Johnson & Johnson Unveils Sprint Challenge to Students: Improve Wound Care

PhilaU students listen to Mike Eknoian of J&J talk about the sprint challenge to improve wound care.

PhilaU industry partner Johnson & Johnson and students from a variety of disciplines kicked off the fall 2013 sprint challenge on Oct. 1, with the global health care giant challenging students to come up with improvements in wound care during an intense, fast-paced 14 days.

About 50 undergraduate and graduate students and faculty members gathered in the DEC Forum for the reveal of Johnson & Johnson as the sprint sponsor. The number one consumer health care company in the world, with 2012 worldwide sales of $67.2 billion, Johnson and Johnson products include such iconic brands as Band-Aid, Listerine, Tylenol, Neutrogena and Visine.

In search of innovative ideas to improve the experience of wound care at the consumer level, Johnson and Johnson officials challenged students to study existing products and systems, articulate new insights and propose solutions. Students will have progress checkpoints along the way, and will be able to consult with company experts via teleconference. The interdisciplinary student teams will document their work with daily blog summaries and video diaries.

Mike Eknoian, senior director of research and development for Johnson & Johnson, who introduced the challenge to students, said PhilaU’s interdisciplinary model was what attracted the company to sponsor the sprint challenge.

“It’s not just pure R and D,” he said of the research and development functions. “You have design, engineering, marketing, all different functions coming in and giving a perspective on something.”

The interdisciplinary teams include students in industrial design, textile engineering, physician assistant studies (PA), business/MBA and professional communication. This is the first time PA students are participating in an industry sprint challenge, particularly appropriate given its health-care focus.

PA student Caroline Buehler said she expects to provide medical knowledge and a perspective on patient needs to the project. “It is incredible to be included in the Johnson & Johnson project,” said Buehler. “I find the product development and marketing of consumer, pharmaceutical and medical equipment to be very interesting.”

“Physician assistant students are coming at the challenge from a totally different perspective than the others,” said D.R. Widder, executive director of innovation and one of the sprint organizers. “Between the five disciplines, we get a lot of different perspectives.”

The students’ first glimpse of their challenge came as they entered the DEC Forum and found a table displaying a variety of packages of Band-Aid products.  Some expressed excitement at the opportunity to work with the world’s largest and most diverse health care, medical devices and diagnostics company.

“It’s awesome to work for an industry leader with so many innovative products,” said Drew Jordan, an industrial design graduate student. “When you have an industry leader that’s so large, the research that’s available is really top notch.”

Eknoian said the company is not only looking for solutions to the wound care challenge, they are also looking for young, emerging talent and different perspectives on problem solving. “There’s no reason why a certain team couldn’t just be absorbed by J&J at some point and start working for us as an internship,” he said.  “And if that works out, maybe it could turn into a full-time position.”

Tod Corlett, coordinator of the M.S. in Industrial Design program, said he sees this type of interdisciplinary project as a modern way to generate innovative industry solutions. “Hopefully we can come up with something that we know works because we’ve got all the disciplines at the table to begin with,” he said.

After Tuesday’s design briefing, teams dispersed to begin working on their assignment and face what will likely be two weeks of sleepless nights as they race to imagine, create and build their solutions.

The student teams will present their final projects in the DEC Center from 4 to 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 14.

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