Learning the theory of entrepreneurship and innovation is one thing. Putting it into practice by starting up a high tech firm at the same time is quite another. This is precisely what students of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School MSc in Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design do during the two-year part-time course.
The course is aimed at graduates in STEM subjects who have gained considerable work experience. It combines coursework that ensures the theoretical grounding of a traditional masters with extensive practical application involving the creation of actual new ventures, or new lines of business within a firm.
Participants benefit from the collaboration of three leading Irish institutions: UCD Smurfit School with its strength in core business and innovation management, the National College of Art & Design’s industrial design expertise, and NovaUCD, UCD’s incubator of technology-based ventures.
Along with the basic principles of entrepreneurship, participants also acquire competencies in creating and leading teams that can design and develop successful new lines of business inside current firms and new stand-alone ventures.
They also learn about the application of the repeatable processes that can be employed to identify, develop and validate new business ideas. This is combined with a comprehensive understanding of entrepreneurial logic, business model design, and a design thinking approach to new product and service creation in knowledge-based businesses.
Seamus Morris, a consultant orthopaedic spinal surgeon in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital and director of the National Spinal Injuries Unit, is a first year student on the programme.
“I had been playing around with the development of medical device products for a number of years,” he says. “But it’s not as simple as coming up with a concept, going to a company with it, and bringing it to market. I became aware that I didn’t have the business knowledge and skills needed and that’s what attracted me to the Smurfit School MSc in Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design.”
His interest in medical device design earned him a clinical innovation award from Enterprise Ireland in 2012 and he has been working on various medical device concepts since that time. He says the real attraction of the course was the combination of theoretical knowledge with a practical application."
"In my case, this focussed on developing a new medical device," he says. "I'm currently working with two engineers from the department of bioengineering in UCD – Eoin O'Cearbhaill and Nicky Bertollo – and together we've established a start-up company, Latch medical.
“We have been funded by a €500,000 commercialisation grant from Enterprise Ireland and are developing a novel skin closure device. We hope to spin out of UCD next year. As we’ve worked through the various stages of the project, I’ve become aware of the immense challenges that bringing any new device to market poses. I was aware of gaps in my own knowledge of innovation and product design and looked at what opportunities were there to fill those gaps.”
The device Morris and his partners are working on is a wound closure system which he describes as being like a ziplock bag in terms of its speed and a hiker’s boot in terms of its mechanism. It works by the surgeon inserting a series of anchors into the skin of a patient prior to surgery. Then, when the operation is complete, all the surgeon has to do is loop the suture around each loop and pull to close the wound.
According to Morris, this has the potential to reduce closure times by between 60 per cent and 80 per cent – very important for long operations. “Some spinal operations take from eight to 12 hours,” he says. “The surgeon is very tired at the end of that and then has to face into an hour or more of stitching to close the incision. A significant reduction in that would be very welcome both for the surgeon and for the health system, where theatre time in the US costs up to $100 a minute, for example.”
The course has helped him to progress both the idea and the business. “The course has been a hugely positive experience, preparing you to take a project from the inception or idea stage, through the various stages of product development through to commercial spin out,” he says.
“There is a focus on design thinking in terms of how ideas are prioritised and developed. A wide range of practical areas are covered, including product design, intellectual property and funding strategies for new ventures. In addition to lectures, there has been a significant amount of input from active entrepreneurs from a wide range of disciplines.”
Morris hopes to finish the course next year and to have completed the spin out of Latch Medical by that time. “We are starting to talk to investors at the moment. Our current funding stream will carry us through to the first or second quarter of next year. Our route to market initially will be the US and the UK and we expect to go through a year or two of clinical trials before launching the product.”
For more information on the two-year part time MSc in Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Design at UCD Smurfit School, see smurfitschool.ie.