Adventures in entrepreneurship

Learning to master business and innovation in healthcare

Being an entrepreneur is just business as usual for Virginia Goetz.

“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” says Virginia Goetz (MBT’18), a graduate of the Cumming School of Medicine’s Master of Biomedical Technology (MBT) program. “Both of my parents have their own business. At a young age I knew you could work for yourself and build what you wanted.”

As an undergrad, Goetz started a window-washing business with her sister. It gave her a taste of calling the shots, and planted a seed.

As a master’s student, the MBT program provided the building blocks to expand her entrepreneurial foundation. It also helped her better understand herself.

“You need to know your strengths and weaknesses to build the right team, which is essential to being an entrepreneur.”

With an existing interest in pediatrics, Goetz spent her year-long capstone project working on a prototype for a mouth splint to help kids with juvenile arthritis in their jaw joints.

She found the ideal mentor in Dr. Marinka Twilt, a pediatric rheumatologist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital (ACH). Dr. Twilt suggested the project and Goetz ran with it.

“She was a fabulous mentor; her network of colleagues helped bring together the interdisciplinary team of experts we needed.”

For Goetz, there’s a natural connection between health care and entrepreneurial thinking.

“From the patient perspective, when you’re innovating new medical devices or drugs, I think that gives people optimism, hope, about whatever they’re going through.”

Currently a first-year medical student at the University of Alberta, Goetz is planning to continue her research this summer and explore where that takes her. The opening of a new jaw clinic at the ACH means there could be an opportunity to see how her prototype fits into the clinical care pathway.

“My two biggest passions are entrepreneurship and medicine,” she says. “I hope I can continue to combine them in the future.”

Virginia Goetz

Virginia Goetz

What a difference a month can make. Just ask Jacob George.

When biomedical engineering masters student Jacob George signed up for a volunteer make-athon in August 2016, he set in motion what he calls the defining experience of his graduate program.

Armed with a mechanical engineering background, plenty of design competition know-how, and the support of his supervisor Steven Boyd, PhD, director of the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health, George worked with his teammates to create a device to assist people with their at-home stroke rehabilitation.

“We were paired up with Zhao, the father-in-law of one of my teammates,” says George. “He had a stroke and, living in rural China, he didn’t have consistent access to rehab facilities or clinicians.”

The team built a robot that moved Zhao’s arm back and forth around the elbow joint.

The following year, they took their design to the TENET i2c (innovation to commercialization) business pitch competition.

After connecting with Dr. Sean Dukelow, lead of the Calgary Stroke Program, they realized there was a similar need for at-home rehab in places like Alberta.

“We wanted to step up, to fill this gap; that’s where our company came from.”

Now George is building on his experience and hopes to facilitate affordable, accessible stroke rehabilitation at home through Re-able, the company he co-founded with former teammate and University of Calgary alumnus Riley Booth (BSc’14, MSc’18).

“I always thought it would be cool to run my own thing,” he says. “I got involved in design projects because I thought I could make impactful changes.”

Re-able is developing a smartphone app and wearable activity tracker designed to integrate stroke recovery movement into daily life.

Both Goetz and George credit great advice from mentors and support from the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking, and Innovate Calgary as a vital part of their experience.

“The entrepreneurial community here is extremely supportive,” says George.

Jacob George

Jacob George

Entrepreneur essentials 

Tips from Virginia Goetz

  • Mentorship is really important. Don't just be open to the support and input of others, go out and seek it. 
  • Be honest and ask for what you want, graciously and confidently. The worst people can say is no.

Tips from Jacob George

  • People tend to be naturally better at one thing; the entrepreneurial journey is really about filling in the gaps for everything else.
  • Make sure you connect with your market really, really well.