That journey from idea to innovation is central to how the Center for Technology Innovation & Commercialization of Wake Forest Innovations approaches developing medical technologies.
“Our goal is not just to churn out patents that sit on a shelf, but to help take promising ideas from our faculty and staff and develop them to a point where they can change health care,” says Eric Tomlinson. Tomlinson leads Wake Forest Innovations, the commercialization arm of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center that houses the Center for Technology Innovation & Commercialization.
Instead, the Center walks with researchers and clinicians along the path and helps them move the technology from idea to invention to innovation.
What Makes a Medical Technology an Innovation?
When we think of inventions we think of the ones that changed the world: the light bulb, the telegraph, the steam engine, the smartphone.
But what distinguishes an invention from an innovation? Consider the light bulb. In the late 1800s, dozens of patents existed for various incarnations of the incandescent bulb. So what separated Thomas Edison from the pack and eventually made him the modern-day poster boy for electric lighting?
What set Edison apart was more than just his ability to improve upon existing design, but his ability to create a whole suite of technologies that made the use of the light bulb more practical for everyday use by everyday people.
That is why, when you partner with the Center, our goal is to develop technologies that become more than inventions; our goal is to help them become innovations by creating products that will have lasting effects on patients and the medical market as a whole.
“An innovation is more than an idea or an early stage prototype or molecule. It’s more than a product with a patent,” Tomlinson explains. “An innovation is a technology that has made it to the market and has been widely adopted.”
Innovations take more than neon ideas; they take hard work, belief and many iterations to make them into products that either satisfy an existing demand in the market, or even create all new ones.
The Center is in the business of helping the researchers and clinicians of Wake Forest Baptist along that journey of transforming their ideas into market-changing innovations.
The i3 Concept
How does the Center help inventors develop market-changing innovations? Through its “i3” concept, which stands for “Ideate. Invent. Innovate.”
“These three words represent the Center’s approach to turning a great idea for a med
ical technology into an innovation. They also illustrate the Center for Technology Innovation & Commercialization’s commitment to our inventors and their path to commercialization,” says Jason Kralic, assistant vice president, technology innovation.
The staff at the Center do much more than push through patents; they work with inventors to evaluate the market potential of an idea, create a development plan and—when ready—court potential industry partners to manufacture and distribute the technology.
“We take a holistic approach—identifying the best point in an invention’s life cycle to bring in an industry partner and believing that developing an idea to this point maximizes its potential to be innovative,” Kralic explains.
Every successful medical technology starts from an idea. Many of these ideas are born out of observation: a clinician or researcher observes a recurring problem with patient care and begins to mull over possible solutions, eventually boiling those solutions down into a potential medical technology that addresses the issue in a unique or improved way.
But the idea is only the beginning. There’s so much more to think about when it comes to medical technologies: the market landscape, the business plan, other possible applications for the device or therapeutic, identifying buyers and end users, companies to target and more.
The staff at the Center are steeped in the process of creating and commercializing medical technologies. They know what to look for in the early stages of a technology that can make a difference later on and they walk inventors through an i3 Workshop, which helps researchers think like the companies that will take on the license and manufacturing of the product down the road.
Once an idea has been evaluated, it’s time to make the person with a good idea into a real-life inventor. The Center has the resources and connections to complete essential tasks like developing prototypes, securing funding and supporting early research. In addition, they have the business knowledge to help you protect what is unique and valuable about your invention.
Now, most academic technology transfer offices will stop here. You’ve got your patent application submitted, and soon your idea will be protected. You are officially an “inventor.” But the Center is not about technology transfer; it is about technology transformed.
Protecting an inventor’s intellectual property is important, but there’s a lot more development to be done in order to end up with a product that changes the health care field.
Moving from an invention to an innovation is what separates out the good ideas from the great ideas. To get to that point requires developing the medical technology to a stage where it can make the greatest impact in the marketplace.
The Center calls this point an inflection point, which is a sweet spot between the time and money invested into development of the technology and the potential value of the end product.
The Center is ready to help your invention make that leap, by connecting you with companies working on or seeking out products in your area, providing marketing resources developed for your particular technology and working through all the licensing and contract negotiations to make connections with the right company that can manufacture it and get it into the marketplace.
“We aim high,” says Tomlinson. “Producing innovations is always our goal; it’s in our name.”
One of the most tangible ways this concept is engrained is through the i3 Workshop, an interactive and immersive “boot camp” that helps potential innovators discover if their idea for a medical technology has the potential to be more than just an invention.
Together with an industry expert from the Center for Technology Innovation & Commercialization, faculty and staff are led through a series of validated tools to build a business case for why their idea matters and how it can create value for the marketplace.
“The i3 Workshop is the perfect setting to ‘stress test’ an idea and see if it has merit to become an invention and eventually an innovation,” says Kralic. “Our inventors come out of the i3 Workshop with a better understanding of the road ahead and more enthusiasm knowing what the plan is going forward.”
By focusing on pushing beyond inventions to create innovations, the Center embodies the Medical Center’s mission to improve health—and by living out the i3 approach, they help budding inventors do just that.