MDI Alumnus Shares Experience Bringing Eye Therapy Device to Market | Technological Leadership Institute
A couple months ago, 2016 M.S. in Medical Device Innovation (MDI) alumnus Ken DauSchmidt made news for debuting a Kickstarter campaign for an eye therapy device. Since then, there have been some new developments, which Ken shared during his recent visit to one of the final practicums for the 2018 cohort. He talked to the students about his experience bringing the device to market, from the engineering and business strategies to the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. We sat down with Ken to get his perspective and learn a little about the Winona native:
What was your undergraduate degree?
I earned a B.A. in Biology, Society and Environment at the University of Minnesota. I chose this degree because it gave me the ability to pursue a variety of interests while completing pre-medical courses.
Where are you working now?
I'm the co-founder of TearRestore. I co-founded the company with the goal of providing an effective and consumer-focused treatment for Dry Eye Syndrome. Our patent-pending device has the support of an NSF grant and is currently undergoing an efficacy study at the University of Colorado. I also do part-time work for a group of opthalmologists, which allows me to conduct customer discovery every day.
I have triplet older siblings!
What led you to TLI? Why did you choose the M.S. in Medical Device Innovation (MDI)?
I chose TLI because I was looking for a program that could provide MBA-type management training with a focus on science. MDI was perfect for my situation because I was working in ophthalmology and was interested in being part of the fast-paced technology innovations happening within the industry.
How has MDI helped your career?
MDI gave me the background to confidently innovate within the medical device industry. The program equipped me with the knowledge and resources to navigate the barriers within healthcare, such as regulatory, intellectual property and reimbursement.
Were you inspired by your classmates and professors?
Absolutely! Several of my classmates are going on to achieve great things both in the corporate and startup worlds. The prestigious backgrounds of the MDI professors was an important asset; some of the faculty provide integral contributions to top medical device companies while others have started, run or sold them. I got to learn about medtech from a wide variety of perspectives.
What about MDI surprised you?
MDI's ability to connect with resources at the state and federal level really impressed me. With the program's assistance, I have been supplied the opportunity to receive MN-Corps and National Science Foundation I-Corps grants.
Can you talk about your capstone topic and experience?
After my experience in the MN-Corps program, I chose to evaluate the barriers to entry for a new medical device. The experience gave me a thorough knowledge of the industry, giving me the confidence to make a new device a reality.
Can you discuss your practicum experience and what you learned in it that was useful in your work/career?
The practicum was especially helpful as it gave me experience testing hypotheses through customer discovery and prototyping a device accordingly.
Tell me about how you got the idea for TearRestore.
TearRestore came through seeing the limitations of current dry eye treatments in clinic, and then developing a solution to treat the underlying cause of the condition.
Can you talk about the NSF iCorp experience and its impact on you and TearRestore?
The NSF iCorps program can best be described as an "Ivy League bootcamp." The prestigious teaching team forced us to take our idea from the benchtop to the customer. For TearRestore, it helped me identify clear ideal customers and channel to reach them.
Can you tell us more about the Kickstarter?
We rolled out a Kickstarter campaign in an attempt to gain funding and enter the undiagnosed dry eye market. Our initial feedback was great from dry eye sufferers; however, after speaking with key opinion leaders within the industry, we decided it would be advantageous to raise funds from industry partners rather than crowdfunding. In a way, you could see this as a "failure" for our startup, but we think of it as pivoting, and I think we'll be better off for it in the long term. But we do credit the Kickstarter for giving us the broad industry interest we received.
Are there mentors/faculty or colleagues/peers from MDI that helped you learn what you needed to pursue this entrepreneurial path? Do you still have a relationship with some of these folks?
Dr. Dan Mooradian, who runs the MDI program, has been integral to the early success of TearRestore. He has supplied us with a mentor who knows almost every area of the medical device industry. I also keep in close touch with John Dinusson and Kirk Froggatt, who are always available to provide expert advice. Additionally, I would like to mention Carla Pavone from the Carlson School of Management, as her knowledge of the startup world and ability to connect me with impactful resources was also instrumental.
What are some of your short-term and long-term goals with TearRestore? And beyond this product?
Short term, TearRestore is looking to finalize a partnership with key clinicians within the eyecare industry. Long-term, we're looking to disrupt the way Dry Eye Syndrome is treated and spread awareness of the increasingly-common condition (p.s. those of you reading this on a computer -- it's probably not helping!)
Where do you think the medical device/medtech industry is heading? What skills do you think will be important, and how has MDI helped prepare you for what's coming?
I believe the medical device industry will continue its trend toward being a high-acquisition industry. Large companies are decreasing their R&D budgets, which puts the burden (or opportunity!) of new technology development on universities and startups. Programs such as MDI fill this void by giving innovative professionals the ability to test their ideas.
Would you recommend MDI to others? To what kind of professionals and why?
Absolutely. MDI is great for professionals who want to take the step up to management or innovate on their own.
What message do you want to send to potential MDI students and the next generation of leaders?
Get out of your comfort zone because you will grow and make yourself better this way. If you do not know what to expect, do it anyway. Opportunity doesn't occur every day, so be ready to act when it does.
Students in the M.S. in Medical Device Innovation degree program study medical technology innovation management, take medical industry-specific electives and more. Attend an information session to find out how the Master of Science in Medical Device Innovation can give you the experience you need to advance your career.