Bethel students gain experience through innovation partners

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Four Bethel students recently completed a months-long project that provided valuable opportunities to apply lessons in the classroom and work with a leading healthcare company. They participated in the 2021-2022 Innovation Partners program, which is part of the broader Innovation Scholars program which includes the Mayo Innovation Scholars program. “It’s a real-life experience, it’s Mayo projects, it’s start-ups, and you’re hired by a company to contribute your expertise and your opinion,” says professor of applied health sciences Seth Paradis, who mentored the team’s project.

The Innovation Scholars program offers liberal arts students at private colleges and universities in Minnesota the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with the business development processes of medical innovations. Through Innovation Partners, 11 teams have come together — largely virtually — to analyze and recommend next steps for projects that come from the Mayo Clinic or medical start-ups. For the project, an MBA student from another university led Bethel’s team of four students, two in science and two in business: majoring in biokinetics and minoring in Spanish and chemistry Sign Harris ’23, mechanical engineering and commerce with a focus on finance double major Burk Substad ’22, biokinetics major Isaac Howell ’23, and business and biblical and theological studies double major Andrew Rolley ’22. The team worked as a consultant for InterShunt Technologies Inc., a company aimed at providing relief to heart failure patients.

The team first met with InterShunt to learn about the company’s main goals, then team members researched and worked before returning to their startup with recommendations and insights. Due to non-disclosure agreements, students cannot discuss company and project details. For each student, the work was largely self-guided each week, but was very collaborative as the team of students met each week to review their research. Students complete approximately 150-160 hours of work from October to March and receive a $1,000 stipend upon completion.

This work leads to valuable experience for students. Substad says he learned to take information and use it to guide the team’s recommendations for InterShunt. “It really helped me to think critically about the direction that would best help the company take the next steps in its future,” he says. Substad saw Innovation Partners as a way to integrate the skills of its two specialties, mechanical engineering and business. In addition to his interest in entrepreneurship, he was curious to learn more about companies in their early days. Similarly, Howell saw the project as a way to gain first-hand research experience and make valuable connections while planning his career path. With a background in biokinetics, Howell found the theory behind InterShunt’s work intriguing, but he found it even more interesting to learn how a medical device comes to market. “One thing I enjoyed the most about this experience was the opportunity to see behind the scenes how a medical device company works and learn more about what a career in related fields would be like,” says -he.

Rolley’s work has largely focused on web design, communications efforts, competitor analysis, and market analysis. The project gave him direct insight into consulting work. He and his teammates have learned to overcome challenges by taking initiative, working productively and anticipating problems. “A big lesson learned was the need when working on a standalone project to be able to anticipate issues so you can keep pace with the project,” Rolley says.

For Paradis, the Innovation Scholars programs provide students with valuable opportunities to challenge themselves, learn their limits, and gain skills and experience that will help prepare them for a career. Students have acquired fundamental skills and knowledge through Bethel courses, but are accustomed to learning in environments structured around grading rubrics. These projects push students into less structured environments and processes and force them to learn to trust their abilities. In a team of consultants, young professionals often feel like they have to know everything, but Paradis stresses that it is useful to know their strengths and weaknesses when working in a team. “I always tell them to know what you do well, what God has given you the passion, the drive, the ability to do, and put that on the table, but also recognize what you don’t know – c t’s okay not to know everything,” says Paradis. Next, students will be better equipped to work with others in groups to utilize the skills and expertise of a team.

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