Conrad’s Bridging Entrepreneurs to Students (BETS) program is a specialized co-op program which connects first-year engineering co-op students with seed and early-stage startup companies for short-term placements. In this post, Spring 2017 BETS students and BETS employer Vena Medical share how the program worked for them this term.
From the startup side
Michael Phillips and Phillip Cooper
When SWIRVE transitioned from a Capstone design project into a full-time startup as Vena Medical, there was an endless amount of work to do. Between product development, contractor and vendor management, business planning and grant applications, the founding team—two mechanical engineering graduates—knew they needed co-op students to get the job done. When their Conrad mentors Wayne Chang and Emily Peat approached them about the BETS program, they decided to take a chance on it.
Vena Medical could not be happier with how well the BETS program worked out. Their co-op students, Tauseen and Yavora, quickly and enthusiastically learned about Vena Medical, the problem, the company’s solution, and what it would take to complete development and bring it to market – no easy feat when your target market is a subspecialty of medicine called interventional radiology. Vena Medical had an important verification test scheduled for the end of July, but they still needed to design and build a benchtop test fixture to mimic the vascular system of the human body. Testing, mechanical, and electrical design challenges had to be overcome in order to ensure that Vena Medical’s product development timeline remained on schedule.
Fortunately, Tauseen and Yavora were more than up to the challenge, and they took the lead on designing, purchasing, and constructing the mechanical and electrical components of the testing fixture as well as the hardware to support the SWIRVE backend system. They worked independently with minimal management required from the founders. The BETS were also incredibly thoughtful in their design considerations, always thinking two steps ahead on ideas that required a comprehensive understanding of the technology and clinical medical devices.
The BETS rapidly completed the test fixture and the SWIRVE backend system components which allowed the Vena Medical founders to focus on and accelerate other aspects of the business.
Thanks in part to Tauseen and Yavora, Vena Medical was accepted into Houston medtech accelerator TMCx, advanced to the Velocity Fund 25K Finals, finished critical SWIRVE software, and completed their next prototype.
From the student’s side: Tauseen
Vena Medical is currently in the process of manufacturing a short-wave infrared vascular endoscope (SWIRVE), which will enable physicians to safely and accurately navigate through shorter diameter arteries, making surgical processes extremely time efficient. As technical and advanced as this may sound, Vena Medical co-founders Michael Phillips and Phillip Cooper put in their utmost effort to ensure we understood all concepts and smoothly transitioned into their new startup.
They did this by handing us a long-term project that would last the entire five-week BETS placement, which involved the research, ideation, manufacturing, and evaluation of a test fixture called PHANTOM 1.0. The fixture will be used to mimic a real-life human blood vessel in order to analyse the functionality of SWIRVE. The project covered the research of medical terminology pertaining to the company, looking into the needs analysis which was later used to generate conceptual designs of the test fixture, examining different ways to implement circuits to account for the electronics of the fixture, and finally, putting all of these together.
This project ultimately motivated us to understand more conceptual aspects of Vena Medical’s industry. In addition, it helped us to develop new and existing skills such as laser-cutting, soldering, CNC machining, breadboarding, and operating an Arduino. PHANTOM was a vital component to Vena’s growth as a startup, and trusting us with the driver’s seat in this project made us feel valued as an essential asset to the company.
From the student side: Yavora
Working directly with the founders of a company is a unique experience - on the first day they told us all about their company, why they do what they do, and their vision for the future. Seeing their passion made me want to do my best and contribute as much as I could to help them achieve their vision.
Even though it has only been four weeks so far I’ve already learned a lot. We were in charge of creating a test fixture used to test out different cameras on our endoscope and see which one works best for the product, starting with the design all the way to its assembly. Being in nanotechnolgy engineering, we don’t do as much design and building as the mechanical engineers I work with so I found it really helpful to go through the whole design process firsthand. Before building, we had to purchase parts, and I learned an important lesson about lead times, as some of the materials we ordered still haven't arrived. I recently learned how to use the CNC machine they have here at the Velocity Garage and have been designing and cutting part of our fixture which has been was really fun.
Overall, working with Phil and Michael has been great, and I really hope to see Vena Medical succeed.
Learn more about the BETS program.