University of MN Promotes Medical Innovation, Entrepreneurship Among Nurses

University of MN Promotes Medical Innovation, Entrepreneurship Among Nurses

Workshops seek to give nurses tools to translate medtech ideas into reality.

Nurses work right at the nexus of medical technology, patient care and family interaction, so if anyone would be able to identify unmet needs and holes in the quickly changing healthcare universe, it would be them. But are their ideas for innovations in medical devices and new procedures being heard?
The University of Minnesota is rightly known for putting an emphasis on efforts to commercialize innovations coming out of its scientific research labs. Now it’s also seeking to tap the real-world expertise of nurses with a program to gather their ideas for improving healthcare and guiding them in an entrepreneurial direction.
Called Planting the Seeds of Innovation, the workshops are staged by the U of M School of Nursing and Fairview Health Services/MnHealth in hopes of encouraging nurses to develop their ideas into a marketable form with the help of commercialization experts from the U’s Carlson School of Business, as well as resources from its College of Design and Medical Device Center.
The latest conference took place last week at the McNamara Alumni Center, where U of M School of Nursing Dean Connie Delaney and Fairview Chief Nurse Executive Laura Reed touted nurses as natural problem solvers who unfortunately lack the knowledge of how to take healthcare innovations they may have and turn them into reality. The two organizations established a think tank/incubator on the subject called the Nursing Collaboratory in 2013.
Delaney told TCB one of her goals with the Planting the Seeds effort was to leverage the unique position of nurses to spur much-needed improvements in the health care sphere at a time when disruptions in the medical and insurance fields are creating new openings for innovation.
“Whether it’s in the I.C.U., in an ambulatory clinic or in a home, nursing is the intimate connection with patients’ families and communities, so nurses are listening and they know what’s needed,” she said.  “That’s a key push here.
“Also, we’ve seen innovations from nurses popping up for years, and frankly, no one has taken the time to look at them and say, ‘Wow, this needs to be linked up with the scientists and the engineers and the angel investors, and needs to be rolled out.’ So, it’s also about improving our sensitivity to the ideas that nurses capture, informing them about the commercialization process, and helping them with it.”
Delaney also praised the program as an example of how the widely-scattered resources of the U of M can be brought together for the twin goals of improving patient care and developing new health care businesses for the state.
“We’re pulling people together in a collaborative way, and the agenda is to create new businesses,” she said. “This conference is meant to unveil and make visible a whole sector that hasn’t been looked at before in those terms.”
There have already some notable examples of Minnesota nurses coming up with new products and procedures despite the odds generally being stacked against them. For instance, conference participant and U of M associate nursing professor Casey Hooke and one of her students have patented a flexible IV line device that attaches to an IV pole and lifts the tubing off the ground, similar to the movable arm often attached to a bike for walking a dog.
Another example is fellow U of M School of Nursing professor Donna Bliss, who has developed and licensed an incontinence-associated dermatitis tool which allows users to self-assess varying degrees of skin damage caused by the condition based on a color scale.
But there is potential for many more nurses to bring their innovations forward, according to Carla Pavone of the Carlson School of Management, who last week was leading a Planting the Seeds of Innovation session to refine the raw ideas of the nursing participants.
Pavone is also director of MIN-Corps, a federally funded joint initiative of three areas of the University of Minnesota — the College of Science and Engineering, the Office for Technology Commercialization and the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the Carlson School — meant to foster research-based technology commercialization capabilities and activities across the U.
“I work a lot with scientists from around the U who have some ideas that could have tremendous medical benefits, but they have no idea about how they could actually be applied in a clinical setting,” she told TCB. “So, part of my job is to connect them to clinicians.
“But with nurses, they’re already connected with clinicians. That’s exciting, and I also think that’s why we’re seeing some significant movement across the country to emphasize nursing innovation and translating that into commercialization.”
Pavone said that with nursing evolving to become more technology-oriented, nurses are playing bigger roles generally and are branching out into entrepreneurism. That phenomenon, she added, is already being recognized and backed by federal granting agencies such as the National Institutes of Health.