Near-Death Experience Motivates Medical Device Innovation Alumnus to Make a Difference in the Industry | Technological Leadership Institute

Posted on
May 25, 2016
Trong Dong

“I was one hour away from death.”

This was the news doctors in Vietnam told Trong Dong’s parents when he was just 8 years old. He had contracted Japanese brain encephalitis, a virus that causes inflammation of the brain, and lost control of the lower half of his body.

“The technology was so terrible in third world countries that I was misdiagnosed,” says Dong. “I spent months receiving treatment and in rehab. I couldn’t walk for three months.”

After making a full recovery and moving to the United States in 2006, Dong earned a bachelor’s degree in information systems and began working as a project manager in IT software development at Boston Scientific. It was there where he found his passion for medical technology.

“I had a background in software development, but I wanted to develop skills beyond my job description,” Dong explains. “Because of the medical issues I experienced, I wanted to get into the field to make medical technology affordable for the whole world.”

A few years into his career, Dong says he wanted to go back to school because he was looking for new opportunities. He was considering an MBA until he heard about the Master of Science in Medical Device Innovation (MDI) degree program at the Technological Leadership Institute (TLI).

“I wanted to learn new things and prepare for my future in the medical device industry. (Director of Graduate Studies) Dr. Dan Mooradian came and spoke at Boston Scientific, and that allowed me to really understand the value of the MDI program.”

In 2014, Dong joined the very first Medical Device Innovation cohort at TLI. As a student in the degree program, Dong came up with the idea for his startup company, Rakuna, a mobile and web app that helps recruiters to capture, evaluate and organize candidate information in real time at career fairs or recruiting events.

“I did a little recruiting for Boston Scientific, and I encountered this niche HR problem: Companies go to colleges to recruit, and they come back with a stack of resumes and handwritten notes, which then have to manually be entered into a computer. Many students don’t hear back for weeks – or ever. This experience is broken.”

Dong wasn’t the only one who recognized this issue. While taking the University of Minnesota MIN-Corps STARTUP course co-led by TLI Gemini Chair Kirk Froggatt, Dong learned to talk to as many potential customers as possible. After interviewing 30 companies who agreed on the need for a solution, he knew there was a market for such technology.

“In an effort to streamline the recruiting process, my wife and I developed Rakuna to help recruiters eliminate pens and paper,” Dong says. “We were fortunate to be a Student Division Finalist at the 2015 MN Cup Startup Competition, and that helped us develop a business plan.”

Shortly after completing the 14-month MDI degree program, Dong moved to San Francisco, where he participated in the Founders Space accelerator and incubator program, a month-long startup “boot camp.” He is now running Rakuna on the west coast full time.

Although he may not be directly helping to improve the affordability of medical care in countries like Vietnam, Dong is doing his part to contribute to the success of the medical industry as a whole. He says Rakuna’s focus is on working with small and medium-sized businesses for now, but they would like to expand to larger organizations, including medical technology companies. In June 2016, Rakuna signed its first multi-year annual customer contract- a key milestone for the new company.

Dong acknowledges MDI for helping him get started on his new career path.

“It’s given me the wings to fly. I learned about the importance of identifying a need – whether that be for the patient, doctor or nurse – and apply a method to meet that need.”

He encourages those who may not have a strong medical technology background to consider pursuing a Master of Science in Medical Device Innovation because there are many things students can take away from it.

“[TLI isn’t] looking for people who are on the typical medical device career path. They really want a mix, diverse group of students. It was the best decision to do MDI because it worked so well with my situation, given my background and what I wanted to do in my career. It’s a really valuable degree.”

The Technological Leadership Institute M.S. in Medical Device Innovation degree program focuses on teaching students about product development and training them to be leaders. Register for an information session to find out how MDI can take your career to the next level.

I had a background in software development, but I wanted to develop skills beyond my job description. Because of the medical issues I experienced, I wanted to get into the field to make medical technology affordable for the whole 

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