“It’s about making people’s lives better”: A conversation with NS’s Biomedical Engineering Team

NS Biomedical Engineering Team

These are some highlights from a roundtable chat with our biomedical engineers: Ed Barber, who’s been in bioengineering for 26 years; Rebecca Blice, 12 years; and Jason Ertel, 19 years.

What is unique about Nottingham Spirk’s approach to medical device innovation?

Ed: We focus on the end user and what they need. Capabilities at NS are soup to nuts — you start with just an idea and we can make you something you can walk out the door with.
Becca: Medical innovators aren’t always focused on the patient but on the medical person using it. NS brings the lens of the patient and all the potential users and uses that to design the innovation.
Jason: We provide all the disciplines under one roof. We can do the strategy, we can do the fundraising, we can create a business around it. We’re more than a product development company. We really are a business innovation firm.

What’s your favorite innovation that you’ve been a part of and why?

Ed: At Nottingham Spirk we have the opportunity to meet and assist early stage medical device companies with disruptive technologies. This allows us to not only help the startup but, more importantly, to improve the quality of life of patients.
Becca: The self-leveling walker that we developed with the staff at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Administration Medical Center. The whole reason you become an engineer is because you want to help people in a real application. It’s about making people’s lives better and helping them get back to normal more quickly.
Jason: The TecTraum Pro-2-Cool concussion therapy. I want to make an impact on improving lives by helping people return to their daily lives sooner than they previously could. It also helps kids and I’m a dad of four.

“We see more technology come through these doors than anyplace that I’ve worked in 26 years. This place is like working at 18 start-ups all at once. We have very few barriers that keep us from moving fast.” – Ed Barber

What’s a fond memory from your time at NS?

Jason: Doing research for a medication adherence device that’s in clinical trial right now. One of the people we interviewed took the medicine and it made him feel horrible. Listening to his journey was so sad. The device we developed is about improving wellness based on taking your meds correctly. Hearing about a product that could improve his life gave him so much hope.
Becca: Watching the video of the person using the walker for the first time made me cry. Seeing the impact something you worked on had on someone’s life is special.
Ed: We see more technology come through these doors than anyplace that I’ve worked in 26 years. This place is like working at 18 start-ups all at once. We have very few barriers that keep us from moving fast.
Becca: Because we work here, the things we get to touch are all over the board. If you’re on the corporate side you work on one specific thing at a time, but we get to work on so many.

What piece of advice would you give someone looking to do innovation?

Becca: Prove out your idea before you come to us. Make sure you’ve got good evidence that it really works.
Jason: Flexibility and determination and perseverance are necessary for innovation.
Ed: Passion. If you’re doing it for money alone, it’s the wrong reason.

If you weren’t doing engineering, what would you do?

Jason: I’d be a teacher. We have to take complex ideas and make them simple for teams to understand — that’s what teaching is.
Becca: It’s still my dream to own five acres somewhere and become a hermit.
Ed: I’ve never even thought of doing anything else. For fun, I would sail around the world by myself.

What does the future of medical innovation look like?

Becca: All of these wearables and devices are going to change how we track wellness, but we have to figure out who is in charge of the data and how to use it effectively in a real-world application. The innovator who leverages the information and makes the benefits real to the patient is going to win.
Jason: Aging in place/at home — that’s a frontier that hasn’t been fully tapped at all yet.
Ed: The capability to predict and prevent illnesses is just waiting to be tapped. Apple has started to do that with its AFib technology, the wearable EKG. There will be some data privacy hurdles that need to be overcome. I don’t want Google knowing all of my personal health information and using it to market to me.


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