Inspiring the Next Generation of Health Care Innovators

Piscataway, NJ - October 4, 2017

Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School aims to educate, collaborate and accelerate medical commercial ventures

John Dutton learned his first lesson in entrepreneurship the hard way.

“I had a great idea for a medical product, a patent and a business plan – and still I got scooped,” says Dutton, who was 22 and a researcher at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia when he watched another company make good with a variation of his invention. 

The following year, as a first-year student at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Dutton and two classmates, Steven Shterenberg and Matthew Michel,  launched Rutgers Biomedical Entrepreneurial Network (BEN). Their goal: to give medical students the tools they need to develop  innovative solutions in the clinic and  cultivate an entrepreneurial culture at Rutgers. 

“I wanted to help educate others interested in getting their ideas to market so they wouldn’t make the same mistakes I did, to give them the best chance of success in solving the problems in the health care arena,” says Dutton, a fourth-year RWJMS student and co-developer of an information-guided patient discharge platform known as Suretify, his second company.

Today BEN, in its fourth year, is going strong. Each month 20 to 30 RWJMS student-members come together for inspirational talks and workshops centered on biomedical and health care innovation and entrepreneurship. Medical students gain hard such as how to raise money, enter pitch competitions and network with potential collaborators.

“Our primary goal is to educate medical students on how to be health care disruptors,” says BEN’s 2017 co-president Gregg Khodorov, who received his MBA at Rutgers and interned at Pfizer before beginning medical school at RWJMS in 2016. “Medical students today recognize that times are changing and that innovation is the key to making a difference on a grand scale in health care, especially in this new era of digital medicine.”

Last year, Khodorov and BEN’s 2017 co-president Julia Tartaglia hosted an inaugural BEN Health Innovation Summit, which drew an audience of 130 attendees – not only physicians and medical students, but participants from Rutgers Business School, Rutgers’ Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy and, Rutgers’ School of Engineering, as well as industry leaders in the community.

The summit, scheduled this year in February at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, also serves as a networking event for all health care stakeholders in the greater New Jersey area.

“As medical students, we have little contact with engineers, programs and industry professionals with whom we could work to innovate within health care. The BEN summit serves to not only inspire the next generation of physician entrepreneurs, but to also break down industry silos by facilitating interactions among physicians, technologists, engineers and businesspeople,” says Tartaglia, who founded the Scientista Foundation, a national organization that empowers pre-professional women in STEM, out of Harvard College before starting RWJMS last year.

One of BEN’s noteworthy successes is its collaboration with Robert Wood Johnson Medical School faculty and Rutgers School of Engineering to create a Distinction Program in Medical Innovation and Entrepreneurship (DiMIE). The program, launched in 2016, is a distinction track in which students at RWJMS develop their ideas with the goal of maturing an innovation toward commercialization by the end of their fourth year.

Entering its second year with 14 students, the four-year program begins with exposure to BEN seminars and, in year two, students partner with clinicians to develop their ideas toward commercialization. By year four, they are expected to create a formal business plan; file a patent; and submit grant proposals for seed funding. 

“At the heart of the program is the coming together of diverse perspectives and expertise,” says Susan Engelhardt, executive director of Rutgers’ Department of Biomedical Engineering’s Center for Innovative Ventures of Emerging Technologies (CIVET), who co-directs the program. “Students bring fresh ideas to patient care and clinical mentors champion the innovation’s integration into the clinical environment.”

Engelhardt, along with DiMIE’s clinical co-founder Tomer Davidov, associate professor of surgery at RWJMS, help facilitate partnerships with other Rutgers entities, such as the intellectual property law clinic at Rutgers Law School, which assists students with the patenting process, and Rutgers Business School and School of Engineering, which provide support in developing business plans and prototypes.

 “Interest and enthusiasm across the university is palpable, but why wouldn’t it be? These students are creative, motivated and help us toward closing gaps in patient care,” Davidov says.

Current DiMIE student innovations run the gamut from applications, such as Suretify’s enhanced discharge process, to systems that detect bioterrorism-induced outbreaks of medical conditions, to medical devices that administer targeted oncology therapeutics.

Dutton, who was one of first to pursue the DiMIE distinction in his third year at RWJMS, already won seed funding and has a patent for the Suretify web platform, which via an online survey connects patients with community resources, such as transportation, case managers, medication and food assistance programs, once they leave the hospital. He and his business partners, Shirin Poustchi, a third-year RWJMS student, and Ryan Neff, a third-year MD/PhD student at the Icahn School of Medicine, are seeking capital funding and partners to do beta testing.

“It’s been a long and incredibly valuable process, and now it’s time to see whether we want to sell the portal to a larger entity or develop it ourselves,” says Dutton, who plans to go into general surgery. “We’ve taken the product pretty far – and Rutgers’ BEN and DiMIE programs have played a big part in helping us to avoid the pitfalls and stay on track.”