Undergraduate Capstone Turned Lifesaving Start-Up
Patrick Breeding and his team approached their senior capstone differently than most; they didn’t shy away from the hard topics. In fact, as Patrick put it, “as curious bioengineers we wanted to choose the one [topic] which presented the biggest impact.” Inspired by a host of doctors, engineers, EMTs, and professors who liked the idea, they began to work on developing the functional prototype of a medical breathing simulator.
When asked about what their development process was like, Patrick explained that they first determined the problems with current medical simulators by researching every detail for weeks before beginning to hypothesize their improved version. After figuring out what it would take to make a prototype and how much it cost, they began to create their first attempt at improving medical simulators, all in time for UMaine’s Student Symposium.
It was there, at the Student’s Symposium, where the initial idea to start a company happened. Patrick and Caitlin had already spoken with a handful of people to get a prototype off the ground, but at the symposium, as Patrick put it, “we were approached by people we haven’t talked to before, entrepreneurial individuals, businesses, health professionals,” and they all seemed to agree upon one thing, that Patrick and his team saw the need and better yet, had created the solution. If you build a business around this, you can make the impact you’re looking for. It was after this that Patrick and his team began transitioning the capstone prototype into a business.
Their trajectory wasn’t smooth, though. Their initial appraisal of the market size was capped at $41 million. As they progressed through the development process, they began to realize what they have been missing. “You have to talk to people,” said Patrick, “talk to anyone.” What he and his team discovered was that their initial appraisal of their original niche was off.
“What we had done was build a device that could stimulate movement so it would look real and feel real. Unfortunately, there was no interactive component where the user could do something to the simulator and receive feedback from the device.
Ideally, the simulator will recognize the actions taken by the user and respond to those actions in the same way the human body would.”
This became known to them as the “big pivot” where the team transitioned from their original focus of a strictly medical breathing simulator, to a new design which included much more technology and innovation.
We asked Patrick to look ahead and share with us what he thought might be a few of the coming obstacles. “Growing this company while studying for a masters degree won’t be easy” he began. “Also, whether what we develop in the near future will be patentable will really push us. If not, our value to a partner might be less, and we’ll be easier to step over.”
“We know what the next few steps going forward will be,” said Patrick. “We now have to have someone write content for clinical situations that the simulator and trainee will go through. Technology development is important now, and I think we’ll understand soon just how much [work] it will take to be where we need to be.”
Patrick and his team continue to work on this project with help from the community. We asked him what the advantages of growing this company in the Bangor region were, to which he responded by crediting the University of Maine as a whole, specifically mentioning numerous professors and programs. He also paid tribute to programs like Big Gig, Venture Well, the Libra Foundation and more. Population density was another factor for Patrick as he said, “ideas around here aren’t lost like they might be in a big city.”
In hearing the struggles and successes of a student-run business, we asked Patrick to leave us with some parting advice for entrepreneurs in similar situations. “Staying flexible and talking to people. You can be the smartest person in the world, but if you don’t have a concrete understanding of the market and the business environment, it will prove to be a huge obstacle.”
After talking with Patrick, it's clear that he and his team have lofty goals for the future: Improving the medical landscape, innovating their way into a huge market and saving lives by improving the medical training tools used by professionals are a few ways in which Patrick’s company, Zephyrus Simulation LLC., is planning on making a big splash.