Power trio turns ideas into companies

Grand Valley students, faculty play key roles

by Dottie Barnes

photos by Bernadine Carey-Tucker

It’s being called a unique and aggressive approach to turning innovative ideas into companies. A technology sharing program created by Spectrum Health Innovations (SHI), Grand Valley and GR Current is a rare collaboration in moving ideas from concept to prototype to market, and Grand Valley students are at the forefront of the research.

The three organizations created Spectrum-Community T2, an initiative aimed at increasing the success of biomedical commercialization opportunities in West Michigan.

“Each organization and the community as a whole will benefit from this unique collaboration,” said J. Kevin McCurren, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Seidman College of Business. “We foresee the commercialization of ideas and, ultimately, the creation of new companies and job opportunities.”

The idea started because of the need for SHI to get its new ideas for medical devices to market. “Each year, Spectrum Health practitioners conduct research to identify and resolve a host of medical issues, generating a wealth of ideas for advancing health care,” said Brent Mulder, senior director of SHI. “We believe this partnership will streamline and strengthen the commercialization process of promising biomedical device ideas.”

Nick Ullery photo


Nick Ullery, ’03, is pictured researching a medical device. He is among the Spectrum-Community T2 team members.

GVSU innovation team

The project has received a 14-month grant for more than $71,000 from the Michigan Initiative for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, a consortium of the 15 Michigan public universities to provide gap funding and help launch start-up companies.

The project called for the creation of a Grand Valley student/faculty “Innovation Team,” comprised of an engineering graduate student, an MBA student and an entrepreneur-in-residence. The team is working with SHI to find three to five projects to move toward commercialization.

Nick Ullery, 24, earned a bachelor’s degree in management and finance from Grand Valley in 2003. He is currently enrolled in Grand Valley’s full-time integrated MBA (FIMBA) program and was selected to handle market research and assessment and prototyping for the project.

“I’ve started doing basic research to determine whether a project is feasible,” said Ullery. “I’m checking on patents and determining whether it makes sense to purchase a patent for a potential idea.”

Ullery has been shadowing doctors and nurses at Spectrum, observing any day-to-day challenges they face. “I’m looking for ways to make their job easier and for ways to provide better outcomes for patients,” he said.

Ullery said he is excited to be part of the project and feels prepared for the challenge. “I learned how to analyze companies as an undergraduate, and in the FIMBA program I learned how to create a company, conduct market research and determine restrictions,” he said.

Eric VanMiddendorp, 22, is a graduate student in Grand Valley’s engineering program, majoring in product design and manufacturing and minoring in biomedical engineering. He is responsible for product design and development.

“I have been observing doctors and nurses in different areas of the hospital with Nick, taking note of how we might solve certain problems,” said VanMiddendorp. “I am looking at the feasibility of solving various problems and trying to generate solutions and concepts that can carry through to a prototype.”


Eric VanMiddendorp

Eric VanMiddendorp was selected to work on product design and development for Spectrum-Community T2.

The Grand Rapids native is used to vetting and developing projects. As an undergraduate, he worked with a team of students to design a control system for a standing frame for those who can’t sit or stand on their own. The device closely mimics the standing motion for maximum therapeutic benefit.

“The engineering professors at Grand Valley are very knowledgeable and extremely helpful. It’s good to know I can lean on the expertise of my professors during this process,”
he said.

Ryan Jankovic, CEO at Enterprise Medical Products, will serve as the entrepreneur-in-residence and provide oversight to the process. “This is a fantastic opportunity for students and the health care community in West Michigan,” said Jankovic. “Some overlook the fact that Spectrum is a world-class facility and Grand Valley has one of the best up-and-coming biomedical programs in the country. It’s a win-win. Students will have access to some of the greatest minds in the health care profession while bringing a fresh, new perspective to the table. I’m excited to be a part of it.”


Power trio

Each of the three organizations brings something unique to the project.

Grand Valley is providing technical expertise through its faculty and students and access to a diverse knowledge base, including product design, prototyping and market assessment. SHI, a business venture within Spectrum Health, is providing opportunities and clinical knowledge and resources required to develop life-science products. GR Current, a business incubator for life sciences located in Grand Valley’s Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, is contributing resources to accelerate business growth.

“It’s a real powerful combination; we are like a power trio,” said Jeff Royce, director of GR Current. “Spectrum-Community T2 is unique in design and there are a lot of eyes on this set up. We’ve already been contacted by other organizations wanting to implement something similar.”

Royce said GR Current will provide access to a large database of resources for entrepreneurs. “This includes introductions to potential partners and clients and support groups like legal, accounting, prototype and design. It’s a database of successful entrepreneurs waiting for the next opportunity — qualified people who can take it to the next step,” he said.
The partnership with SHI was a logical one for Grand Valley, said McCurren. Grand Valley and SHI have collaborated on numerous projects. As part of their senior projects for graduation, engineering students help Spectrum identify potential solutions to problems. Students designed a medical device to secure tubes for people using a left ventricle assist device and another to harvest blood from cranial surgeries.

“Spectrum-Community T2 is a system that creates value not only for each party involved, but for the community as well,” said McCurren. “The project will mean hands-on learning experiences for students, development opportunities for faculty members and advanced health care for the region.”

New companies, jobs

Spectrum-Community T2 offers educational and economic opportunities, said McCurren. He said because the project is integrated with both an engineering and MBA program it will be a feeder system for commercialization talent involving 10 to 30 students. He said with each successful idea and opportunity, the investment in the program will be returned to the Michigan economy.

“Our goal is to create new companies and subsequent jobs for GR Current and West Michigan,” McCurren said.

Page last modified May 16, 2014