Nurses-Now-Entrepreneurs Follow Exciting Journey from Idea to Development
Breaking every public speaking rule that as a faculty member at the College of Southern Maryland she always follows, entrepreneur Liz Benson began talking to five business professionals by avoiding eye contact and ignoring several who would be deciding the financial fate of a prototype simulation device designed for future health care professionals to better prepare for their careers.
It was no accident that she shook the hands of only two of the five panelists who would be judging her and her innovation as part of a “Shark Tank” model in which she was competing with 190 teams for funding. Instead, it was a premeditated effort to throw the panelists off balance. Representing B&G Educational Innovations, Benson developed her approach while trying to find the best way to drive home her product's relevance for enhanced realism in clinical education. She knew her socially awkward introduction worked when she heard murmurs and saw their uncomfortable body language.
“Good communication skills are the key to building trust,” Benson said she told them. “Just as nursing students need to learn technology to create good outcomes for their patients, they need to learn interpersonal communication skills demonstrating competence and caring – the basis of trust-building.” Benson's pitch went on to explain how the wearable simulation devices her company designed would give health care students an edge in communicating with patients.
The panel, comprised of business executives from Jacksonville, Fla., not only understood her initial “rudeness” and the point she demonstrated, but moved BGEI's ReaLifeSim product line of low-cost, wearable simulation devices along in the competition, awarding BGEI a top prize of $120,000 in Microsoft Office support and services and the opportunity to take a seat at a business accelerator course.
Benson, a Level III certified adjunct professor of biology and nutrition at CSM and the 'B' in BGEI, has degrees in biotechnology/life sciences from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, nursing from Drexel University and education from Regent University. She is also a faith community nurse through Duke University. Throughout her 35 years of nursing, Benson's clinical focus has been on emergency services and cardiac critical care. She has been an educator for 25 years, developing and teaching courses in higher education, hospitals and private schools.
The 'G' in BGEI is Linda C. Goodman, a nursing professor and coordinator of the simulation labs on CSM's three campuses, with degrees in nursing from University of Phoenix, nursing education from Stevenson University and a post-graduate certificate in clinical simulation from Boise State University. Goodman has 35 years of experience in the management and operation of long-term care facilities and has been an educator for 28 years. A recognized leader within Maryland's health care simulation community, she combines her clinical expertise and a passion for teaching when preparing and mentoring future generations of nurses.
Benson and Goodman met 10 years ago when working in the Health Sciences Division at CSM.
“Innovation is one of the core values at CSM and developing better ways to teach, creating better processes and securing better technology is encouraged and celebrated,” Goodman said.
While observing nursing students working with a simulation manikin they realized some students lacked the communication skills necessary to be successful nurses. “The ease with which some students communicate through social media and text messaging does not always convert to interpersonal, face-to-face communication. You can't text bad news to patients and family members. You need to look in their eyes, hold a hand or pat a shoulder. You need to connect and show empathy and compassion,” Goodman said.
“During the simulation exercise, students were unaccustomed at having to respond to questions from patients. When a student, attending to a volunteer 'patient,' was inserting an IV into a manikin arm, the volunteer said, 'Ouch,' and the surprised student wasn't sure how to respond,” Benson said.
The volunteer patient, a communication professor on CSM's adjunct faculty and coincidentally Benson's husband, Jim, who is now working with BGEI as the communication director, shared the observation with his wife and Goodman, and from that the innovation process began.
Goodman and Liz Benson began brainstorming ways to bring more realism to the manikins when the idea emerged to instead bring training technology to real people.
“I thought of a 'tat' sleeve – a flesh-colored sleeve used to cover tattoos – that I knew people wore when going on job interviews,” Liz Benson said. “I wondered if the sleeves could be outfitted to have technology similar to that in the manikins that track the progress of each user. Why couldn't we rig equipment to simulate inserting an IV, drawing blood, taking vital signs?”
The brainstorming session continued and over the next several months, Liz Benson sketched out arm and leg sleeves, bib-style chest devices, gloves and socks. She also took a course on business start-ups and entrepreneurship. Meanwhile, Goodman worked on learning objectives and device instructions that would be part of using them for training and identifying materials that could be used in production. Goodman's son Nicholas, a CPA, began advising them on financing.
“Friends knew that we were looking for a patent attorney, and the next thing we knew, we had a recommendation for a New York patent attorney. When the attorney relocated to Florida, he told us about the 'Spark Tank' opportunity offered by Jacksonville's One Spark Ventures,” Goodman said.
Now the Bensons have moved to Florida to be closer to where the prototypes for their ReaLifeSim devices will be developed. In the short term, BGEI wants to refine the devices to make production attractive to a larger manufacturing partner.
“We want to maintain involvement in education and promoting clinical competencies,” Liz Benson said. “This is not just a wild dream or a hobby for us. We are committed to improving the training that nurses and all health care providers receive that will ultimately result in better outcomes for patients.”
Once they have affordable training sleeves (less expensive than a textbook) in the hands of students across America, the entrepreneurs intend to develop the remainder of the product line and expand distribution to a worldwide market.
The College of Southern Maryland is a public, regional community college with a far-reaching mission – to help our students and community meet the challenges of individual, social, and global changes. For information about CSM, visit www.csmd.edu. For information about health sciences programs at CSM, visit http://www.csmd.edu/programs-courses/credit/academic-divisions/hea/index.html.