Master’s Program Changes Lives One Step at a Time

When the Quebec-based biotechnology company B-Temia needed advice about developing and marketing a new product to enhance the mobility of active-duty military personnel in the field and persons with disabilities at home, it turned to students in UMUC’s Professional Science Master’s program in biotechnology.

“We saw this as an incredible opportunity to collaborate with a motivated group of individuals interested in helping our company gain a better understanding of how our technology fits into the current landscape of the medical marketplace,” said Susie Ward, B-Temia’s clinical specialist

“We prioritize finding interesting and relevant questions for the students to seek answers to,” she said, “and we are committed to fully utilizing and incorporating their findings into the strategic planning of the company.”

B-Temia has been working with UMUC master’s degree students since 2011, and every term, a new class of graduating students is given a project to investigate for the company.

Vice Dean and Program Chair Rana Khan said B-Temia is one of several companies that use information, which UMUC biotechnology graduate students create in their final capstone course, for planning and marketing.

“Students work in teams, and they complete the project requirements as identified by the sponsoring organization,” Khan said. “Our sponsors come back semester after semester.”

The students have to understand both the science and the business aspects of what they are working on, she said.  When they graduate and seek their next job or promotion, they can point to this practical work that they have accomplished.

Prof. Paul Allenza, who has been steering his graduate students in their work with B-Temia since the fall of 2011, said much of the work has focused on a market assessment for a product called Keeogo.

In its military application, the brace-like device can be strapped onto soldiers’ legs to help enhance their ability to perform heavy-duty tasks.  In its civilian application, it is designed for people who have limited walking endurance or mobility issues that make it difficult for them to travel more than a few steps, climb stairs, carry something for a short distance or stand in line for a long period of time.

Each term, Allenza mobilizes four to six graduate students to examine issues surrounding new uses for the product and how best to market them.

“This is not an academic exercise,” he said.  “This is something that the company will put to use and incorporate into presentations to senior management or investors, and into publications and scientific literature.”

Participating students have 12 weeks to select a project, confer with B-Temia officials about the company’s project-related needs and the process to follow, divide up the tasks, and create a live presentation as a preliminary study for the company. Based on the feedback they receive, the students complete a final presentation that includes a 70-page report.

And because the course is entirely online and comprises a global community of students, they must work together remotely, building a team of people with diverse backgrounds, Allenza said.

“Our first project was during the company’s product launch for its military applications,” he said. “We had students with military experience who were majoring in biodefense and biosecurity. They were able to give a lot of input into that.”

More recently, as the product moved to civilian applications, the students have been able to identify customer needs and to work on regulatory hurdles to prepare it for market, he said.

The best thing from his standpoint as the professor, he said, is that no two semesters are the same.

“It’s not as if  I am teaching the same biotechnology material over and over again,” he said.  “You get different projects. So I am often learning right along with the students.”

B-Temia’s Ward said the information generated by the students has been used to expand the company’s market reach and to better understand the specific needs of different patient populations.

“Since Keeogo is a very unique technology, the UMUC students helped us guide our clinical directions and identify where—and with whom—we would be able to make the most difference in people’s lives,” she said.

The company, she said, intends to maintain the relationship with UMUC as it expands the possibilities of the Keeogo technology.