Collaboration between engineers, professors and students has always happened in Andrew DiMeo's
biomedical engineering classes at NC State and UNC.
But that crossed into the healthcare world a year ago with the first "speed dating"
for engineers and surgeons at UNC's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. DiMeo (pictured top left) came away with $10,000 to explore an idea he dreamt up during the event with Jason Long,
a cardio-thoracic surgeon, assistant professor and co-director of the UNC Lung Cancer Screening Clinic.
The vision was to create a space for surgeons to share cool device or technology ideas and work on them with students or the broader community of entrepreneurs. DiMeo deployed a team of students in his joint NC State/UNC graduate biomedical engineering course to create a business plan for the project.
And now, with the help of an $85,000 Catalysts for Innovation grant and free office and prototyping space at The Frontier
for the next two years, it's really happening.
The Medical Innovators Collaborative or MEDIC is helping "bridge the valley of death between healthcare innovation and investment," DiMeo says. It will bring together doctors and medical tech entrepreneurs in this region with faculty and students from the region's universities to help ideas become real products and fundable businesses.
"We are creating an IP safe haven where a medical innovator can park an innovation in a 'garage' in RTP and we can assess if it's a valuable asset and put together a team of students to develop a business around it," DiMeo says.
It's a perfect example of the type of project RTP hoped to find and fund with the new grant program, says Mason Ailstock, RTP Foundation's chief operating officer.
"There was convergence of the universities and a clear path forward," Ailstock says. "They can say, in an order of time, here's what we're producing, the value we're creating and spinouts of new innovations."
It's an extension of the vision of TUCASI, a foundation established in 1975 to ensure that the universities kept a presence at the park as developers bought up and developed the land. On its 120-acre plot is the National Humanities Center; MCNC, the region's broadband connectivity group; the Burroughs Wellcome Fund supporting biomedical science research; and most recently, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.
But collaboration doesn't have to happen in a bricks and mortar facility, and those take a long time to fund, plan and build, foundation board members realized. With its $1 million endowment, they decided to try something different. With contributions by the RTP Foundation, the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology & Science at NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill, they put out an RFP for the new program, which would provide $250,000 over the next two years to projects that show collaboration between at least two universities and benefit the greater community in some way.
Thirteen proposals were submitted and the best two were funded. Joining MEDIC is EcoPRT,
the alternative transit project underway at NC State University. With its $165,000, leaders Marshall Brain
and Seth Hollar
of the Engineering Entrepreneurs Program at NC State will explore ways to use their first-of-its-kind pod technology to provide a new way to transport the thousands of employees at companies in the park to The Frontier and the Park Center mixed-use development to be built nearby it.
MEDIC is another unique effort for the region. And there's still about $500,000 left to raise to fully achieve the vision. In the meantime, the grant will be used to set up a 501c3, fund legal work and purchase equipment.
DiMeo's co-conspirator in the MEDIC project is Andy Taylor
(top right), lab manager of the NC State Cell Mechanics Laboratory and a recent biomedical engineering grad. Also assisting are Preston Linn
and Tim Martin
, both industry mentors to DiMeo's students over the last year. Martin also serves as assistant director of KickStart Venture Services
, a program that helps UNC faculty and students take biomedical technology innovations through the startup phase.
DiMeo also will work closely with Bunker Labs
, a veteran entrepreneurs accelerator program also based at The Frontier. The prototyping lab will be shared by the two organizations, and DiMeo expects to find other synergies too.
They expect to hold a kickoff event in October, and to eventually become known as the hub of medical innovation in the Triangle.
"There are a few gaps in this ecosystem and we're trying to fill those in and be a place that brings academics, industry professionals, students, veterans and clinicians together to really catalyze what is already happening," DiMeo says.