Fostering Student Entrepreneurship
Through the Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute program and the bioengineering capstone design class, the Voiland School provides a unique opportunity for students to gain hands-on skills and entrepreneurial experience that can launch careers.
By Alyssa Patrick
For two bioengineering students who did not think much of entrepreneurship a year ago, Emily Willard and Katherine Brandenstein have been making quite a splash in Washington’s biotech startup space.
Their company—Engage—started as a senior design class assignment in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering. It has evolved into a full-time job that they are pursuing after graduation.
We are both more researchers at heart, and had never thought about selling a technology or starting a business,” Willard said. “But if we were going to do it, we wanted our product to mean something.”
Katherine Brandenstein and Emily Willard
SafeShot: Cost Effective, Easy-To-Use
And indeed it does. Their product, SafeShot, is a cost-effective, easy-to-use medicine vial cap that sterilizes needles so they can be reused without contamination. One of the leading causes of death in developing countries is disease spread by contaminated needles. As bioengineers, conducting the science behind the product felt natural, but creating a business plan and pitch were entirely different hurdles. Through participation in the unique bioengineering capstone design course, which is taught in collaboration with the Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute, in the past year Brandenstein and Willard learned everything they could about business. They took first place and cash prizes at University of Washington’s Health Innovation Challenge, as well as at WSU’s business plan competition. They also placed in UW’s business plan competition.
“Emily and Katherine are amazing at taking initiative,” said Marie Mayes, coprofessor of the class that launched Engage. “They are really great at finding out what they don’t know, and then researching it like they would to solve an engineering problem.”
The class that launched Engage combines bioengineering and entrepreneurship, and is a requirement for bioengineers who will be entering a professional world mostly comprised of small companies and startup environments. The class is a mix of bioengineering students, fellows from the Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute, Boeing Scholars, and students from any discipline who are interested in the class.
“The class is radically interdisciplinary,” said Howard Davis, a bioengineering professor who coleads the class, and is the director of the Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute. “It is more than mechanical engineers working with electrical engineers—it is engineers of different flavors working with communication, business, and science students.”
Willard and Brandenstein also used facilities in the Frank Innovation Zone, a recent addition to the Voiland College which offers students across disciplines a collaborative space and tools to translate their ideas into designs, build class projects, or support club activities.
Brandenstein and Willard are looking forward to starting lab work again to continue testing their product. Thanks to a strong network of collaborators, two passionate bioengineers are taking on a challenge they couldn’t have imagined and making an impact along the way.