“It provides an extra pair of ‘hands’ in the operating room,” says Dobson.
“It makes it easier for anesthesiologists to perform ultrasound-guided peripheral nerve blocks and perineural catheters,” Turner adds.
These inventors are attending an i3 Workshop conducted by the Center for Technology Innovation & Commercialization, part of Wake Forest Innovations. The “i3” of the workshop stands for “Ideate. Invent. Innovate,” which reflects the Center’s goal of developing ideas for medical technologies from the faculty of Wake Forest Baptist into market-changing innovations.
The role of the i3 Workshop in the innovation process is to begin evaluating an idea’s market potential. That evaluation takes place as a conversation with the Center’s technology development and commercialization specialists.
At the end of the workshop, the goal is to provide both the inventors and the Center with a toolbox for discussing their technology with others and for evaluating its commercialization potential.
How the i3 Workshop Works
Inventors quickly discover that the i3 Workshops are “roll up your sleeves” working sessions to sketch and debate the business value of a technology being considered for development.
Despite the potential enormity and impact of ideas discussed during the workshops, sessions aren’t held in formal conference rooms with plush seating. Instead, the workshops take place at the Center in a common area. Everyone remains standing as the inventors sketch and jot down bullet points while conversing with the Center’s specialists in technology development and commercialization.
“Standing keeps everybody engaged,” says Ken Russell, director of medical device development at the Center, who is leading the workshop for Turner and Dobson. “It makes everybody a participant.”
The workshop is based on Wendy Kennedy’s So What? Who Cares? Why You? program, a methodology that explores how a new business or technology fits in the market landscape. The Center adapted the methodology to help inventors evaluate the potential of their ideas.
“The i3 Workshop helps facilitate a conversation,” says Russell. “Through a multi-step process, we work to identify an idea’s unique attributes, potential industry partners and competitors.”
i3 Workshops are segmented into three sections. In the So what? component, participants identify the problem, create a visual representation of the idea and identify the market space where the idea fits. The Who Cares? section explores potential customers, financial forecast and pathway to market, while the Why you? segment helps determine the competitive edge and plan for execution.
“Essentially, this whole process in a nutshell, is to get you guys thinking about where your technology would fit into the market,” Russell says, as he hands an assortment of dry-erase markers to Turner and Dobson.
“How are you going to sell it? What do the licensing companies look like? Who are they?” Russell asks Turner and Dobson. “That’s what we’re really driving toward.”
The First Tool in the Inventor’s Toolbox
The first activity inventors undergo is to create a visual that will help people quickly grasp the big idea of the invention.
Turner removes the cap off a blue marker and begins to sketch their invention on a dry-erase board emblazoned with an illustration of a giant blank napkin.
“I’m not much of an artist,” Turner says.
“Not a problem,” Russell responds. It’s a common reaction.
In same way you might create a sketch on a coffee shop napkin to illustrate a concept to a friend, the inventors use the Napkin Tool to help them identify and clarify how to explain their invention to others. During this step, participants draw the big picture, add a few key words and identify the unique attributes of the idea.
About Kenneth Russell
Director of Technology Innovation
Center for Technology Innovation & Commercialization
Kenneth Russell helps inventors turn their ideas and inventions into licensable medical devices. After more than 25 years in the medical devices industry, his expertise aids academic inventors in creating quality devices that are valuable to industry partners by using the resources of Wake Forest Innovations to design, test and develop commercially-ready medical devices. The guiding principle of his work is improving patient care by connecting the medical device industry to academic inventors.
“We want to simplify the idea of the medical technology into something you could draw on a napkin,” Russell says.
Despite already having more formal sketches and a prototype of their device in advance of the workshop, Turner and Dobson take turns sketching out ways to visually represent their idea. After the sketch is complete, the duo outline bullet points of the medical device’s attributes.
“It’s a single-user device and more efficient,” Turner says before writing the points on the board.
“It can also be adapted for many procedures,” Dobson adds.
The Napkin Drawing Tool helps inventors engage in the process of turning their idea into an invention that a company will pay for. Artistic skills are not required, and accuracy is more important than creating a beautiful picture. The drawing tool helps all participants focus on what makes their idea unique and differentiates their idea from existing products. This is the first step in understanding the value proposition of the new idea.
“The large dry-erase boards allow participants to quickly turn on a dime,” Russell says. “Unlike more formal presentations, you can re-draw something. If you write something down and don’t like it, you can simply erase it.”
This critical first tool helps create a foundation for communicating the essence of the idea that the later tools build on.
A Foundation for Moving Forward
Each i3 Workshop experience is different. Inventors work through multiple tools to help them identify the commercialization potential of their technologies. Inventors may not get through all the tools; they may attend multiple sessions—whatever their particular technology needs.
During their two-hour workshop, Turner and Dobson also complete the Category Map Tool to discuss commercial opportunities for their idea, providing clarity about where an idea fits in the market. The final step for their workshop was the Market Fishbone Tool, which fostered a conversation about target customers and alternative applications.
After working through the set of four tools during this session and additional workshops, inventors come away with practical steps for taking their technology to the next level.
“The workshop helped us think more broadly about our medical device’s potential uses,” says Turner.
Russell says i3 Workshops work well because they are comprehensive and are effective at facilitating a conversation. “You get everybody to ask questions, face to face, in real time,” Russell says. “And you get real-time answers. You can dig in as deep as you want.”