Fast Forward Entrepreneurship Educator of the Year Award

Jens Haarmann

Finalist of the Fast Forward Entrepreneurship Educator of the Year Award

IMM at ZHAW School of Management & Law - Switzerland

"From surgery observations to investor pitches in 2.5 weeks"

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In 2021, ZHAW university offered the first Swiss Biodesign Summer School. It offered a 2.5-week entrepreneurial sprint that effectively mimics the real-life challenges of developing disruptive medical technology and digital health innovation. The course design focused on a hands-on approach to interdisciplinary teamwork, clinical immersion in the hospital and international market orientation.

We specifically recruited for interdisciplinary project teams whose four members would cover the three key competences needed in a healthcare start-up: medical, technical, and business expertise. With an intensive six months promotion campaign in four different departments of our university, we were able to attract and interview for the desired diversity, skills, and motivation. The different backgrounds and terminologies created communication hurdles at the beginning but were much appreciated by the students for fostering impressive levels of analyses, creativity, and technical solutions.

A major ingredient and highlight of the course were a 1.5 day ‘clinical immersion’ at two partnering hospitals. All teams shadowed patients, physicians, and nurses to identify 30 unmet customer needs in gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases. Out of these, the market potential had to be systematically and internationally validated through eight compulsory interviews with medical experts and patients. Finally, further international perspectives were provided by presentations by the cofounder of Stanford’s Biodesign program as well as successful health care start-ups, such as AvaWomen, Zeit Medical, Hey Patient and Sequana Medical. Their insights into the US, EU, and Swiss markets as well as latest venture capital requirements provided exclusive insights into the start-up and investor world.

Key People

Dr. Jens Haarmann
Senior Lecturer
School of Management and Law / Institute of Marketing Management ,  Zurich University of Applied Sciences

Prof. Mathias Bonmarin
School of Engineering / Head of Sensors and Measuring Systems Unit ,  Zurich University of Applied Sciences

Mrs. Nicole Zigan
Research Associate
School of Health Professions / Institute of Nursing ,  Zurich University of Applied Sciences

Prof. Michel Adamina
Chief of Colorectal Surgery ,  Cantonal Hospital of Winterthur


BioD Group Pic JHaarmann_MBonmarin_NZigan

BioD Portrait 1 Jens Haarmann Main Applicant

BioD Portrait 2 Mathias Bonmarin Co-Program Head

BioD Portrait 3 Nicole Zigan Co-Contributor


Impacting lifes

A group of 16 high-potential students were trained in the first round of the Swiss Biodesign Summer School. It has created ambassadors for entrepreneurial ventures and might have set the spark for some of them to start the entrepreneurial journey at a later stage of their career. One of the teams is still in contact and considering to patent their solution for a new way to conduct anastomosis surgery to reduce severe, post-surgical complications for colon cancer patients.


Lessons learned

There is no health technology on the market that did not emerge from the close collaboration of engineers, health care practitioners and business experts. However, designing cross-departmental university courses that prepare for managing such interdisciplinary project is particularly challenging in large university organisations. Here are our key learnings on how to make it happen nevertheless:

Start with finding motivated co-trainers. Creating an interdisciplinary course will require a substantial number of meetings, administrative hurdles, and curriculum alignments in each of the departments involved. Driving this intraorganizational change will require persevering ‘co-program leaders’ in at least three departments, ideally at the level of program heads. Start the journey with finding intrinsically motivated individuals that share the cause of entrepreneurial training and are dedicated to co-lead, promote and budget the course in their department.

Ensure senior university leadership support. Start early in finding entrepreneurial-minded senior project sponsors in each of the three departments. It will be needed to co-finance the course, ideally with a global project budget, and align processes, infrastructure use and accreditation between departments.

Attract and select motivated students – Students who applied for the course were particularly attracted by the idea of discovering real-life patient needs in the hospital, the opportunity to work together with participants from outside their own field of study and the high-intensity, sprint-like format within 2.5 weeks. Of course, receiving ECTS credits and getting them accredited without major hassle in their respective departments is a must.


What's coming?

For future cohorts of the Swiss Biodesign Summer School, we plan to have a closer collaboration with local start-up accelerator programs. By inviting their representatives and business angels as Jury members, promising student teams will get a better exposure to potential mentors from the start-up community. While we do not expect immediate start-up spin-offs during their Master programs, we want to provide students with the innovation tools, entrepreneurial insights, and network to board the entrepreneurial journey in the years following graduation. Beyond Health Technology entrepreneurship, the Swiss Biodesign Summer School also served as a successful pilot for an interdisciplinary summer school on a student- and faculty-level. As part of a broader ‘Entrepreneurial University Initiative’ at ZHAW University, an extension of the concept is planned to other technology fields. CleanTech, FinTech and LegalTech are only some of the innovation fields, where a broadened summer school can expand into and create the next generation of technology entrepreneurs.


16 Master students from 4 ZHAW departments

16 high performing students selected from 6 different Engineering, Data Analyst, Nursing, Medicine, Physiotherapy and Business Master Programs, originating from 5 different Swiss universities.

120 clinical needs identified

The four teams investigated and assessed 120 unmet needs of patients and health care practitioners.

4 business plans on disruptive innovation concepts

Two business plans and product concepts were developed and pitched in the field of gastrointestinal surgery and two on child respiratory diseases

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