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July 8, 2020

As the first cases of Covid-19 were emerging in the U.S., a team of scientists, engineers and doctors at the University of Vermont developed the 'Vermontilator'; a ventilator that is now in the process of getting its FDA certifications, and one that has joined several important coalitions to guide its next steps forward. The original team behind the ventilator is now working with the UVM IMFLabs, Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center, UVM Health Network, UVM Foundation, and UVM Innovations to drive the project and its business model forward. 

Continuing in its legacy of innovation, the Vermontilator added to its team 3 MBA students Ruchi Nadkarni, Becky Gollin and Lauren Bass, from the Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) program at the UVM Grossman School of Business. UVM Innovations Director Corine Farewell teaches an innovation class in the program, which piqued the students' interest in helping with the Vermontilator project as their contribution to the Covid-19 crisis. 

The goal of the SI-MBA students joining the project was for them to bring their sustainable business knowledge to help create strategy and marketing plans for the Vermontilator. 

Michael Lane, Director at Instrumentation and Technical Services, University of Vermont said “The Vermontilator has been an “all hands on” project from members of the UVM community, the UVM Health network and the Vermont manufacturing sector.  Becky, Lauren and Ruchi as part of the Vermontilator team as business analysts, have helped to broaden the scope and quality of the effort – focusing on manufacturing and regulatory requirements, international opportunities and connections to infuse feedback and communication through the development of a device website. These have all been areas the analyst team has lent their expertise.”

For Rebecca Gollin, having an opportunity to use her familiarity and expertise in media and television production to create a robust marketing and communications plan for the Vermontilator was key, she said “Getting the chance to see how a product like the Vermontilator can come together so quickly, while being highly efficient and well-thought out has been incredible. At the same time, being able to be a part of it, and feel like we are really contributing to this effort while we use our freshly acquired skills from the SI-MBA program and apply them in this real-life scenario, has been an invaluable experience for all of us.”  

While Lauren Bass is employing her cross-cultural entrepreneurial experience to shape the supply chain and manufacturing part of the project bringing in research, regulation processes and strategy domestically and internationally, Ruchi Nadkarni is using her emerging markets experience to drive the market strategy, research and outreach to provide the Vermontilator to low and middle income countries (LMIC) desperate for ventilators.

Ruchi said “It has been exciting and exhilarating to learn about, and liaise with, major global health organizations like the WHO, PATH, CHAI and UNICEF and communicate with them to learn about the challenges on the ground for LMICs.” She continued “I want to ensure a pragmatic and sustainable market entry and creation plan for the Vermontilator which not only addresses current Covid-19 concerns, but also addresses long-term critical care infrastructures in a way that is effective.” 

For Michael Lane the participation of the three SI-MBA students is easy to sum up. “Analytical, inquisitive, and energetic are 3 qualities that come to mind.  Becky, Lauren and Ruchi came into the project early on – saw their opportunity to contribute and have been steaming ahead adding value with each conversation and meeting.  Their business focus and connections has helped support the engineering team through their contacts and insights from their international contacts.” 

He continued “The SI-MBA graduate students added value from day 1 and there should certainly be more avenues like this in the future.” 

Michael’s observations on the students' participation resonated with Lauren Bass. “After months in the classroom learning long-term sustainability strategies, it was great to put those tools into action with the team. Working on this project called on the experiences of my past intertwined with my objectives I hope to apply to the future of business. This has been an incredible privilege as I wrap up my experience at SI-MBA." 

For all concerned with the Vermontilator, the impact the SI-MBA students made coupled with the experience they enjoyed, proves once again that the timeless African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” still rings true. 

Writen by Grossman Sustainable Innovation MBA students Ruchi Nadkarni, Lauren Bass, and Becky Gollin.
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