A dual MD/MBA candidate, Alexandra Pulst-Korenberg’s interest in entrepreneurship solidified when she helped a small group of her fellow med students found and run a free medical clinic for the community of Pinckney in Livingston County, a clinic that saw 250 patient visits in its first year and received substantial funding from Blue Cross/Blue Shield Network of Michigan.
“The idea of starting new things and building organizations was really exciting to me,” she said. “But then I thought, how do I do this better, and on a larger scale? How do I build a profitable venture that’s sustainable?”
Enrolling in the Ross School of Business seemed like the natural next step to learning all she could about creating a profitable business with a strong social mission. During her first year, Alex signed on with a startup and she and her company went through the application process for a Dare to Dream grant and pitched their concept at the Michigan Business Challenge. As part of the process, Alex was immersed in workshops and coaching that focused on all aspects of developing and growing a new venture.
Alex is currently in the midst of launching her own venture: EasyIV, an idea born in a course through the Medical School in conjunction with the Pediatric Device Consortium. EasyIV is a low-tech solution to a very common problem in hospitals: confusing and tangled IV lines. “Something that’s just a simple fix can have a big impact,” Alex said.
Using the prototyping lab at the pediatric consortium—and inspired by pedicure toe separators—Alex refined her designs for a device that keeps IV lines untangled and labeled for easy identification during an emergency. The design also reduces the likelihood that the lines will kink or be pulled out by a patient in the course of everyday operation. Even though the device is very simple, the nurses and other healthcare professionals who saw it loved it.
“The response we got was surprising,” Alex said. “When you find people who express such a strong need and desire for a product, I think you’re compelled to make the solution available to anyone who might benefit from it. There’s a lot of complexity for complexity’s sake in healthcare. If we pare it down to the simplest and cheapest solutions, I think we can eliminate a lot of needless complexity.”
Coming up with the idea for a device, though, can seem like the easy part when you compare it to execution. “It’s been a journey over the last couple of months, trying to figure out who’s going to manufacture the devices, what kind of healthcare regulations we need to follow and learning about the patent process,” Alex said.
But despite the challenges, with the help of two Dare to Dream grants, EasyIV is on its way to becoming a reality. “I’ve managed to bootstrap just about everything,” Alex said. “I went through the process of filing a patent, and now we’ll be running a pilot over the next few weeks in a hospital.” Hopefully, a successful pilot program will lead to sales and word-of-mouth endorsements. Eventually Alex hopes to license the patent to an existing medical supply manufacturer.
Alex credits many of the resources available through Zell Lurie Institute for helping her get this far—especially TechArb. “I think the definition of being an entrepreneur is that you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into,” she said. But the community around TechArb has helped her navigate the unknown, and given structure to her efforts. “Ultimately, it’s your startup,” she said, “but it’s also fantastic to have a community of friends to talk to when you’re having issues, and experienced mentors you can lean on for advice.” Alex also credits Jim Price, Sarika Gupta, Len Middleton, Scott Olson, Nancy Gilby, and Stewart Thornhill for giving her advice and helping her find other mentors in healthcare and manufacturing. Alex was also awarded the Samuel Valenti Award for Exceptional Entrepreneurial Development last week, recognizing her development of entrepreneurial skills through continued engagement with the Institute.
Alex has had the chance to further hone her entrepreneurial skills through the Zell Lurie Commercialization fund, a student-run, pre-seed investment fund established to identify and accelerate the commercialization of ideas generated within the university community and the surrounding area. “It’s been a great experience,” she said. “Granted, we give out only a small amount of money, but some of our companies are doing quite well, and we like to think that part of the reason for that is because of the money we gave them at a critical stage in their development.”
Alex has also taken an activist position within the Zell Lurie community, advocating for her fellow female entrepreneurs through Women Who Launch. Together with Marianna Kerppola, MBA/MS ’16, and Stefanie Thomas, MBA ’15, the group aims to help close the gender gap at Ross and foster women in entrepreneurship. “We’re all very excited about helping women,” Alex said. “I think women approach entrepreneurship differently, and we need to understand that difference and learn how to leverage it.”
This June, Alex will be relocating to the University of Washington to start her residency in emergency medicine—a position that will expose her to the entire range of medical issues a hospital would see. “You see a lot of entrepreneurs in that department,” Alex said. “You can see where the gaps lie, and you can work to fill them.”
Best of all, her residency will set her on a career path that will make the most of her two passions. “I’ll be able to continue as a doctor my whole career—and as an entrepreneur,” she said.