Blog Post by ELP Student Isabella Hartman (Biomedical Engineering | Class of 2022) 

In May I completed my second year of undergraduate education in biomedical engineering. Somehow, in July, I now find myself deep into a computer science and web development internship. My days are filled not with research in a laboratory, or conducting quality analysis at a medical device company like many of my peers, but with hours of JavaScript tutorials, code reviews, and hunting through StackOverflow. A little out of my depth? Maybe at the beginning, but I will share how I learned to stay afloat, and how taking risks during my internship has allowed me to grow as an engineer and entrepreneur. 

As a member of ELP’s fifth cohort, I knew I wanted to work at a startup this summer to apply what I had learned in our Entrepreneurial Leadership class and find my niche in the startup world. As a biomedical engineer, I am interested in the intersection of data technology and healthcare, which has become increasingly important, especially in the current age of COVID-19 and the rise of telemedicine. I am currently interning at the University of Michigan’s Surgical Innovation Program developing an app for post-operative patient pain management called MedGuider. While not technically a startup, my fast-paced, tight-knit work environment resembles that of an early-stage venture, and I am picking up new habits and valuable lessons that are applicable to any enterprising student. 

Embracing Uncertainty 

One of my favorite lessons from ELP last semester is that now (as a college student) is the best time to take risks, whether in starting an entrepreneurial venture or more broadly trying something new, because you have the resources and support of your university behind you if you fail. By accepting my role as an app development intern without a strong, technical computer science background, I set a lofty goal for myself that I was at the time unsure I could reach: to be technically prepared to take on this project. At the time, it felt like I had signed myself up for a marathon in two months’ time, but hadn’t gone for a run in a year. 

Risk plays a central role in any startup, and all of the founders and entrepreneurial leaders I have encountered have a risk-accepting mindset that helps them succeed. I carried this mindset into my internship preparation, and I was motivated to work hard and self-learn JavaScript and Python for a project that I was passionate and excited about. 

Pivoting Project Goals

Startups are constantly growing and evolving, whether they are in the earliest stages of concept generation or after they have raised several rounds of funding. Working in a startup environment, I have come to appreciate how dynamic and adaptable my internship has been. There is less “status quo” than at a larger company, and I have needed to accept changes to our project’s direction while remaining flexible and available. My work has evolved according to the needs of the app we are working on and what features are in need of immediate attention. 

For example, for the first few weeks working on MedGuider, I was a UI/UX designer. I was tasked with creating a wireframe for our app, and after learning to use design software Figma my partner and I delivered a front-end prototype in under two weeks. After this project, I pivoted completely to researching machine learning algorithms that could be used to predict whether patients would “fall off the curve” of post-operative pain management. Before long, I was working on yet another project finding the best way for providers to visualize their patients’ app data on a web platform. And now, I am in the middle of building a website to onboard patients into our app. This has all been over the span of about two months, and I still have about a month left in my internship. 

It is a unique feature of working in a startup environment that I have been able to take my internship in so many different directions and apply my skills wherever they are needed. While it was uncomfortable at first, as someone who plans her life meticulously, to not know exactly what I would be doing, I had to adjust and learn to accept changes in my project goals, which is a useful skill both as a student and as an employee. As an engineer, I am taught to solve problems, but it takes an entrepreneurial mindset to recognize and reflect on whether I am solving the right ones and to adjust course accordingly.