an interview with Dick Hughes

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After looking over my first 3 blog posts, I realized they was no real backstory ever presented about me, my project, and my goals. This post contains the transcript for an interview I had with Dick Hughes, writer for the Upstate Business Journal. This sister publication of the Greenville Journal is new to upstate SC and will be publishing its very first issue on Nov. 9, 2012. I was very honored to be chosen for this interview and be one of the first article published in the paper. The Clemson MBAe program never ceases to amaze me with its PR opportunities!

The interview went something like this…

You are seeking an MBA in entrepreneurship and MS in bioengineering.
Which comes first? The MBA has been taking priority this semester. The program runs on a very tight schedule since it is completed in one year’s time. The bioengineering program, however, is designed to be completed more at my own pace. I am currently taking 15 credits of MBA and 3 credits of MS classes and working on my Master’s research project with Dr. Melinda Harman at Clemson’s CUBEInC facilities at Patewood. (CUBEInC stands for Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Innovation Campus.) I plan on graduating with the MBA in August 2013 and the MS in December 2013.
Do you think of yourself being a entrepreneur of a scientist or both? If the latter, is there conflict between the two? Great questions! I guess at this point I see myself as more of a scientist in training to be an entrepreneur. Both disciplines have a language all their own. I’ve gone from studying about things like anatomy and calculus for the past 4 years to things like sales strategy and accounting. It’s certainly required a shift in thinking on my part. However, I feel science and entrepreneurship complement each other nicely: both require developing hypotheses about an unknown scientific principle or a business strategy, testing these assumptions, and providing facts and data to validate claims. It’s cool the see the parallels!

Pursuing two advanced degrees at the same time seems like a heavy load.
How do you manage? I work Monday through Sunday, mornings and nights to stay on top of all my work. It’s not uncommon for me to be sending emails at midnight on a Saturday. However, if I do work every day, it’s all pretty manageable!
When you have free time, what do you like to do? When I get the chance, I love to go down to Clemson’s main campus to visit my brother who is a freshman there and my friend who works as an anatomy TA. It’s a great way for me to relax and remove myself from shoulder braces for a few hours! I’m going to lie, I also like to take naps.

Tell me about how the shoulder brace.
Was there a eureka moment that led to its development? The shoulder brace project came out of a senior class project during my undergraduate bioengineering curriculum. We received the idea from interviewing Dr. Chuck Thigpen, PhD, PT, ATC, a clinical research scientist at Proaxis physical therapy in Greenville. After coming up with our first design, we received enthusiastic responses from many people in Clemson. One of the co-designers of the brace, Chelsea Ex-Lubeskie, is still working with me to develop the brace design further. We are also looking to add Dr. Thigpen as a co-inventor on the brace patent and using his clinical expertise to perfect the design of the product.
How did you link up with MCKR Orthotics? MCKR is a name we made up for our undergraduate class. It’s all the first initials of my teammates names. I put the “R” in “MCKR.” It’s not a real business! Haha. I’m currently looking for a real company name to use, however. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

Have you submitted your patent application? The Clemson University Research Foundation (CURF) is our technology transfer office at Clemson. They filed our provisional application on August 22, 2012. This means we’ve staked our claims on the general idea for the brace. We have one year from this date to develop our design claims in greater detail and submit our patent application in full to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

I am told you received a grant of $50,000 to develop the device and a business plan and that you are or will be seeking investors.
How much are you going to need and do you have some interested investors? I am not sure yet how much I will need. My guess is that the biggest expenses will come from licensing the patent from CURF and employee salaries. I need to further develop my business plan to determine how “lean” I can make the business while still accomplishing my goals effectively.

What is the biggest challenge? Balancing everything on my plate is the biggest challenge. I want to make sure I give great attention to everything on my plate, but there are only 24 hours in a day. Between taking classes, work on master’s research, developing a business plan, and perfecting the design on the brace, I’m stretched thin. Fortunately, everyone from my family and friends to my professors and mentors have been extremely understanding and flexible.

What’s your timeline? It’s really tough to say! You really have to take everything on a day-by-day basis. As of today, I plan on finishing my MBA courses at the end of May 2013 and graduating in August 2013. I plan on finishing the MS coursework and graduating in December 2013. As far as business plans go, my team hopes to finish the brace design in early 2013. I would like to have a strong business plan developed by that time as well, so that I can look for more funding options. But that could all change tomorrow! Welcome to entrepreneurship!

Do you anticipate staying in Greenville or locating elsewhere? I have the fullest intention to stay in the state of South Carolina. A couple months before graduation, I found myself scrambling for jobs and realized to enter the biomedical industry with only a bachelor’s, my best chances of finding employment were either up north or out west. I really wanted to stay in state though. I found out about the MBAe program just weeks before graduation and realized this was my ticket to stay in state. By starting my own business, I have a chance to create more jobs for our homegrown engineers, generate economic growth, and foster the spirit of entrepreneurship in South Carolina.

Finally, how have the folks at Clemson helped? People at Clemson in every department have been reaching out to help me. At this point I have received help from Clemson’s Bioengineering, MBA, and athletics departments. They have contributed everything from industry expertise, access to resources, mentorship, and PR opportunities. Without Clemson, there is no. way. in. heck. I could have made as much progress in my entrepreneurial endeavors in the short amount of time that I have. Seriously! No way!

Please feel free to add anything you think is interesting and/or relevant.

More info about my grant: The $50,000 I received came from the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program (Innovation Corps). This program is designed to aid engineers and scientists in commercializing technology created in academic institution across the nation with the ultimate goal of sparking economic growth throughout the United States. As part of this program, my bioengineering advisor Dr. John DesJardins is serving as the grant PI. Dr. David Orr, co-founder of a Greenville-based medical device company Kiyatec, is volunteering his time to serve as our I-Corps team mentor. Just another example to two people who are dedicating their time for the sole reason of wanting to see me and this project succeed.

My undergraduate brace design team (me, Chelsea Ex-Lubeskie, Kaitlin Grove, and Meredith Donaldson) just received word that we our finalists in a nation collegiate design competition sponsored by Invent.org. We will be traveling to Washington, D.C. in mid-November to compete against 6 other teams for the top prize of $12,000. Here’s a link with more info: http://www.invent.org/collegiate/finalists_2012.html

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