MDI Alumnus Finds Passion in Entrepreneurship, Leads Twin Cities Medtech Accelerator | Technological Leadership Institute

Posted on
May 24, 2018
Photo of Adam Choe, a 2016 graduate of the M.S. in Medical Device Innovation program

Like most young professionals in the startup world, Adam Choe moves fast. And he is eager to help other budding entrepreneurs accelerate their medical technology startups.

“I want to experience and help as much as possible,” said the 2016 M.S. in Medical Device Innovation (MDI) alumnus.

With undergraduate degrees in both biology and conservation biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a love of life sciences, Choe knew he wanted to work in healthcare. After college and a few jobs in the technology sector, he felt a need to fast-track his career.

“I graduated at the height of the recession and wasn’t completely sure which career path to take, but was interested in research,” said Choe. “I’ve always liked to build things and tinker – I consider myself a garage engineer, one with no classical training.”

He entered medtech as a quality assurance analyst, and it was while working on post-market surveillance and regulatory affairs at St. Jude Medical that he decided to explore graduate school options.

“I was looking at master’s and MBA programs and wasn’t sure if I wanted to divert from life sciences and medtech, so MDI looked to be somewhere in the middle,” said Choe, who learned about the program through an internet search and went on to be part of the first MDI cohort. “The idea of being able to invent something from concept to prototype and understanding needs and markets in order to bring forth real solutions, rather than just engineering for the sake of engineering. MDI was really about turning theory into practice.”

During the program’s biodesign practicum, MDI students work with faculty and a clinical mentor to identify an unmet clinical need that becomes the basis of their therapeutic area team project. Choe focused on neuromodulation, specifically spinal cord injuries and developing a simple and cost-effective solution to help people with limited hand mobility regain grip strength. There, he met Dr. Joseph Hale, a medical device consultant and director of the Medical Devices Innovation Fellows Program at the Earl E. Bakken Medical Devices Center (MDC). Dr. Hale teaches the MDI biodesign practicum along with Dr. Daniel Mooradian, the MDI program director of graduate studies.

Dr. Hale encouraged Choe to apply for the MDC fellowship program and Choe did just that; he embarked upon the fellowship in parallel with the completion of his MDI capstone. The work he did as an MDC fellow led him to do further research with the Neuromodulation MnDRIVE Fellowship.

“I focused on learning and doing as much as possible since you only have so much time to the access, exposure and that level of opportunity,” said Choe.

During his fellowship, he heard about gener8tor and decided to reach out to Managing Director Eric Martell and ask if they could connect and learn more about what they were doing.

“If there’s anything to learn from this, don’t ever be afraid to ask someone for 20 minutes of their time,” he said. It’s been a little more than a year since Choe has been helping gener8tor, a Midwest-based startup accelerator, support the medical device and healthcare ecosystem in Minnesota.

gener8tor is a vertical agnostic accelerator, which means they don’t have a specific industry focus but rather invest in a variety of products and ideas. The gBETA Medtech program, however, is industry-specific. It’s a free, seven-week accelerator program that works with medical device, healthcare-related software, biotech and diagnostic startups.

From where did the idea for a vertical specific gBETA Medtech come? Again, it was the result of networking — something Choe believes is extremely important.

It began with a conversation with a prominent supporter of Minnesota’s medtech industry, Frank Jaskulke, vice president of intelligence at the Medical Alley Association.

“Frank had expressed that Boston Scientific was interested in learning more about gener8tor,” said Choe. “We connected with Boston Scientific to see if there was mutual interest and the rest is a blur.”

Other supporters include the University of Minnesota’s Earl E. Bakken Medical Devices Center and the Office for Technology Commercialization, as well as The Medical Alley Association and Mayo Clinic.

Choe, who was appointed director of gBETA Medtech in 2018, plans to work with 16 to 18 companies over 3 cohorts to help them move forward as efficiently as possible.

“Our tagline is ‘Do in seven weeks what would take seven months’ and a lot of that is based on meeting and knowing the right people,” said Choe, who explained that gBETA Medtech will also help the companies with business and marketing strategies. “They can then focus on their ideas and what they’re trying to deliver instead of trying to lock down meeting times.”

Their first six companies have been Minnesota-based companies, attesting to the powerful presence of medtech in the state. They’re committed to supporting local talent but also bringing in talent from elsewhere, so cohorts two and three are open to the rest of the world.

What happens after companies leave the accelerator?

“No one really ever graduates!” said Choe, chuckling. “Our success really hinges on the success of the companies we help. If they still need assistance after the program, we still want to support them. It only further shows our value.”

All that being said, gener8tor is still growing, so their small staff wears all the hats.

“Up until a couple months ago, we only had two full-time staff in the Minnesota office, so we do everything from taking out the trash to operations, fundraising and networking,” said Choe.

His advice to MDI students and future medtech entrepreneurs is, “Don’t be afraid to ask people for advice because many are willing and eager to help. If you think you have a good idea, validate it – get feedback from both subject matter experts and regular folks. Be open to adapting.”

When it comes to rejection, he says get used to it as a necessary part of medtech entrepreneurship.

“Not everything goes your way and the more you try the better your chances.  You may ask 100 times and you get 99 no’s but it only takes that 1 yes. Being bold with tact will get you far.”

And when all else fails? Fall back on what – or rather who – you know. In his case, he’s maintained his relationships with several members of the MDI faculty, such as John Dinusson and John Feriancek.

“I still speak to both ‘the John’s’!” said Choe. “I consider them my informal advisors and that mentorship is important to me. Networking really is essential, just be genuine about it.”

He believes that building a successful company is, at the early stages, about building relationships. After working on developing the circle around him, he’s committed to helping others achieve that as well.

Consider it his way of paying it forward.

To learn more about the M.S. in Medical Device Innovation (MDI) degree program, be sure to attend an upcoming information session or set up an individual appointment with a member of our admissions team.

About the Author

Photo of Azra Halilovic

Azra Halilovic

Senior Communications Specialist

The idea of being able to invent something from concept to prototype and understanding needs and markets in order to bring forth real solutions, rather than just engineering for the sake of engineering. MDI was really about turning theory into practice.

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