See all NewsEngineering News

The Power of Collaboration: Q and A with Baxter Chief Scientific Officer Norbert Riedel

Northwestern University’s NUvention program is an interdisciplinary initiative that brings together students from the Kellogg School of Management, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Northwestern Law and the Feinberg School of Medicine.

Students create commercially viable business models in medical technology or patient care and experience the entire entrepreneurial lifecycle: concept, prototype and business plan. They contribute to the group according to their academic specialties: medical students on patient care and medical issues; law students on patent research and other legal concerns; engineering students on prototype design and development; and Kellogg students on market research and business plan development.

The program starts with students shadowing doctors to learn about their needs and those of their patients and the impact of medical technology. Within the first six weeks of class, students come up with about 25 product ideas. Those 25 potential products are winnowed down to one or two.

One of the NUvention teams, for example, decided to tackle the issue of hospital-acquired infections. After considering two potential products — one that addressed skin-borne pathogens and another that tackled infections associated with catheters — the team created a Foley catheter that helps prevent urinary tract infections, one of the most common hospital-acquired ailments.

Baxter International Inc. is a corporate partner of the NUvention program. Norbert Riedel, corporate vice president and chief scientific officer of Baxter and member of the McCormick Advisory Council, talks about his experience collaborating with students in the program.

Q: Why did Baxter choose to partner with NUvention?

NR: Baxter’s relationship with Northwestern University has many facets, and the NUvention program provides a natural opportunity to share concepts, challenge students and teach future innovators how to collaborate on bringing new ideas forward. We appreciate how NUvention accomplishes two main objectives: to foster and encourage collaboration across academic departments, and to demonstrate how to work on scientific and clinical concepts that focus on translating innovations into market and commercial opportunities.

Q: What’s the benefit to Baxter?

NR: When students define business cases for their ideas and concepts, we are given the opportunity to review those business cases and consider if they would be relevant to Baxter’s own strategy. That’s one of the main attractions as to why we serve on the advisory board and financially support the NUvention program.

Q: Is Baxter considering acquiring any of the intellectual property or licensing rights to proposals developed by the NUvention program?

NR: As advisory board members, we act almost like a venture fund and engage as if we were potential investors in new technologies. In this role, we challenge the business plans or ideas and counsel students on the commercial viability.

Q: What is the long-term impact of the program?

NR: NUvention provides education and training that help students become better prepared for the workforce after they leave school. Students better understand how organizations depend on interdisciplinary or multifunctional teamwork and collaborations. The environment at Northwestern simulates more of a real-life behavior that students will experience once they enter professional careers in the healthcare industry.

NUvention students benefit from being taught to have a very commercial mindset toward the ideas they tackle academically. They don’t just develop innovations and business plans for the academic pleasure of it; they do it with the question as to how whatever they create can add value and benefit society.

Q: What differentiates Northwestern students?

NR: The elements of speed, efficiency and urgency are often under-emphasized in the academic environment. NUvention students only have a little less than a year to take a new idea all the way from inception to business plan, which is a very, very short time. I have truly been impressed with the efficiency with which they actually drive their projects and the quality of the proposals.

The NUvention program has been very successful. And, we've seen several advisory board members work closely with the students to develop the intellectual property and concepts that were, in turn, shared with commercial entities. Very few institutions offer the opportunity to work closely with students in the process. We are proud to partner with Northwestern to help students become future innovators.

- Kellogg School of Management