“If only there were a better ____________________ .”

Doctors say it’s frustrating when the tool, test or procedure they need to deliver exceptional patient care doesn’t yet exist. Although they may recognize these shortcomings, physicians often lack the time, expertise or means to address them. Undaunted, teams of Washington University students are bringing fresh perspectives to real-world clinical needs.

Founded in 2013, IDEA (Innovation, Design and Engineering in Action) Labs is a student-driven bioengineering design and entrepreneurship incubator. It works in partnership with the schools of Medicine and of Engineering & Applied Science and the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Through this multidisciplinary program, undergraduate, medical and other graduate students collaborate to develop innovative, potentially marketable solutions to physician-identified problems.

idealabs_storeeasyROBERT BOSTON
PROBLEM: Wheelchair-bound individuals who wish to drive must get in the car, remove the wheels from the wheelchair, lift the heavy chair over their body and put it in the car. This time-consuming, strenuous process limits mobility and results in overuse injuries. CONCEPT: Attach a wheelchair storage device to the roof-rack of a car. Once a wheelchair-bound person has transferred to the driver’s seat, it lifts the wheelchair and stores it behind the vehicle. TEAM STORE-EASY: (from left) Alaric D’souza, Charlotte Guertler, Rachel Milgrom, and Yu Xiao (not shown)

“In the second year of medical school, we realized that a lot of clinicians would come to lectures expressing concerns that things could be done much better in the hospital,” said Stephen W. Linderman, IDEA Labs president and an MD/PhD student. “Many of these problems seemed simple enough to solve, but there was no clear pathway for students to become engaged in solving them.”

Over the past two years, the founders have forged that pathway — building relationships across the university and St. Louis, creating a sustainable infrastructure for the years ahead and gaining national attention.

What began as a small group of students asking how they could help has since mushroomed into a movement involving hundreds of students, faculty mentors, alumni, investors and corporate sponsors.

Last April, the group officially became a tax-exempt nonprofit organization. IDEA Labs has resulted in 31 prototypes, 16 provisional patents, nine national competition winners and finalists, and 17 startups. Teams collectively have raised $2 million in outside investments.

Read more at Outlook magazine.