Keywords: NODO, I-Corps, Startups, healthcare system, entrepreneurship, innovation, CONACYT
The NODO Binational Innovation in Healthcare Inaugural Workshop took place on May 11–13. The NODO is a business program that fosters the creation of startups in the Mexican healthcare sector, using the I-Corps method. A total of 21 teams made up of mentors, researchers, and students from leading institutions—EGADE Business School, Tecnológico de Monterrey, the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), the University of the State of Morelos, and the UNAM Biotechnology Institute—test their projects on the market with a series of face-to-face interviews with potential customers, and define the transfer or marketing of their healthcare innovations.
The Inaugural Workshop sets in motion the process of testing the business models of different projects related to medicine, biotechnology, and nanotechnology.
Each team presented its project, and then received training from the instructors, spoke with mentors, and held interviews with the first potential customers.
The Inaugural Workshop, held in the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Santa Fe campus Conference Room, kicks off the business model testing of different medicine, biotechnology, and nanotechnology projects. The program includes I-Corps instructors named by the U.S. National Science Foundation, and EGADE Business School professors, who will train the teams in the method.
Dr. Fernando Moya, the leader of the NODO Binational Innovation in Healthcare, welcomed everyone and told success stories of startups that had used the method in the past, pointing out the importance of tapping into the synergies shared by the members of each cross-disciplinary team—which include a research professor, a research assistant, a graduate student, and a mentor—and among the different teams.
Edmund Pendleton, a leading I-Corps Instructor, talked about how the method helps scientists learn about and identify business opportunities derived from their academic research, and acquire business skills thanks to training by business experts. This method provides hands-on knowledge about how to transfer knowledge and research successfully to products and processes that benefit society.
Each team presented its project during the first day of the workshop, and later received training from the instructors and spoke with mentors. On the second day, the participants started on the field testing, interviewing potential customers. On the third day, the teams were divided into three groups, where they presented their findings and hypotheses.
Teresa de León, the technical secretary at the Technological Innovation Fund and the director of Technology Marketing at the Conacyt, gave a welcome speech and urged the EGADE Business School researchers and MBA students to take part in this program, so that they could build business skills and test the method they had learned in class.
What do I-Corps researchers expect?
The researchers believe that after the program, they will understand the market better, as well as the pros and cons of the planned product. Once the product feasibility has been determined, one of the researchers’ priorities is to look for a way to manufacture the product, to carry out clinical trials, and to market to interested hospitals and clinics. With feedback from potential customers, they hope to set the parameters to help them market a product derived from research.
Dr. María Crystal Columba, a participant from the University of the State of Morelos, noted that, “Researchers on their own do not have what is needed to design a potentially marketable project, so they need the backing that the NODO team can offer them.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Verónica Rodríguez López, from the Pharmacy Department at the University of the State of Morelos, stated that, “The interviews with potential customers help us find out if there is a need that our product meets, and help us improve the product.”
The researchers also mentioned some of the factors that might hinder the marketing of their products, such as patent registrations and the lack of time for exclusive marketing, the complex regulations for registering medicines, and other economic resources to carry out the tests needed for the product to be registered.
As researchers, they believe that their work should overcome academic barriers and have a real impact, with a focus on value-added products that meet the needs of society and concentrate on fixing Mexico’s problems. According to Flor Escalante Leyva and Gerardo Corzo, from the UNAM Biotechnology Institute, it is necessary to “spread research findings not only in academic circles but also among the general population, with easy-to-grasp wording and ideas.”
Regarding sustainable financing, because so many resources and so much development time are needed, many of the researchers agree that public-private financing would work best for the projects, as well as investors interested in technology or technology transfer.
Likewise, they believe that feedback from the rest of the NODO participants will help them to see how other teams meet similar needs, and to learn from their hits and misses, as well as the different strategies they use.
The students' business perspective
Students who take part in the different projects noted that what led them to sign up for the program was the chance to learn more about the I-Corps and canvas methods, to learn to assess and test a new project on the market, and to contribute to the impact of research on México’s healthcare sector.
“I signed up for the program because of its real-life, meticulous method for testing a new product. I believe firmly in the phrase, ‘Fail Fast and Fail Cheap’. I hope to have more tools for making any idea a reality in the best way possible,” said Jaime Roberto Aguilar Interiano, an EGADE Business School MBA student. His classmate Javier Díaz Machín noted that, “Innovation in the healthcare sector can have one of the largest impacts on society.”
The EGADE Business School students will work on different projects with their business outlook, their entrepreneurial, innovative approach, and the experience and knowledge they gain, especially in areas such as Business Model Design and Design Thinking.
According to the student Carlos Ángel, “We need to apply all the steps from the method, because success stories don’t come about by chance. They are processes carried out systematically and with discipline, and they are focused on fostering creativity and innovation.” Abraham Trigueros Salazar added that it was necessary to “use the method to develop or polish the business proposition, to check if the goal market or customer is the right one, and to build the product marketing platform.”
The goal of the NODO is to have an impact on startup creation and on applying scientific research in Mexico, fostering in the researchers a hands-on approach for innovating and solving social problems.
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