Advancing healthcare: this year’s Innovation Scholars in focus

Exploring the convergence of science, healthcare, and entrepreneurship, Bethel’s Innovation Scholars team set out to unveil groundbreaking project recommendations.

By Macey Heath, social media content specialist

April 18, 2024 | 3 p.m.

Bethel Innovation Scholars Team

Left to right: Lucas Johnson '24, Abby Nutcher '24, Henry Marin Rojas '24, Emily Santjer '25, and MBA student Morgan Hopp

This year, the Bethel Innovation Scholars team took the spotlight on February 27 as they presented their project recommendations to Thera Tec, an early-stage medical company driving advancements in physical therapy through remote patient monitoring. The team consisted of science and business students: Abby Nutcher ’24, a business major with an emphasis in finance and analytics, business major Henry Marin Rojas ’24, chemistry and business major Emily Santjer ’25, and biokinetics major and biology minor, Lucas Johnson ’24.  

The team's project integrated app-based software with wearable monitoring technology to enhance outcomes in physical therapy, particularly for peripheral artery disease (PAD) remote monitoring and therapeutics. What distinguished this work was its goal beyond mere product development; the team aimed to design a solution that could help redefine patient care, industry-wide.  

The Mayo Innovation Scholar Program gives 750 students from various Minnesota private colleges a chance to merge academic knowledge with real-world challenges by analyzing projects at various stages in development at Mayo Clinic. Led by graduate student team leaders, undergraduates spend over four months tackling projects identified by early-stage medical companies. These projects focus on challenges associated with the commercialization of a specific product and bringing it to market.  

Seth Paradis, professor of applied health sciences, helped this year’s team navigate the complex intersection of medicine and entrepreneurship as a faculty lead recruiter, mentor, and campus liaison. “Over 10 years ago, I recognized the value of real-world experience for our students and began working with them. During this time, I have collaborated with business and science faculty to aid in the recruiting process. This year, Bethany Opsata (associate professor of business and department chair) and Stephen Whiting (associate professor of business) assisted in this process," says Paradis. 

He hopes students are empowered to tackle complexity, foster innovation, and drive tangible change. Starting their work in June 2023, the team immersed themselves in Thera Tec's mission, dissecting various challenges and identifying opportunities. From September to January, the team crafted their strategy, balancing virtual and in-person meetings to closely align with Thera Tec’s vision, culminating in final presentations and deliverables in February.

Throughout the process, a variety of research unfolded, from weaving together market analyses and competitive landscapes to forecasting technological horizons in remote patient monitoring. Morgan Hopp, team mentor and MBA graduate student from the University of St. Thomas, encouraged the students to delve deeper, think critically, and refine their recommendations.

Each team member brought a unique skill set to the table while learning what working together from different academic disciplines looked like. “We eventually began synthesizing information and drawing connections between our research. We spent many meetings brainstorming and exchanging ideas,” Nutcher says. She researched the marketing and business aspects of the project and collaborated with teammate, Henry Rojas. Together they assessed the viability of the company’s proposed business model and industry numbers, and created financial models and projections to guide their recommendations.

Santjer saw collaboration as essential for tackling nuanced project areas. "It was interesting to discover where my talents and insights fit, and I grew immensely through collaborating with my peers and team lead,” Sandier says. “One unique aspect of this experience was working within ambiguity. We were reminded that there were no ‘right or wrong’ answers, allowing us to be creative and take calculated risks.”

Johnson delved into the science—closely studying disease and mechanism of the product while conducting a detailed analysis of the target market and identifying potential stakeholders for the product. He also looked at current systems, the providers their target patients interacted with, and existing disparities in that realm. Johnson also appreciated the interdisciplinary function of the work. "It was crucial to have a solid grasp of all areas, even if I wasn't an expert in that field. Getting to know each team member’s expertise and research allowed us to offer helpful insights to each other," he says.

The students will take the experience to their future career paths. "It was truly fascinating to learn about the complexities of the healthcare industry and what it takes for a start-up to make a new product viable for the market,” Nutcher says. “One of the most valuable aspects of this work was learning how to make decisions and apply critical thinking in ambiguous situations where there is a lot of unknown information.”

“This project led me down unexpected paths that pushed me to think differently and broadened my perspective in appreciating the relationship between science and business.”

— Lucas Johnson '24

Johnson adds that this experience allowed him to appreciate and learn about other subjects that usually fall outside his area of study. “This project led me down unexpected paths that pushed me to think differently and broadened my perspective in appreciating the relationship between science and business, particularly in the context of medical startups. Having a great idea and solution is one thing, but without an understanding of the business side, bringing that idea to market becomes a challenge, so creating a team charter at the project's onset was crucial in setting clear expectations,” Johnson says.  

The Innovation Scholars program underscores Bethel’s commitment to fostering ongoing academic innovation, collaboration, and excellence in addressing real-world challenges in healthcare and beyond. By providing a platform for interdisciplinary learning, Bethel continues to nurture the next generation of innovators prepared to make a difference in their communities and beyond.

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