Galway, a medieval city in the middle of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way is, at first glance, an unlikely location for the premier cluster of medical device companies in Europe. One third of Ireland’s 25,000 medical device employees are based in Galway and its surrounds in the west.
Upon closer examination it makes more sense. A favorable corporate tax climate, a highly educated and youthful population and a culture of innovation are among the reasons that medical device companies choose Galway as a location.
But now, something incredibly interesting is beginning to happen. Ireland is stepping up its own medical device research and those involved in the industry all around the world are sitting up and taking note of one program in particular – BioInnovate Ireland.
BioInnovate Ireland, a program based in Galway’s university essentially takes talented, experienced and inventive people – doctors, engineers, business people – gives them access to hospitals and healthcare settings, and supports them as they come up with solutions to problems within those settings.
It’s a simple idea but an ingenious one. Many devices and tools that doctors are using haven’t changed or been updated for 30 years. The companies making the devices have no incentive to update them because the market already belongs to them. But what if there was a better, safer, cheaper way to do things? This is where BioInnovate fellows come in. Fresh eyes, inventive minds and an eye on the crowded medical market can work wonders both for healthcare and for business.
Program manager Paul Anglim says, “BioInnovate Ireland is actually modeled on the world-renowned Stanford Biodesign. It’s a program that’s much imitated, but ours is the only one that Stanford has accepted as an official affiliate which is a real testament to the quality of what we’re doing.”
Each person on the BioInnovate fellowship is sponsored by a government organization called Enterprise Ireland to the tune of €30,000. It is a serious public investment, but a good one, as the results so far are very promising. In just four years, BioInnovate Ireland can claim ten technologies, one spin out company, one license and three other companies in development. This is a massive result for such a young program.
Word is spreading about the program. The access that fellows get to the clinical settings is unrivaled and it means that fellows are traveling from all over the world to participate. “We have a huge number of highly qualified potential BioInnovate fellows on our doorstep, but we also attract a huge number of candidates from outside which means the standards are always incredibly high in the fellowship,” Anglim says.
As a result of all this, entry is extremely competitive and the participants often have a wealth of industry and research experience.
Fellows go into hospitals to observe, ask questions and gather information in order to identify areas for improvement. They make massive lists of problems they think they could solve, and then the hard work begins.
“People come out of that program with huge lists of clinical needs,” Anglim says. “The real work is in whittling down those needs. The aim of the program is for people to end up with ideas that are real contenders when it comes to the marketplace so the fellows really have to look at them from all angles.”
Essentially in order for there to be a market for a new medical device or solution, the new product has to be significantly better, more efficient or cheaper than what is already in place. If it’s not, there won’t be a demand for it. BioInnovate ensures fellows are asking all the right questions before they attempt to get funding for an idea. It is both innovative entrepreneurship training and a start-up incubator with a focus on inventing solutions to health problems. By the end of the program, fellows will have a good sense of whether their business is a contender or not. Many fellows have gone on to develop their ideas and are actively progressing to market.
“It’s amazing,” says Anglim. “We have doctors on the program who, if their ideas are successful, will end up helping far more people than they could ever have dreamed possible when they were working as clinicians in hospitals. They will make more money too. That, to me, seems like something worth doing.”