Innovation Lab’s Best Advice for Healthcare Innovators

“There’s got to be a better way.” 

  This common phrase “is like a homing beacon,” says Innovation Lab General Manager Ryan Kelly, that indicates a pressing, unmet need and a new product opportunity. Healthcare professionals find themselves thinking it all the time, so they become experts in developing creative workarounds. 

 Here’s one example. The standard treatment for diabetic foot ulcers is a total contact cast that takes hours to remove and replace every week or two. Some patients have to wear a cast for many months because they’re trying to avoid amputation. It’s an unpleasant, difficult process. 

 Physical therapist Nicolle Samuels knew there had to be a better way, leading to her work with Innovation Lab to develop the Allevo AFO (ankle foot orthosis) 

 But how do healthcare professionals like Samuels come up with “a better way”? And how do you know if your better way could be further developed by Innovation Lab and commercialized for widespread use?  

 Four Innovation Lab experts share their best advice for every stage of the healthcare innovation process, from inspiration to commercialization.  


Jay Meyers, Senior Client Engagement Executive with Innovation Lab 

 Many healthcare system workers tell us: “I’m not an innovator.” Even thinking about it might be outside their comfort zone. But we know they have that ability within themselves. So our challenge is: How do you unleash innovation? How do you get them to think like an “innovator” more often? 

 I take a three-pronged approach when I talk to them. First, I encourage them to develop empathy for the users. Use your heart and your head. How can we turn problems into opportunities? 

 The second part of my approach is asking people, “Where is your expertise and passion? What do you really know a lot about?” Successful innovations come from people who are subject-matter experts in their field. You have to be really passionate about something to carry the ball all the way through to commercialization. 

 The third part: Be curious. Curiosity allows an innovator to develop an understanding from different perspectives. Curiosity is really one of the key drivers in coming up with an innovation and understanding the problem.  

 When an innovator comes to us with an idea in hand, we guide them through considering different vectors to determine if their idea can be successfully developed. You can build the best device, but if you’re not really thinking about how that impacts the patient, it’s never going to get anywhere. 

 Questions we ask include: 

  • Is there really a widespread need across healthcare? If your solution only impacts 7,000 procedures per year across the United States, for instance, that’s not a big market.  
  • Is the innovation truly novel? I encourage innovators to do some Google Images searching to see if there’s anything similar. 
  • Is it protectable? The Lab will do due diligence about whether an innovation’s intellectual property can be protected. 
  • Can we actually build or make it? People sometimes propose innovations that are interesting, but still in the realm of science fiction. 
  • Will people pay for it? And what’s the ROI? Money’s always tight in healthcare, so we have to consider product economics. 


Marsha McKenna, Director of Clinical and Market Intelligence with Innovation Lab 

 Every product/solution idea is different, and a lot of work goes into the assessment phase. This is when we do the research and business case development to ensure your idea has the best chance of success. The amount of information we gather is highly dependent on the complexity of the product/solution idea, as well as the quality of information that is provided as part of the idea submission.  

 First, we sometimes discover quickly that the competitive landscape is very crowded; or the idea doesn’t offer a competitive advantage over what’s already on the market; or there’s something already available that would solve the problem being addressed.  

This might be disappointing for an innovator. But the process doesn’t end here! The work that is done upfront for the submission will not only help you solidify your idea but can improve the potential for success moving forward.  

Second, we may reach out to you as a subject-matter expert (SME) for more information, additional clarification, drawings and any supplemental data to support our research.  

 Third, we may ask you for names of other SMEs that we can talk with who can provide additional insights on the clinical need and application for your idea.  

 Fourth, we may work with you to modify your idea into something that may have a greater chance of commercial success.  

 The evaluation process is an intense and focused phase. In order to create a recommendation with confidence, we investigate all aspects of the business case very thoroughly. 


Benjamin Dadacay, Industrial Designer 

 My best advice for innovators: Don’t be afraid to embrace change!  

 Every submission comes in at a different level, from nothing more than an idea to a fully imagined solution or product. Our workflow involves expanding laterally upon the problem statement to understand how we can navigate toward a solution. From there, we create the pathways that best solve your problem statement. 

 If you submit a proposed solution/product, that does not mean it will be the final solution or product. We learn as we go and need to remain agile to create the best solution possible. While your core idea is preserved throughout the product development phase, different physical embodiments of the solution will be considered, often resulting in changes.  

 You’re an important part of this process. We look to you as an SME, along with the assessments conducted during the evaluation phase of our racetrack, to ground our pathways and help us gain insights that direct us to the best viable option. This will be refined into the final evolution of your idea. 


Ryan Kelly, General Manager 

 One major factor driving successful and durable commercialization: First, clearly define and deeply understand the problem that your product or innovation is trying to solve before embarking on a solution. Various scientists, including Albert Einstein, have been credited with saying a version of: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” 

 It’s usually a good idea to protect your invention in some way, such as filing a patent application, before publicly disclosing your invention to anyone outside the Lab. But have patience, because it can take years before a patent application is issued as a patent. Innovation Lab is here to support you and the success of your innovation, every step of the way. 


 Do you have an idea for an invention that could change healthcare? Talk to us about it! Submit your idea securely here.