Medical device inventors need to know if their ideas can work -- and sell -- in the real world. University of Minnesota graduate students need the knowledge and experience that can land them jobs with the Medtronics and St. Jude Medicals of the world.

Now in its third year, the Medical Industry Valuation Lab at the Carlson School of Management is an experiential class that helps both groups at the same time, said Steve Parente, director of the Carlson School's Medical Industry Leadership Institute (MILI). MILI sponsors the Valuation Lab, which mixes MBA students from Carlson with grad students from seven other university colleges into multidisciplinary teams that evaluate real medical device ideas every semester.

This semester's class has broken into four teams, looking at all aspects of four inventions. A key benefit to the Valuation Lab, said instructor Randy Nelson, is determining whether those ideas can clear the many hurdles toward becoming a viable project.

"We always look at it from an investor's point of view. Is this a good idea?" said Nelson, who is also president of Evergreen Medical Technologies, a medical device maker.

Added Mike Finch, the class' other instructor: "We're not the engineering school. We look at: 'Can you bring your invention to market? Can you make money?'"

The class meets weekly after plunging into a handful of projects at a daylong "boot camp" on the first Saturday of the semester. At the boot camp, industry experts run through a range of issues -- intellectual property, regulation, financing, marketing and efficacy.

As the 20 or so class members recently met for the first time, Finch warned them that the class would require "hard work and diligence." Students this semester come from backgrounds in business, engineering, nursing, health administration, medical devices and insurance administration.

Finch, who is principal at health care community business development firm Finch & King, encouraged them to shine a bright light on the strengths and flaws of every invention.

"Be careful not to drink the Kool-Aid," he said. "These inventions are their babies. One of the hardest things to do is tell someone their baby is ugly."

The class researches all facets of their would-be medical device's journey to market, including researching patents, U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements, financing challenges and marketing. After five weeks, each team -- dressed in business attire -- will make a formal presentation to its inventor on the device's marketability, as well as expected costs and revenue. Three sets of projects will be evaluated over the course of the semester.

Said Nelson: "Taking the investor viewpoint helps the inventor understand where some of the roadblocks are. Is it a saturated market? Is there no reimbursement?"

The class gives its students the kind of tangible experience that makes them attractive to the medical device industry, for which the Twin Cities are a hub.

"They come out really much more seasoned than you could have ever imagined," Parente said.

Karen Kaehler, a manager in the University of Minnesota's Office for Technology Commercialization, said the students provide a "very, very valuable" secondary evaluation of technology that inventors bring to her office.

"Often, they are looking at pieces of information that we don't look for," she said, such as how much it might cost to get a product through clinical trials. "They are looking at it using a different lens.

"I really wish this program had been available when I got my MBA," she said. "They're doing the real thing. It's not practice, it's real."

James Walsh • 612-673-7428