The right pitch
CSE student goes from pitching in competitions to designing a product with real commercial value
Ashtynn Trauth, a senior in biomedical engineering, has been honing her entrepreneurial chops by brainstorming and pitching creative ideas in competition.
Last year, Trauth and two classmates practiced their skills in several innovation challenges. In these competitions, participants identify a biomedical problem, develop an idea to solve it, and present their idea to a panel of judges— a medical version of the TV show “Shark Tank.” In fact, they pitched in a biannual Minnesota-based competition called Walleye Tank.
“We targeted Alzheimer’s because it’s a huge problem,” Trauth said.
The treatment they proposed: Stimulating the body’s glymphatic system to more vigorously remove waste from the brain, including the plaques and tangles that are diagnostic of the disease.
Trauth admits theirs was the “most underdeveloped idea,” an unproven technology resembling deep-brain stimulation. But it was compelling enough to win or place in several competitions, including the Minnesota Cup.
With a budding interest in developing and commercializing technological ideas, Trauth stumbled on Kirk Froggatt’s Leading Breakthrough Technology Innovation class.
In contrast to her required biomedical curriculum that had “a ton of technical classes with a lot of complicated math,” Froggatt’s class promised something different.
“I saw the flier, and I had a little bit of free time in my schedule,” she recalled, “and thought, ‘it seems really cool— why not?’”
The class was the first she had heard of building a platform of many potential uses for a single technology. It was divided into teams and, with information from Froggatt about a new technology, the students identified potential markets.
“Then we platformed out the different ways that we could use this technology to create different products and services, and find completely different ways to use it,” Trauth said. “Kirk helped me sharpen my skills to target my pitch to the audience,” she said.
The class also changed her career ambitions.
“Originally I was thinking I’ll just get an R&D role, and work on some cool technology,” she said. “After this class, I realized that in research and development you can work on a product for awhile and it can never make it to a patient.
“I really want to help bring technology to market,” Trauth said.
"Had I not taken this class, I wouldn’t have really known anything about that whole other spectrum of jobs I could work in."
A plug for the skull
Trauth has also landed on a product with real commercialization potential.
For her senior project, Trauth and four classmates shadowed University of Minnesota neurosurgeons and came up with an idea for burr hole surgery in the skull to make it easier to drain chronic subdural hematomas.
Normally, a drain is placed in the burr hole for a short time and then the hole is closed permanently. But subdural hematomas often reappear in the same place, and another burr hole must be drilled.
Trauth’s team is designing a soft plug for the burr hole.
“In the first hematoma craniotomy, the doctor will place the plug and close the skin over it,” she explained.
“If the hematoma recurs,” Trauth said, “the patient can go into the clinic or doctor’s office as opposed to an operating room and have their fluid drained by needle with no need for anesthesia.”
Trauth said she is considering working in the biomedical engineering field for a couple of years before returning for the Master of Science in Medical Device Innovation offered by the University’s Technological Leadership Institute.
But first she’d like to teach English in Spain for a year.
“I would love to be fluent in Spanish,” said Trauth. “If my long-term goals are to get into a product manager role,” added Trauth, who served as president of the Spanish National Honor Society in her high school near Chicago, “having that experience abroad would add a lot to what I could bring to that position.”
Story by Greg Breining
Read about two other students who took Froggatt’s “Leading Breakthrough Technology Innovation” course: