Six years ago, it became apparent that there was a disconnect within Columbia’s biomedical ecosystem: clinicians were identifying unmet clinical needs, engineering and science faculty were working to develop innovative products and students were interested in gaining skills working on technologies with real-world commercial application, but there was no formal infrastructure in place to facilitate collaboration between these groups or provide easily accessible education around how to evaluate a given technology’s market potential. To remedy this, the Columbia Biomedical Accelerator was born. The program aims to catalyze the advancement of biomedical technologies by providing funding, education, resources and mentorship to interdisciplinary teams working to develop solutions to clinical unmet needs, with the ultimate goal of bringing innovative research out of the lab to benefit society.
At the start, the program’s primary purpose was to provide grant funding, but it quickly became apparent that more was needed to support faculty in their quest to move their technologies from the lab to the market. Thus, the program developed a “boot camp” for applicant teams to provide education around the potential hurdles and opportunities their envisioned technology might face. In addition, as Partnership Director Andrea Nye notes, most faculty “don’t want to quit their day jobs to run a company,” and as a result, “technologies weren’t moving forward as fast as we thought they should.” In an effort to ease faculty’s burden, the program began pairing biomedical engineering and business students with interdisciplinary faculty members, giving students hands-on business experience while providing faculty with valuable support for their projects.
An offshoot of this successful program is a new semester-long course, Lab-to-Market: Accelerating Biomedical Innovation, available to technical teams and affiliated PhD, Masters and MBA students. The course is co-taught by Nye and Katie Reuther, a Faculty member in Biomedical Engineering and Co-Director of Columbia’s Biomedical Accelerator.
Course participants learn to clearly define the unmet clinical need that their technology is meant to address, assess the market potential, and develop preliminary regulatory and reimbursement road maps and a path to market. Likewise, by facilitating interactions between teams in the course and serial entrepreneurs and industry executives, the class helps teams establish a rigorous proof of concept and a plan for market readiness — both instrumental items on the path to attracting investors.
This program can have a significant impact on the shape that these early commercial ventures may take. For example, Reuther recalls that the life sciences startup MatriTek team came to the Lab-to-Market program with a “completely different application” in mind for their technology, but after taking the course pivoted its approach to become the company it is today. Startups aren’t the only way to get from lab to market, however — for an alternate path, some technologists choose to license their product directly to an established company.
MB, MS, and PhD students interested in the commercialization of biomedical technologies are encouraged to enroll in the course in Spring 2018 using the code BMEN E6007.