When I’m learning about a startup that’s raising funds, nothing fires me up more than a product that provides a clever, direct solution to a very relatable problem that no one else has made much progress in tackling before.
The approach Innovere’s founders took to getting a commercial foothold was also really clever. I think the tech and commercial aspects of their story make for a really cool case study for early-stage startup founders as well as PhDs and postdocs with startup aspirations to take note of, so I’d like to share a little about them.
Have you ever had an MRI scan? In case you haven’t, let me describe the process for you. The first thing to know is there’s a good chance you’ll be feeling a little anxious before the procedure begins. After all, you’re getting it done to find out whether there’s something wrong inside you. That’s not the ideal frame of mind to be in when you’re about to spend anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours crammed inside a tube. Your only company during that time is all these clanking, whirring, and buzzing noises that can be as loud as a jet engine or a jackhammer.
If your goal was to design a machine to trigger claustrophobia, you’d probably end up making something a lot like an MRI scanner. It’s little wonder that a lot of MRI procedures end up being postponed because the patient can’t face the ordeal.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem that has a simple fix: anything vaguely techish is going to create electromagnetic interference that will prevent the MRI scanner doing its job.
For about 50 years, the medical-imaging community seemed to just accept this as an insurmountable problem, and so patient well-being had to take a backseat to obtaining a reliable scan.
But then two PhDs in medical biophysics, Garry Liu and Kevan Anderson, figured out a way to integrate a video screen and audio system into an MRI setup without interfering with the scan itself. And they also put a lot of work into the design side to maximize their invention’s potential to alleviate patient discomfort and anxiety.
Their finished product turns an MRI scan into something not that different from kicking back and watching a movie on a flight.
When I learned about Garry and Kevan’s product through Innovere Medical’s pitch, I had that feeling I was looking at an innovation that was not only very technically clever but also focused on a problem that all kinds of people would be delighted to see solved.
In what I think was a really clever move, Innovere persuaded a former Siemens sales exec to join their board and help them to develop the right strategy for commercializing the product.
A little while later, Innovere secured funding plus an exclusive commercialization deal with Siemens. So far, Siemens has delivered over a hundred machines with Innovere’s system integrated into them. It looks like Innovere’s invention has provided them with a feature that’s given them a significant competitive edge in a product sector where differentiation is usually pretty tricky.
What I’d also like to highlight about Innovere’s story is that Garry and Kevan were PhD students when they had this idea. I sometimes get the sense that young scientific researchers have big dreams of developing their research into a game-changing product yet can’t imagine a path going in that direction that doesn’t involve surrendering control to someone who’s more business minded.
If you’re a PhD student or early postdoc in a STEM field, draw some confidence from the Innovere story, because it shows that if you have a well-conceived idea and work with the right industry experts and capital partners, there’s no reason why you can’t remain master of your innovation’s destiny.
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