Jake Graham was a member of Olin’s inaugural class, and has been involved in the medical device engineering space since graduating in 2006. After working at Boston Scientific and Medtronic, he has now launched Enzyme, a software company that helps medical device companies navigate the FDA.
“I loved my time at Olin!”
Jake started Olin at a whirlwind of a time - before Milas Hall or the Academic Center were finished being built. When he started in 2002, classes were held in the "mods" (modular units) across campus where the parking lot currently is. Three years later, he took classes like Structural Biomaterials and Immunology. “These classes really got me interested in working on the anatomy side of engineering,” Jake explains, and they eventually led him to join the Boston Scientific SCOPE team, where he ended up working after graduation.
It wasn’t just the physical buildings that were under construction at the time, the curriculum was as well. Jake recalls that at one point, a few weeks into the semester in 2002, the whole campus was feeling burnt out from working tremendously hard on the new curriculum. Since they had a great personal relationship with the professors and saw this experience as a co-design of the curriculum, they took a “time-out and break over a weekend.” He and his class went through a lot of challenging yet exciting experiences together like this one as they were helping build Olin. While these times were challenging, he feels that they brought his peers together to make amazing lifelong friendships.
“I'm incredibly thankful for the unique team-based learning.”
Jake thinks Olin’s curriculum has helped him in many ways, particularly in working with people. “The team-based work was vital for preparing me to work on teams in the workplace, particularly cross-functional teams with people from different backgrounds and talents as well as different concerns, interests and objectives.” Jake says that the skills he learned here gave him and his peers a huge advantage in industry and academia.
At Olin, students are required to choose an Arts/Humanities/Social Sciences or Entrepreneurship course path along with their Engineering major. Jake feels very strongly that this part of the curriculum is “...adept at producing highly-capable and well-rounded engineers.”
After graduating from Olin, Jake took an R&D position at Boston Scientific. At this time, he also continued his education, by taking night classes next door at Babson. He had started taking business classes next door at Babson while at Olin, and used this time to finish his MBA. His work in R&D was largely mechanical along with managing a team of interns and students working as co-ops at Boston Scientific. Jake really enjoyed this work before switching into quality engineering. Here he was “...focused on ensuring that design controls are directly followed and helping with the development of test methods and specifications.” As part of this position, Jake benefited from having transitioned from a different department. “It’s a good thing to cross-pollinate between functions. Gaining a better understanding of past product and project errors really helped me prepare for future projects.”
One of the projects Jake remembers most from this time was an advanced endoscopic ultrasound needle that medical professionals use to take precise cytology samples from benign and malignant masses in and around the gastrointestinal tract. Part of the manufacturing of this product was contract-manufactured overseas, so Jake was fortunate to experience some international work travel. When this project was winding down, Boston Scientific acquired a startup based in Sunnyvale, California. Meanwhile Jake’s husband was accepted into a PhD program at UC- Davis. Jake saw this as the perfect opportunity to make a career transition. They moved out to California and he started work at the acquired startup, a site of about 20 employees.
This move was a significant transition from an 800+ employee site within a highly structured and experienced company to a small energized startup. The startup site did not have the resources to build processes that would scale; they just needed proof-of-concept-level processes to match their goal of obtaining FDA approval. Here, Jake was able to combine the applicable benefits of enterprise-level scalable processes with the nimble perks of startup processes. After working here for nearly three years, Jake moved on to spend over three years with the Aortic and Peripheral Vascular group within Medtronic in Santa Rosa, California to work on thoracic and abdominal endovascular stent grafts that treat aneurysms, dissections and transections.
Midway through 2016, Jake was approached by Jared Seehafer, connected by a mutual friend, about the idea that would become Enzyme.
“The stars aligned, and I absolutely needed to act.”
After Jared approached Jake to talk, Jake “instantly connected with it (the idea).” With his background at Boston Scientific and Medtronic, he had repeatedly experienced the challenges that Enzyme seeks to solve. Enzyme is a software based company that provides medical device companies a cloud-hosted application that makes it easier for companies to navigate the industry regulations and ultimately the approval process of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to get products to market faster. Currently, there are very few good systems to aid small companies through these processes, and they ultimately spend countless hours of internal employee time and expensive external consultant time generating the necessary documentation. Furthermore, the FDA among other institutions are making a strong effort to facilitate less burdensome paths for companies to achieve market approval for 21st century pure software products. Enzyme hopes to make things even easier with the application of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Enzyme is excited to currently have more than tripled its customer base in the last year!
In May of 2017, Jake and his co-founder were accepted into the YCombinator (YC): an accelerator program based in Mountain View, California. Within two days of that acceptance news, Enzyme received its first significant VC funding. Jake says that working with YC “helped enable our initial growth” and made funding much easier. Currently, Jake is busy “creating new product requirements, clarifying user needs, interviewing job candidates, and helping to onboard new customers” among many other things.
“Find Product-Market Fit”
When asked what advice he would give rising student entrepreneurs, Jake says there are five critical things to identify. First, it is important to find a true market need. This means testing your idea with customers. Second, you should find a way to visualize and deliver an effective solution: making a prototype or minimum viable product (MVP). Third, you need to find the right team. Fourth, find an effective fundraising strategy to gain traction in the market. Lastly, have metrics that are meaningful, actionable, and measurable in order to drive your progress. Jake says, “It helps to focus your resources and collective effort to all drive in the same direction.”