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Houston’s Texas Medical Center Unveils New Fellowship in Biodesign

Xconomy Texas — 

The Texas Medical Center is now seeking applicants for a new fellowship that could boost entrepreneurship in digital health and medical devices.

The TMC Biodesign Fellowship is taking applications until August 2 for eight spots for a new, yearlong program. The fellows will be named about a week later.

“There has been a convergence of skill sets: engineering, computer sciences, and the medical design businesses coming together to create a shift in healthcare innovation,” says Sandeep Burugupalli, a business analyst at TMC’s accelerator, TMCx. “The greatest advantage of the biodesign fellowship is that they will be receiving clinical input very early in the process.

Essentially, Burugupalli says, the fellowship aims to flip the innovation process around. Instead of these entrepreneurs having an idea that needs to be validated in a clinical setting, these fellows will be developing solutions based on concrete needs they see from working with clinicians.

“This is critical because you ensure that your product has a market, that it is something that clinicians will want to actually use,” he says.

The biodesign fellowship is the latest of initiatives by the TMC to boost Houston’s biotech and life sciences ecosystem. Last year, the TMC announced it was creating its own accelerator, TMCx, and those companies began their residencies earlier this year.

“Someone who does this biodesign program would be an attractive employee either in academia or in business or in the venture world,” says Bobby Robbins, TMC’s CEO. “It is marrying their interest in improving the health of humanity with business and design and engineering. It’s not the primary objective, but we can get spinoff companies from this as well.”

Robbins was part of the team with Paul Yock at Stanford University that created the Program in Biodesign, a multi-disciplinary initiative that includes classes in medtech innovation, mentoring in the tech transfer process, and career services.

In Houston, two teams of four fellows—one in digital health, the other in medical devices—will spend the year in three phases: a clinical “shadowing” through which they can get an idea of unmet needs, an inventing and prototyping stage, and an implementation stage to begin the process of raising money and sussing out the market.

The digital health team will focus on applying the use of the Web, mobile, and cloud services, as well as wearables, into emergency care settings while the medical device team will work on issues related to cardiovascular health. “Houston has a very long legacy in this space,” Burugupalli says, referring to pioneer cardiologists and innovators such as Denton Cooley and Michael DeBakey.

Each fellow will receive a $90,000 stipend. So far, TMC says 200 of the 500 applications opened have been submitted. (For more information, TMCx will host an informational workshop next Wednesday.)

The fellowship program will dovetail a bit with a new master’s program in biodesign at Rice University. The current plan is for the TMC fellows to join their Rice counterparts once a week in classroom discussion. (The Rice program is for engineers and will have a different focus.)

Burugupalli began working at TMC in May. A Houston native, he had been working in New York and Cambridge, MA, in a variety of pharma and digital health positions. “I felt that I just had to come back here because of the scale and the speed of what is happening here is incredible.”