From the Drawing Board

March 24, 2013 11:38 pm

A business plan with its origins on the battlefield

Seth Norman shows schematics of an IV device he invented in his apartment on Thursday, March 21, 2013 in Iowa City©Adam Wesley

Officer and inventor: Seth Norman shows schematics of his IV device

When Seth Norman went to business school, he did not forget his experiences serving as a captain in the US military.

In fact, it was thinking about the issues that soldiers faced in war zones while he was at Stanford Graduate School of Business that led him to solve one of the military’s most intractable medical problems. “When I came to the GSB I wanted to give back to soldiers in some way,” he says.

More

From the Drawing Board

The problem

It was during one of his 15-month tours of duty in Iraq, during which time he worked on bomb disposal, that the then platoon leader encountered first-hand the medical problems faced when a unit comes under attack.

“Any time a soldier is wounded they get stuck with an IV bag,” recalls Mr Norman. This means that another platoon member is also out of action, holding up the intravenous drip for the medic. While he was at Stanford, he says, “it was a moment that came back into my head”.

The solution

With a team of his Stanford colleagues, Mr Norman developed the Rapid Autonomous Infusion Device, or Raid, which he describes as an “elastic bag like a balloon”. So instead of relying on gravity to ensure the flow from the intravenous drip, Raid relies on external air pressure. The bag can also be used as a rapid infusion pump, to deliver measured amounts of drugs to patients.

In its final product form, the elastic bag is encased in a rigid container and fitted with a meter to control the rate of flow. “It’s all about maximising the efforts of the medic,” says Mr Norman. “It puts a man back in the fight.”

How the product was developed

Mr Norman started at Stanford GSB in 2010 and during his first year he enrolled on the Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability course. Demand for the course is high.

“If I got lucky at all at the GSB it was getting on to this course,” he says.

With a team of classmates and other Stanford students – the group comprised two MBAs, an engineer and a medical student – he was given the task of working with a hospital in Bangladesh to help the staff there develop a cheaper and more reliable infusion product.

During one late-night session, the idea of Raid was thrown out along with 20 or 30 other ideas. “They all went up on the board,” recalls Mr Norman, but the elastic bag idea was not adopted.

The team developed an intravenous system for the Bangladeshi hospital that could use any type of IV bag, so reducing cost. However, commercial and other interests ensured that this product did not see the light of day.

By that time Mr Norman realised the potential for a military application of Raid. Traditional IV bags cost only a few cents when bought in bulk by the US government, while Raid costs $2-$3 a unit. However, in a combat environment, Raid pays its way by helping medics to treat patients more quickly while freeing a soldier to adopt a defensive role. Raid could also be used in disaster recovery operations.

“We’re building a device that allows small teams to do more,” says Mr Norman.

What next?

Mr Norman and his team, which now includes a US marine and “some US military folk”, have secured the intellectual property rights and patents on Raid and are going through the final rounds of military funding and putting together the final specifications of how it would work.

“We would hope this year to start building this to the army specification,” says Mr Norman.

But the former officer concedes that working with the military has been slow going.

“We get responses that would drive ordinary people completely insane. It has been interesting learning how the military works,” adds Mr Norman.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.