Innovation As a Side Project

I was surprised that I haven’t seen much written about this. While it may seem daunting I believe that depending on your work situation it may not be as time consuming as you might think to get involved in innovation.

I have always been interested in this topic and I was surprised to learn that often large businesses like hospitals and universities have their own innovation centers. You should go look up the innovation center at your institution if you’re interested in this sort of thing.

My hope is that you will find like minded individuals to connect with that are interested in new products and technologies that actually help people and solve problems. At least this was my experience.

Connecting With an Innovation Center

I would recommend just sending an email to the innovation team and just to introduce yourself and say that you are interested in getting connected. You don’t have to commit anything. This can purely just be a way to network. 

These are the first few messages that I sent to one of the innovation centers that I’ve connected with: 

My message: 

“I will be starting residency this summer in orthopedic surgery, and I’m curious if there is any way to get involved as a physician interested in the innovation side of medicine.”

The Innovation Team:

 “My name is _____. I work with the Spectrum Health Innovations team. Thanks for reaching out to us, and congrats on your residency!


Spectrum Health Innovations’ charge is to work with employees to explore, develop, and launch promising new health care ideas, which includes medical devices, surgical tools, hospital products, equipment, software, etc. We really rely heavily on ideas our employees submit for new devices, and orthopedics is an area that falls within our sweet spot. So, at a very basic level, I’d say that as you get rolling, as you have ideas for new products – or even just a problem area where maybe a new device could help – just let us know! We can help you from there, all you need to do is get in touch.


We have a very nice revenue sharing policy, as added incentive. The way it works, at a high level, is that if an employee has an idea that we pursue and launch, once we recoup any costs, then that employee can be eligible to share up to half of any profit Spectrum Health Innovations receives, in perpetuity.


I’d be happy to chat more if you have any further questions or ideas, just let me know.”

My message: 

Thanks for the explanation! I was curious if there was any potential for me to get involved somehow to learn from people like you and other talent at the innovation center. I have a masters degree in business and a personal interest in the innovation industry.”

Sharing Your Ideas

The profit sharing policies can be very different depending on your institution. So that is something to keep in mind. Just ask for the paperwork showing the breakdown of this type of information and they are generally open to sharing it from my experience. 

Next they will send you a form to submit your idea. You fill out and submit the form and then the innovation office goes to work. They will likely give you a call to talk more about your idea.

Sharing ideas can be difficult. It is important to understand what your goals are and what some of the legalities of innovation are while you are working at an institution. Things can get messy when you try to circumvent the institution you work at. You have to be able to document that you did not use any of their resources, and sometimes your employment policies may say that they own the intellectual property rights to anything you do invent while working there. It is a strange thought that an institution could own your ideas while you work there… I won’t get into the details on that because it can get complex and I’m not a lawyer, but I will say, there are sobering examples of lawsuits online of this. The most recent example that I heard of was an ex-Uber engineer ordered to pay Google $179 million after he left Google in 2016 to start his own self-driving truck company, which was quickly acquired by Uber for $680 million (story here).

Submission Process

Just to share an example of what the submission form looked like here is an example of one that I submitted based on an idea for an electric toothbrush irrigator to help clean out wounds and remove biofilms off metal components. Just try not to laugh at the drawing!

Researching and Backing Your Idea

 After I submitted this explanation I took some time to find more studies that backed up the claims I was trying to make and to help explain the market size. I eventually met with an engineering team partnered with the innovation center through a local college who worked on doing a more in depth market review. They found patents that have already been submitted and products similar to my idea that I had never heard of. 

When working with an institution you don’t have to have all the knowledge or capital it would take to develop the product yourself. Innovation centers often have access to lawyers, engineers, and the staff necessary to take an idea and make it a reality that can be patented, developed or licensed out to other businesses.

Another idea I had was to develop a child friendly cast saw. If you’ve ever used a cast saw, they can be very loud, messy, and uncomfortable for children. This was the response from the innovation center on this idea after they did some research:

Child friendly cast saw: 

“There were quite a few of these products already developed here is the list that the innovation team sent after kindly saying that my idea wasn’t going to be pursued.”

Overall the mechanical irrigation and child friendly cast saw projects did not turn out to be a fruitful idea, but it was still a great learning process. I think this side project of innovation is one for people who just enjoy trying to come up with new ideas. It can be discouraging when your idea gets turned down, but it is a great learning experience. Who knows, it may only take one idea to really make a difference in your life and the life of others.

Should You Develop Your Idea on Your Own?

One of the most difficult things to do is give up one of your ideas for someone to judge it and potentially take quite a significant cut of the profits should they ever become profitable ideas. I figured that I don’t have time right now to stop everything I’m doing to become a founder and bootstrap my idea. I would rather at least try to see it become a reality than keep it on a word document forever. In some scenarios, depending on your situation it may make sense to develop your own ideas like in this example of 2 dermatologists that built a billion dollar industry off anti-aging skin care products. Here is another great example of a DO/PhD student who invented, patented and developed a product while they were working in the lab and finishing medical school: SteriDev’s story.

There are a number of examples of very busy individuals that have gone on to develop their own products. So, do some reading on your institution’s policy, network with like-minded individuals that are interested in innovation. Reflect on what your time availability is and what your goals are in determining whether to engage with your institution’s innovation center to develop your idea or to develop it on your own. At the end of the day, you know your own situation best!

If you have any questions, please ask! I’m always interested and open to talking about your ideas. If anyone is working on developing extra income sources and innovative side projects consider sharing them in our private facebook group!

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