptualize, design, and build. In ten or fourteen-week terms, timelines are compressed. Rehabilitation or assistive technology product development life cycles can take years, thus, professors are challenged to provide students with a real world experience of bringing healthcare products to market. Given these challenges, many college students leave the classroom without a complete picture of commercialization and the underlying challenges of engineering product design.
Ideation, design, and prototyping are skills emphasized by STEM academic programs across all ages and curriculums. Engineering programs, by their very nature, must focus on the technical design process while other product development skills may be left out for lack of time. Finding investors, incorporating customer input, developing pro forma statements of revenue and expenses, and marketing are among the other time and cost intensive aspects of designing and bringing a product to market, which may not be addressed in the classroom.
As a college Capstone Design project, my team undertook the development of a 3D Bioprinter. While considering prototyping and design, we never had to ask the question ‘How are we going to pay the development costs?’ We had access to the supplies we needed through our sponsoring doctor, and, of course, we were students, so there were no salaries to pay. While we made great progress with the design, the time constraint did not allow us to assess the commercial viability of the printer or the potential long-term financial prospects of the technology.
As a TREAT Entrepreneur Fellow, I have had the opportunity to learn more about the myriad challenges and risks that fill the path between product concept and sales. I have also learned how to mitigate those risks. The TREAT Entrepreneur Fellowship teaches the value of customer input, planning for regulatory approval, and how to determine if your product development will be financially viable. In effect, TREAT teaches the entrepreneur how to draw the box big enough to encompass all aspects of product development leading to commercialization.
As an engineer, the design of a new technology is alluring and engaging. At TREAT, I have come to appreciate the other, equally important, aspects of product development. I have found a captivating challenge in determining how the technology will make a viable business. I have also thoroughly enjoyed working through these commercialization challenges with TREAT clients and appreciate the knowledge and experiences I have gained as I move forward in my career.
TREAT Entrepreneur Fellow Megan Yeigh is pursuing a Master of Engineering Management at Dartmouth College, a collaborative program taught by the faculty of the Tuck School of Business and the Thayer School of Engineering. She graduated from the University of Vermont with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering and has a passion for biomechanics and helping to improved quality of life for patients in the rehabilitation community.