Discovery and Design at Georgia Tech

University Innovation Fellows collaborated with local students and entrepreneurs at the Georgia Tech Regional Meetup in November 2016.


If you wanted to discover a new opportunity, learn how to build and test it, and figure out how to bring it to market — all in the space of two days — the University Innovation Fellows Georgia Tech Regional Meetup was the place to be. This event, held November 4-5, 2016, brought together Fellows and students at Georgia Tech to learn from entrepreneurs and thought-leaders from the school and surrounding community.

The event was hosted and designed by Georgia Tech Fellows and produced in collaboration with Georgia Tech’s DesignBloc, a hub for innovation, collaboration and creativity at Georgia Tech. Fellows involved in the event’s creation include Alexandra Flohr, Thomas Clifton, Arshiya Lal, Kshitij Kulkarni and their faculty sponsor Wayne Li, professor in the school of School of Industrial Design.

Regional meetups are designed to showcase the work that Fellows have been implementing at their schools; to spark student interest in innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity and design thinking; and to encourage collaboration with other Fellows and students in their region. Georgia Tech is one of seven schools that has hosted a University Innovation Fellows regional meetup in the last two years. Read more about other regional meetups here.

Twelve Fellows and faculty sponsors from seven schools attended the Georgia Tech event, along with more than 15 Georgia Tech students and alumni. Participants learned from a diverse group of speakers and participated in hands-on activities focused on entrepreneurship and a community’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Fellows explore Georgia Tech's beautiful campus

Fellows explore Georgia Tech’s beautiful campus

“As Director of the Innovation and Design Collaborative here at Georgia Tech, we’re always excited to partner with the University Innovation Fellows program to promote innovation, design thinking, and entrepreneurship on campus,” said Wayne Li.

On Friday, November 4, participants enjoyed treats and a chat with Tyler Rogers of local popsicle business King of Pops and heard from Albert Vita, Director of Strategy and Insights for In-Store Entertainment at Home Depot, on the possibilities for innovation within a large company. Vita shared his thoughts on the ways traditional retail is ripe for disruption and advised attendees to avoid traps that can happen as companies struggle to innovate, such as “not having true empathy for your customer.”


Participants then got an inside look at Georgia Tech’s unique Invention Studio. This fully-stocked makerspace is free, completely managed and operated by students, and open to students, faculty and staff from all backgrounds. Later in the afternoon, the group heard from Keith McGreggor of VentureLabs on the art of storytelling and visited the High Museum for its Friday night interactive event, where they viewed exhibitions, sketched live models and screen-printed bags.

The second meetup day on Saturday, November 5, started sweet, with breakfast from Sublime Donuts. The founder, Kamal Grant, gave attendees good advice about avoiding the “golden handcuffs” of a job that’s solid but not fulfilling. “Be expert, creative and audacious,” Grant said, adding that when you believe in something, you have to fully commit to it.


Rachel Ford, a University Innovation Fellow and Georgia Tech alumna who is now a program manager for TechStars, led the group through an exercise to explore assumptions. She asked teams of attendees to quickly create a sample business idea, explore the assumptions that would have to be validated, and decide what questions could be used in interviews to test those assumptions.

For his activity, Wayne Li opened a duffle bag on a table to reveal a treasure trove of PlayDough containers in a rainbow of colors. Participants paired up to interview one another about their favorite foods, and then created product prototypes out of PlayDough that were connected to their interviewee’s favorite food in some way. Then, they were asked to conduct the interview again, asking memory and emotion-related questions such as “What does that food remind you of?” and “Tell me about a memorable time when you ate that food?” Li asked the group to share the second set of PlayDough prototypes and what made the two sets different, and then led the group in a discussion on empathy in design.


“The person I interviewed, he’s from India. A Kit Kat was his favorite food because when his father came back from business trips, it was something he gave him,” said Andrea Del Risco, a 2014 Georgia Tech alumna. “The activity was less about the functional side than the emotional reasons. I hadn’t thought about that part before.”

The day also featured talks by Carrie Moore of MJV Innovation about design projects at the intersections of fields; Lane Duncan from the School of Architecture on multi-disciplinary art and architecture; Bill Scott, an IDEO designer of the original Apple mouse, on the art of prototyping and designing with constraints; and Scott Sanchez from First Data on MAP (Minimum Awesomeness Product). After dinner, Bill Scott returned to lead a customer discover exercise focused around creating a new type of car to satisfy an unmet or unrealized customer need.

“I learned what it means to start business, to go from a ‘shower thought’ to multi-million-dollar business. The speakers lived that story,” said Collin Browning, a University Innovation Fellow from Clemson University. “I’m excited about promoting the innovation and entrepreneurship mindset on my campus and sharing this with other students.”

For more information on Georgia Tech’s Design Bloc, visit

UI Fellows Commit to Advancing the National Academy of Engineering’s 14 Grand Challenges

From April 29 – May 1, ten University Innovation Fellows (UI Fellows) were invited to attend the Educating Engineers to Meet the Grand Challenges’ Conference held at the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) to lend a student perspective in discussing how to better integrate innovation & entrepreneurship, interdisciplinary project-based work, service learning, global perspectives and research related to the 14 Grand Challenges identified by the NAE. UI Fellows made statements of commitment to advancing this on their campus; to hear their commitments, you can view this video. This is one of ten posts continuing the conversation about how they will achieve their commitments to their campus. 

Megna Saha is one of three University Innovation Fellows at Georgia Tech. She is a 4th year at Georgia Institute of Technology wiht a Biomedical Engineering Major and a Pre-health and Computer Science minor. For more on Megna, read her bio here:

Megna Saha is one of three University Innovation Fellows at Georgia Tech. She is a 4th year Biomedical Engineering Major and a Pre-health and Computer Science minor. For more on Megna, read her bio here.

By Megna Saha, Biomedical Engineering major with a Pre-Health and Computer Science minor, Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech).

Reflecting on my commitment to the collaboration of entrepreneurship and innovation throughout all majors at Georgia Tech, I realized my whole institution is committed to this. This past week at the NAE Grand Challenges Workshop, we explored the pillars of engineering education and what it meant to prepare engineers to take on the grand challenges of the world. The resources and faculty support are here at Georgia Tech; the time is now to utilize them for multidisciplinary collaboration.

Our metric for success will be the engagement that students have to these resources. Currently, a design incubator open to all majors is being created with the mission to expand the footprint for innovation at Georgia Tech by implementing a multidisciplinary center for research and collaboration by bringing together facilities, curriculum, people, and outreach to the Atlanta community.

A space is not enough though; it is a creative, innovative mindset that the University Innovation Fellows are trying to establish at Georgia Tech. We believe GT students can change the world. Our campus offers many resources, and even better faculty, to help innovation and creativity on campus. We need to connect the GT community by creating an umbrella organization to help students flow toward these resources on campus, and create channels for student-faculty relationships.

Our program will exist to foster a passion and create sustainability for innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) among all members of the Georgia Tech community. Through the University Innovation Council, students and faculty will be able to grow the I&E movement on campus together, as well as facilitate other movements going forward. This means that they will become more reliant on, and trusting of, each other, and whatever their major might be. If both students and faculty are invested in the same issue and working together to make change happen, Georgia Tech’s campus landscape in I&E will continue to grow in the future, which will only perpetuate the success of the I&E campus and further interdisciplinary connections.

UIF Fellows, Georgia Tech

Rachel Ford, Alex Flohr, and Megna Saha

Freshman & Sophomores Get Practical Design & Project Experience in Biomedical Engineering

In this video interview Georgia Tech rising senior Jim Schwoebel describes his experience entering college knowing his destiny was to invent, innovate and be an entrepreneur. But, when he got to Georgia Tech, he found that most of the innovation resources were geared to juniors, seniors and grad students.

Freshman and sophomores weren’t getting the practical medical design, problem solving, project or clinical industry exposure that attracted them to the biomedical engineering track in the first place. So, he did what any good entrepreneur does… he developed what he believed the student market needed… the Medical Device Entrepreneurship Association, an undergraduate club that solved the problem by forming project teams and exposing underclassmen to industry experts and advisors. Learn more by watching the video interview or read the Q&A below.


Jim Schwoebel started the MDEA, a club exposing freshman and sophomores at Georgia Tech to design, invention and innovation opportunities.

Q: What were your experiences a young innovator at Georgia Tech and why did you start the student biomedical entrepreneurship club, MDEA?

I entered college knowing I wanted to invent and innovate. I would download Stanford’s popular podcasts, the ‘Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders’ series in high school. I had an interest specifically in the talks pertaining to medical device entrepreneurship. So when I started my education at Georgia Tech, I looked to participate in medical entrepreneurship in some way. But when I began this search, I noted these problems:

  • There were many top-down initiatives pertaining to biotechnology commercialization tailored to graduate students and faculty emerging on Georgia Tech’s campus, but few of these initiatives was tailored to undergraduate students (e.g. TRIBES, the BioID program).
  • There were also many undergraduate entrepreneurship organizations emerging across Georgia Tech (Enterprise 2 Empower – Social Enterprise, Startup Exchange – space for entrepreneurs), few which provided a niche for creating medical device companies.
  • Also, I did not feel like my educational experience was training me well to have the knowledge that I needed to start a medical device company. There are regulatory complexities, clinical affairs considerations, reimbursement considerations, etc. involved in starting a medical device company, and I did not know where I could go to find this information and feel comfortable with it.

The connecting thread of these problems was that there was an ill-defined medical device ecosystem tailored to undergraduate students at my school, and I felt that by starting this organization this ecosystem would begin to take shape. And after a few months, the networks and resources we built up could be utilized by students to get mentorship and advice in starting companies.

Q: Who participated and what types of things do students do?

Because I am a biomedical engineering student, the main people who participated in our activities were biomedical engineering undergraduate students, but we have tried to reach into all schools and departments to create an interdisciplinary community for medical innovation. So far, we have held two major types of events. The first is a networking session where medical device entrepreneurs and designers come out and speak to students. Called the Roads to Medical Innovation Entrepreneurship Forum, this event is a roundtable discussion where students rotate tables and talk with successful entrepreneurs who have succeeded in starting medical device companies. In this way, this event could stimulate interest and confidence within students to start medical device companies and develop networks useful in the company development process.

Georgia Tech also has a large machine shop – the Invention Studio – with many tools to build and create medical devices, which is maintained by students. Our organization has held events at the machine shop to help students build their devices. We have also partnered with GCMI – the global center for medical innovation – which specializes in prototyping early-stage medical technology for start-up companies. These experiences for students have definitely helped them with their design and prototyping experience related to medical device entrepreneurship.

Beyond general membership events, the executive board is divided up into a networking committee and events committee. The networking committee has 5 networking chairs – student, research, nonprofit, industry, and clinical networking chairs. The goal of the networking committee is to attend conferences and events within the Atlanta community that can help MDEA into the future (recruiting guest speakers, getting introduced to legal networks, etc.). The events committee then makes use of the networks maintained by the networking committee to host events to general members. Therefore, students on the executive board get to attend many interesting events that aid in professional development (I attended 5-6 conferences last year). We designed it this way so that the organization can be applied and adapted to any arbitrary community, so that students of other schools may be able to mimic the model to centralize networks and resources within their communities through our model. With this strategy, we believe we have seeded an ecosystem that can continue to grow and add additional events such as educational seminars and business strategy workshops.

Q: What types of things should a Student think about if they were wanted to start a club like this?

I would suggest the following:

  • Choose a good faculty advisor (someone who has started a company) – when I mention Dr. Ken Gall’s name, so many people know him in the medical entrepreneurship community that it helps us with initial branding/marketing to other faculty and entrepreneurs
  • Establish organizational partnerships – Georgia Tech has a President’s Council for all biomedical engineering-related organizations which has helped us to
  • Make a good website – good for marketing purposes and extend reach into industry (that’s how Drexel University contacted me to start a chapter)
  • Partner with existing faculty initiatives (GCMI, GTRI, etc.) – allows you to possibly find funding more easily and helps you to access useful networks

Beyond these things, I would download the expansion package resources that we have created from our organization in the first year of development. We have set-up a webpage where students from other schools can start a new MDEA chapter. This page allows you to watch a video and download resources regarding our organizational model. These resources include advertising materials, business cards, a constitution, funding leads, links to our website, logos, an organizational proposal, PowerPoints, recruitment emails, a 1 year strategic plan, and website resources. In this way, we hope to empower students from other schools to benefit from the work that we have done, as well as expand our model into a cross-university, open source community.

On behalf of students looking for meaningful opportunities for innovation in the University environment, I’d like to thank Jim for spearheading this effort, serving as a student changemaker at Georgia Tech, and taking the time to tell us about it. Jim and his team are very interested in ‘open sourcing’ all the information about how to set up a club like MDEA on your campus. I encourage students at other BME campuses to look at the information Jim makes available (mentioned above), right here. Maybe YOU can lead the way, like Jim did, on your campus.

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Manager of Student Programming, T: @ihumera

Makers Earning $45K After High School, Our Future Innovators

Today show segment showcases exciting new program that’s ‘making makers’ within high school.

High School Makers in MA Earning Big Bucks in Robotics & Advanced Manufacturing

High School Makers in MA Earning Big Bucks in Robotics & Advanced Manufacturing

According to the segment, The unemployment rate for people under the age of 25 is 16.2%, double the national average. A new program in Massachusetts is designed to train students in advanced manufacturing, robotics and precision machining to satisfy the predicted 100,000 jobs that will be available in medical devices, biotechnology and other technology sectors. The program trains students in advanced techniques at vocational school, and students graduate with their high school diploma with 100% chance of getting a job in their field at rates at a starting salary of $45,000. As someone who believes in the value of a college education for the experience of broadening one’s viewpoint, adopting solid STEM expertise, dabbling in the humanities and more … the phenomenon does give me pause. Still, one can’t argue with the defying of unemployment odds. If they felt they needed it, $45K allows students to self-fund evening and weekend courses to earn the notch on their resume that contributes to upward mobility. Heck, they could potentially take Stanford and MIT Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for free and amass a powerhouse of knowledge, allowing them to lead the U.S. rebirth of technology-driven manufacturing debt-free and on their terms.

If you’re a college track student, though, you can still gain these practical skills. We see a growing trend in Colleges and Universities offering Design Kitchens and Innovation Spaces complete with CNC machines, 3-D Printers and other prototyping, invention and innovation tools. NCIIA has funded a number of of these with its Course and Program Grants in which faculty get $50,000 to support University/College build-out of such programs, five page proposal deadline due next Friday, May 10th). We highlighted six such spaces at the Smithsonian during our OPEN 2013 national conference last month in Washington D.C.. If you’re a faculty member or student thinking about ‘setting up shop’ at a place the University community can openly access maker tools, check out the YouTube video below. You’ll hear six 3-minute talks faculty from U-Michigan, Georgia Tech, Rice, Stanford, Berkeley and the K-12 environment. Imagine a space, central on campus and accessible to students regardless of major or year. Imagine a space that allowed students to create Valentine’s Day presents and other personal items in order to encourage a culture of making, inventing and innovating. Imagine a space staffed entirely by students, developing strong student expertise and incorporating strict codes of safety. Now, imagine a nation of makers and entrepreneurial-minded young people, socially aware and passionate about tackling the world’s most pressing problems. College students don’t want to find themselves at a disadvantage to those who gained practical skills through vocational training. They’re dissatisfied with the pace of change within academia (Making, Entrepreneurship and Innovation seen as one in the same practical tool set College Students want) and many are leading the charge within their own institutions, like Jared Karp our Student Ambassador from Berkeley and one of the six speakers in the following video. While academia may be slow to change, students have more of a sense of urgency (with graduation comes repayment made impossible without a job). What’s more, they’re the customer! And that gives them a certain clout and ability to avoid institutional politics. Click and get ready to be inspired:


To inquire about bringing a Design Kitchen or Maker Space to you your campus, contact me at humera at nciia dot org.

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Manager of Student Programming, T: @ihumera

UC Berkeley Ambassador Speaks at Smithsonian, Washington D.C.

Jared Karp, Student Ambassador from University of California Berkeley, spoke at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in an event entitled, “Spaces of Invention.”


The six-speaker event, held as part of the NCIIA Open Conference in Collaboration with Epicenter and was delivered Pecha Kucha-style (also known in some circles as an Ignite talk). In 15 slides that auto-advanced every 15 seconds, Jared Karp, a 3rd year Mechanical Engineering major at Berkeley, captivated the audience with his team’s quest to bring a Stanford d.School and IDEO-esque design space to the Engineering School at UC Berkeley. The result of their work, the Design Engineering Collaborative is a space now claimed by the Engineering Department as their own and is used by student clubs and faculty alike. Less lecturing and more hands-on making will create more inventive and innovative engineers, is the premise under which Jared Karp, Adam Eastman and other core team members are operating. NCIIA has seen many faculty espousing this belief in its 17 year history, but it’s the first time we’ve seen a student-led effort to make it so. Student Ambassadors joining the program will learn catalytic strategies like these to institutionalize a maker culture within their STEM Colleges and Universities. To see Jared’s 3.5 minute talk, advance to 32:40 of the following YouTube video of all six talks.

The five other speakers include faculty who describe their Design Kitchens and maker spaces from the collegiate through K-12 arenas. They include:

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Manager of Student Programming, T: @ihumera