The Bio-Entrepreneur — Elliott Russell ’15

May 20, 2015

If you Google images of engineers, you’ll get a lot of pictures of men in hardhats. For engineers like Elliott Russell ’15, a white lab coat would be a better fit. As a bioengineer, his work may not be the kind of thing that comes to mind for most people when they think of engineering, but it might be something that saves their lives one day.

In his time at Syracuse University, Russell was part of two entrepreneurial efforts that show real promise in the health care field. The first, KneeDoc, provides a more advanced alternative to measuring the range of motion in patients with knee injuries. The second, BlueDefib, uses the computing power in an average smartphone to operate public defibrillators. Each project has earned recognition and funding from the Raymond von Dran (RvD) IDEA Awards for further development.

We had an opportunity to meet with Russell shortly before he graduated to learn more about his motivation, methods, and passion for entrepreneurship.

Q. You are a dual major in biotechnology and bioengineering. Why did you choose these programs at Syracuse University?

A. I’ve always loved math and science, especially biology. I also had a desire to attend medical school. People warned me to avoid engineering because it would likely bring down my GPA and mess up my chances for med school, but I saw it as a challenge. It worked out in the end. I’m so glad I pursued both degrees because they are both something I love doing.

I made my decision to attend Syracuse because of the Coronat scholarship that the College of Arts and Science provided and the presence of the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute. I’m also a big basketball fan, so the choice was clear.

Q. What is KneeDoc? How did it come to be?

A. Just over a year ago, Anthony Caporizzo ’15 and Phil Choiniere ’15 assembled our team to brainstorm ideas for the RvD IDEA awards and our senior design project. We got on the topic of physical therapy and knee injuries and the idea for KneeDoc was born. We pitched it at RvD and earned funding to build our prototype. We received more funding this year as well, and intend to use it to file a provisional patent and lay the framework for a full patent.

KneeDoc is the first product from our company, Apollo Biomedical. Currently, people with knee injuries only have their knee’s range of motion measured during physical therapy appointments. What they use is essentially a protractor. We can do better. Our device is incorporated into the patient’s knee brace to electronically measure the range of motion on an ongoing basis.

It’s been fun working with friends on this. We’ve had a blast doing it. Now that we’ve graduated, we’re all going in different directions. Our hope is to broaden our horizons so that when they come back together, we will have more specified skills and connections to bring to Apollo.

Q. Blue Defib?

A. Around the same time Apollo was coming together, I was thinking of ideas for my Honors Capstone project. That idea ended up being BlueDefib, which uses the computing power of a smartphone to operate automated external defibrillators. I assembled a diverse team of students from different disciplines — business, computer engineering, mechanical engineering, bioengineering — and followed the same path as Apollo, gaining funding through the RvD IDEA awards the past two years.

We’ve proven that you can import electrocardiogram data from the AED’s pads to the cell phone through the headphone jack, and will continue to develop it.

Q. Did you expect to be so involved with entrepreneurship as an undergrad?

A. Not really. To be honest, I’ve always had a fascination with entrepreneurship and found the business aspect of medical devices particularly interesting.

With KneeDoc, I discovered that there is a lot to learn. We were all biomedical engineers, but we needed to know computer programming, taxes, intellectual property, and marketing research. There are so many things to consider when starting a business.

You can’t just build something cool and hope people will buy it. You have to have a comprehensive profile of it, a working prototype, and an established market. It can be daunting if you don’t have that knowledge.

Q. You’re headed to medical school at Northwestern next. What unique perspective do you bring to the table as an engineer?

A. Engineering isn’t a discipline, it’s a way of thinking — a way to approach problems. As an engineer, I’ve been trained to do things in a very organized, step-by-step way. Lay out what you need, determine the constraints, and clearly define the problem. It’s definitely going to benefit me in the medical field.

Q. In addition to these projects, you graduated as a University Scholar, what contributed to your success at SU?

A. I’m from Iowa, so I came a long way from home without knowing anyone, but it never felt that way. I made connections quickly through the Honors program, The faculty here support you, guide you, and mentor you. The weather’s tough, but there’s basketball all winter. Syracuse University definitely provides one of the best student communities in higher education.