MedTech Pioneers – Redesigning Healthcare Amidst a Pandemic

by | Aug 24, 2020 | Blog


Desert Horse-Grant and Dr. Jennifer McCaney, Co-Executive Directors, UCLA Biodesign

This female dynamic duo founded UCLA’s Biodesign program in 2019 and is forging ahead to expand it in Fall 2020 with the goal of re-imagining a healthcare ecosystem better equipped to support patients and other key stakeholders during a pandemic. I am a big fan of these two and Veranex (formerly Ximedica) is a proud partner of the UCLA Biodesign Program.


What is the genesis of the UCLA Biodesign program?

DHG [Desert is on the executive leadership team at UCLA Health and is Senior Director, UCLA Health Research & Innovation]. I joined UCLA four years ago and report to the CEO of the UCLA Hospital System. I help bridge academia and the healthcare system; my customer is the patient. Where I like to focus is on seeding solutions and I want to continuously launch new programs to foster innovation and impact patient lives. One of the things I wanted to initiate was a cross-collaborative partnership with UCLA, the life science community and the government. I was introduced to Jennifer, who has a complementary background in engineering and medtech; I was impressed by her vision to recreate the success of the Stanford Biodesign program here in Southern California. We sought a broader institutional integration and decided to anchor our program within the healthcare system. Launched in September 2019, we were able to get equal funding for the first year from four partners: the UCLA Health System, Anderson School of Management, David Geffen School of Medicine, and philanthropists committed to healthcare innovation; it is a first of its kind collaboration at UCLA.

JM [Jennifer is an Assistant Director of the UCLA Clinicial and Translational Science Institute and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and UCLA Anderson School of Management and leading expert in disruptive technology and entrepreneurship in healthcare]. I joined UCLA seven years ago and serve on the faculty of both the business and medical schools. Silicon Beach is establishing Los Angeles as an emerging health tech hub. While Silicon Valley and the greater Boston area have continued to serve as bi-coastal anchors, we felt that there was an untapped opportunity to build out this health tech community in Los Angeles by leveraging the clinical strength of UCLA Health, ranked No. 1 in California and No. 4 in the nation. In 2018, many of the key elements instrumental to making this happen all came together. Finding a partner in Desert at the health system was a turning point. Investment in and commitment to innovation at the leadership level across UCLA, both top down and bottom up, was and is 100%. There is a mission to create a culture change. In 2019, we secured a federal grant to build this medtech ecosystem and all the invested partners continue to accelerate the momentum.

What do you see as the mission and vision for this program?

JM Our mission is to unite stakeholders in a way that catapults us toward the convergence of the life science and tech sectors. We are building novel solutions and sustaining the workforce pipeline through education and training enabled by the UCLA Biodesign Fellowship. We cannot cultivate future healthcare leaders without these tools. I am grateful for training under Paul Yock, Director of the Stanford Biodesign program and know the value of bringing together interdisciplinary skills to solve complex problems in medicine.

DHG We are fortunate to call upon the established reputation of UCLA, the leading public university in the U.S. As a learning health system, innovation is central to providing patients with the highest quality care and leading-edge treatments. We play a key role in training future leaders. With the explosion of technology, we can see the need for these cross-functional skill sets in our health system. As COVID hit, medical doctors trained in business, tech and medical affairs had the right skills to push forward needed innovations successfully. This gave us great insight; we clearly envision the need for this expertise and background for the next generation of healthcare leaders.

What are some of the goals for the UCLA Biodesign Program?

JM We seek to bring about groundbreaking change. We intend to do this by making strong connections with the medtech and broader life science community. Too often early startups are in stealth mode and are told that it is too early to talk to strategics, yet there is much to learn. We want to bring in industry advisors earlier, at the point of technology discovery and translation. Additionally, with novel medical devices, the sooner you bring in human factors research, the faster you get to market with the right product. Forming collaborations with industry partners and strategics early-on addresses these historic barriers; UCLA Biodesign is positioned to do this. Other benefits arise too. For instance, we launched a fellowship track for nurses in the UCLA Biodesign Program; nurses outnumber physicians by more than three to one in our nation’s healthcare system and this range of skill sets and stakeholder views is essential to building a truly inclusive innovation program.

DHG We seek to build a subset of diverse future leaders and create inclusion in healthcare. There is bias in venture capital; they are looking for serial entrepreneurs and this is a sound thesis. However, we will not exclude those who did not have the same opportunities. Additionally, our fellows may come from business, engineering, design or medicine; regardless of their schooling, many seek to serve under-resourced communities and/or countries; we hope to mature this theme of UCLA Biodesign in a global fashion.

Who was instrumental in helping to create and launch this program?

DHG/JM There are many people to recognize and perhaps not enough space to mention them all. Some of the key partners instrumental to our inauguration include:

  • UCLA Health Board and leadership across UCLA – Johnese SpissoKelsey MartinAntonio Bernardo, Steve Dubinett, Steve Smale, Al Osborne, Elaine Hagan and Amir Naiberg. Our executive management has been incredibly strong advocates of us and this program.
  • Industry – Leaders such as Genentech, Medtronic, BCG Digital Ventures, and Veranex have provided support in early funding and/or strategic mentorship.
  • Government – The support of the U.S. Department of Commerce and past keynote speakers, such as Andrei Iancu, Director of the USPTO are central to building our national profile.
  • Advisors – We have many advisors that are sharing their time and resources. In particular, Stanford Biodesign– Paul Yock and Gordon Saul’s team have been incredibly generous with their counsel and time.

Could you provide an overview of the program?

DHG In 2019 we started with a Discovery Track of 10 inaugural fellows which unites a multidisciplinary team of entrepreneurially-minded clinicians, nurses, engineers, developers and designers to tackle some of today’s most pressing challenges in healthcare. With this track, the fellows built concepts from scratch. In 2020 we are kicking off a second program in parallel, an Accelerator Track which is open to faculty and staff. With this program we plan to validate and advance established concepts at an accelerated trajectory with the guidance of industry mentors. In total, we will welcome 19 new fellows in September.

In 2020 our two programs are set up in this way:

Discovery Track: Over the course of a one-year professional fellowship, UCLA Biodesign fellows master a repeatable and scalable framework for technology innovation. Following an intensive bootcamp led by executives from across the healthcare and medical technology industry, fellows are mentored by leading clinical experts. It is in this unique environment, that the fellows engage in a clinical needs finding journey following the patient’s continuum of care. The three-month clinical immersion is followed by nine months of dedicated product development time. The fellowship year is bookended by interactions with industry partners from sponsored fellowships and project mentorship to externship opportunities at the conclusion of their training. In 2020, UCLA Biodesign welcomes eight fellows to the Discovery Track.

Accelerator Track: This new track in 2020 builds on the success of the first year of the UCLA Biodesign Program. The Accelerator Track is geared toward the in-residence clinical entrepreneur or technical innovator at UCLA with the mature idea or concept. Industry partners from business development and corporate venture functions play a key role in establishing channels for mentorship. Industry domain expertise is a critical resource that academic innovators often don’t have readily accessible. We build those channels for success through the Accelerator Track and provide partners with a first glimpse into the emerging medtech pipeline with strong ties to the future users and champions of technology. There will be 10 UCLA Biodesign Accelerator Fellows in 2020 – 2021.

How do you launch a new biodesign track amidst a COVID19 pandemic?

DHG We are diving in and responding to this crisis; we will redesign better healthcare solutions to address COVID19 from the inside out. We are going to innovate in the areas and populations most impacted by COVID-19 and are working with our experts in infectious and pulmonary diseases. On opening day – September 14th – our fellows will be trained on the complexities of COVID19, the rigor of ICU protocols, and the urgent needs of frontline healthcare workers. Right now, more than ever, we will see how critical technology is both preventively and reactively redesigning new healthcare solutions for better patient care and healthcare worker safety in a COVID setting. Our incoming fellows have already demonstrated a keen interest in this space – from designing a mechanical ventilator out of Home Depot parts to creating a COVID-19 patient registry for pregnant women, an often underserved patient group.

JM   We are working with UCLA clinicians and leadership across Los Angeles County to identify unmet needs in the current landscape. From in-hospital care to education and public health, UCLA Biodesign is positioned to provide aspiring innovators with a variety of angles and incorporate a toolkit of skills e.g. design thinking and clinical observation. We are looking for inflection points and seek to give a variety of exposure and experiences. We believe the innovation funnel is best fed with a range of choices and inputs. Big data can also pave the way for new insights and resources, such as the UC Health COVID database, a diverse dataset with more than 460 million data points, enabling innovators to put data science to work and identity patterns, treatments and insights.

What do you see as the unique benefits of this fellowship?

JM From direct access to hospital executives and leadership committees to broad clinical immersion, the fellows learn side-by-side from our leadership. The fellowship emphasizes three keys pillars: leadership, innovation and impact. With leadership, one must hone skills across the individual, the team and the organization – we address all of these through the year-long program. And without the ability to empower leaders to enable impact and greater change, innovations, no matter how great, will struggle to make it to the patients who need them most.

Will there be events that will be open to the medtech community

DHG Yes, we have several events before the end of the year:

  • UCLA Biodesign Fellowship Informational Webinar – September 8th, 9:00a-10:00a PT
  • UCLA Biodesign Hub INNOVATOR INSIGHTS: Trends in Data Science Driving the Convergence of Tech and Healthcare, Featuring David Rhew, MD, CMO Microsoft – September 17th, 12p – 1p PT
  • UCLA Biodesign Hub INNOVATOR INSIGHTS: Technology Advances at the Frontlines of ICU Care – A Discussion with Founders Advancing Respiratory Medicine, Featuring Beth Seidenberg, MD, Founding Managing Partner, Westlake Village BioPartners – November 12th, 5:30p – 7p PT
  • UCLA Health Innovation Challenge MedTech Pitch Competition – December 15th, 1:00p-2:30p PT

These events are free, for more information and to register, please email:

Do you have any asks you would like to put out to the greater medtech community?

DHG  We seek industry champions for UCLA Biodesign across sectors, those with deep medtech knowledge as well as new entrants, such as digital and tech. Together, Jennifer and I are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion and industry support will allow us to recruit best-in-class candidates globally. Ideally, industry partners would help support fellowship slots to ensure needs identified in our clinics and operating rooms, as an example rapidly accelerate to the market. We seek bidirectional discussion to identify overlooked areas of research in healthcare innovation. Seed funding and grant support to bridge fellow projects from early R&D to the point of first investor funding is critical for validating future ventures early-on. Lastly, we want to firmly establish Los Angeles as an emerging health tech hub and UCLA Biodesign as a key partner in this ecosystem. We are looking for partners vested collaboration to improve patient care and the suite of services of technology that support transformational change and we are specifically interested in growing underrepresented minorities and female-led founders, mentors and investors.

JM In 2020 we are launching the UCLA Health Innovation Studio, a physical maker space with a cross-section of prototyping equipment, where digital and mechanical creation can coexist. We would appreciate gifts of supplies and equipment for our community of clinical and technical innovators. We also have naming opportunities for sponsors of the Innovation Studio and UCLA Biodesign Hub and members of the investor community. For instance, we have found a mentor in Beth Seidenberg, Founding Managing Partner of Westlake Village BioPartners, who is one of a handful of women recognized on the Forbes Midas List of the world’s best venture capital investors and Lisa Carmel, Vice President Strategy, Veranex and a health tech innovation leader named one of Ten Women Leaders Breaking the Glass Ceiling. We welcome others. Like our fellows, we too, learn alongside great leaders.

More about Dr. Maria AMore about Desert Horse-Grant and Dr. Jennifer McCaney, Co-Executive Directors, UCLA Biodesign

Desert Horse-Grant is part of the executive team at UCLA Health, directing research and innovation. She works with industry, VCs, government and the medical community in her role as Co-Executive Director of UCLA Biodesign, a training program for MDs, MBAs and engineers to advance solutions that deliver improved value and outcomes to patients worldwide. A graduate of Stanford, and Sr. Director, UCLA Health Research & Innovation, with prior leadership experience at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Desert has worked to facilitate the translation of novel discoveries from the lab to the clinical environment for over two decades. She launched the UCLA Health Innovation Challenge, a seed-funding program that recognizes and scales innovative therapeutic, digital and device solutions as well as patient experience and performance excellence efforts. She serves as an advisor regionally to an FDA funded MedTech pediatric accelerator, CTIP, as well as to ScaleHealth connecting innovators worldwide, and to Techstars an American seed accelerator. In 2019, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce announced Desert as the co-recipient of a national i6 Challenge grant to support Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS). She was selected as the 2015 Life Science Innovation Northwest Women to Watch by the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association. She also has been named one of 15 Women to Watch by Disruptive Women in Health Care and is named a Top 25 Innovator by Modern Healthcare in 2020. She currently is opening the first UCLA Health Innovation Lab to act as a core for budding campus health tech innovators.

Dr. Jennifer McCaney is the Co-Executive Director of UCLA Biodesign, an early-stage innovation program for medical technology. An Adjunct Assistant Professor at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and Anderson School of Management, she is a leading expert in disruptive technology and entrepreneurship in healthcare. Jennifer is an Associate Director of the UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute and is currently the recipient of a federal grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to catalyze the development of a regional ecosystem for medtech and digital health in Southern California. Formerly the Director of Medtech Innovator, a 501(c)3 non-profit, Jennifer launched the accelerator program in 2015, the world’s largest accelerator platform for medical devices. A Fulbright Scholar, she completed her PhD in mechanical engineering at Stanford University and MS in biomedical engineering from the University of New South Wales. Jennifer also holds an MS and BS in mechanical engineering from MIT and a BS from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

UCLA Biodesign Fellowship applications for the Fall 2021 program are being accepted through October 30, 2020. To apply visit: