e@UBC Venture Case Studies is an ongoing series highlighting top ventures from our fully integrated programs.
(Left to right: Vivian Chung, Andrew Meyer, Shalaleh Rismani, Gregory Allan)
The Screw Cutter Project is disrupting healthcare in the developing world with a novel approach to building and certifying medical devices. The team of graduate students use tools from a hardware store to find innovative solutions for problems in the operating room. These problems range from sterilization issues and lack of quality medical equipment to training needs and equipment repair.
As part of the clinical work for UBC’s new ‘Engineers in Scrubs’ masters program, the Screw Cutter team partnered with the Uganda Sustainable Trauma Orthopaedics Program (USTOP) to develop a novel ‘screw cutting’ device that helps surgeons create custom screws to treat injuries. The ability to readily create customized screws greatly improves the overall quality of surgery by reducing the chances of complications in patient recovery. This is especially important in developing countries where vital surgical screws are occasionally unavailable for field and hospital surgeries.
After creating the device, the Screw Cutter team was faced with the challenge of accessing hospitals in developing countries, such as Uganda, and providing the necessary training and support for medical personnel.
“Our main concern was how do we provide this to hospitals who have limited financial resources?” said Gregory Allan, co-founder of the Screw Cutter Project. “If a device breaks or they need to train someone new, how would the hospitals deal with that? As a strictly non-profit organization we wouldn’t have been able to afford the long term support they would need.”
The Screw Cutter team joined the e@UBC Accelerator program to address this specific problem with their business model. The team worked with an industry mentor, Michele Macready, who helped them understand the benefits of the for-profit vs. non-profit business models and the importance of local partners.
“Through the e@UBC Accelerator, the Screw Cutter team was able to map out key medical organizations to contact, with the goal of getting their devices into hospitals quickly,” said Michele. “The program also helped them identify the need for additional product offerings, such as developing training materials to make their device as easy as possible to use.”
The e@UBC Accelerator program provided a framework for the team to discover their key partners and test their assumptions of a Ugandan operating room and hospital environment. After graduating, the Screw Cutter Project has a validated business model that relies on relationships with local authorities and charity organizations, such as the Ugandan Rotary Club. The local groups will provide funding for medical certification and leverage their channels to donate screw cutter devices to hospitals and private doctors in the region. The Screw Cutter Project then plans to sell long, sterilized screws that can be customized using the device. Selling the screws provides the revenue necessary to maintain or repair devices and train medical staff on the device using a smartphone app.
The Screw Cutter team has received international attention with organizations, such as the Clinton Global Initiative, and was recently featured in a Global BC News interview. In the near future they plan to receive medical certification in Uganda by leveraging partnerships with the Ugandan Rotary Club and other organizations. In addition, the team plans to build their expertise by continuing to certify low cost medical devices in their lab and become a certified device manufacturer.