A safe and sterile needle seems to be a basic idea when preventing infections. But how that needle is sterilized, especially in places where reuse is a common practice, spurred a good idea for a pair of Washington State University student entrepreneurs.

Emily Willard and Katherine Brandenstein came up with the idea of SafeShot, a lid that sterilizes a needle each time it enters the vial of medicine, as part of an entrepreneurship class. The two students started a company, won a health business contest last spring, and headed to Tanzania early this year to research how their product could be used in a real setting.

It’s a great example of what the entrepreneurship program wants to give students, says Marie Mayes ’87, ’04 MBA, director of the WSU Center for Entrepreneurial Studies in the Carson College of Business.

Mayes coteaches classes on entrepreneurship with Howard Davis in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture’s Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute. Started more than a decade ago, it’s one of the first such programs in the country.

“I might teach a business concept and Howard will interpret it into engineering speak. Likewise he’ll say something in engineering and I try to interpret in terms our business students understand,” says Mayes.

They combine students into interdisciplinary teams, and the instructors try to instill an entrepreneurial attitude on projects chosen by the students, so the teams can take calculated risks.

Students also learn about the entrepreneurial process. “Basically that’s business education for students who are not business majors,” says Mayes, noting that they learn customer assessment, costs, revenue models, and basic financial analysis.

Companies love that students have worked on such diverse teams. “Even if students don’t launch an actual venture out of this program, they’re very attractive to industry,” says Mayes.

In coordination with the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, Mayes took Willard and Brandenstein to Tanzania earlier this year, where they watched needle use practices on animals, visited clinics, and presented at the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology.

They were joined by two other undergraduate entrepreneurs, Annalise Miller and Victor Charoonsophonsak, who developed a digital thermometer for milk pasteurization, which could be used by the Maasai.

A number of companies and ideas emerge from the entrepreneurship class. Here are a few in the health devices field:



Willard and Brandenstein started their company, Engage, with the SafeShot needle-sterilizing lid. SafeShot’s sterilizing liquid stops the spread of common contaminants such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.

The pair won first place and $10,000 in the inaugural, regional Health Innovation Challenge at the University of Washington in March 2016.



WSU students Brandon Graham, Carena Ramos, Joshua Tenzler, Vikram Chandra, and Katherine Keller founded VBCardio, with Cardio One, a device that attaches to a patient’s finger and monitors blood pressure. Similar to a pulse oximeter, the invention needs no cuff or stethoscope.

The team came up with the idea when they asked a first responder how long it takes to take blood pressure. He said, “Before or after I get the blood pressure cuff on?”



With diabetes on the rise, there’s a need for consistent and reliable blood glucose monitoring. WSU students Amber Graviet, Qassem Naviet, Samuel Byrd, and Zane Duke developed the first noninvasive blood glucose measurement device, which integrates sensors into a standard pair of glasses. The device collects signals correlated to blood glucose levels and then displays them on a smart phone or other device. Health care providers can also receive the information and offer diagnoses.

Their company, Co-Optical, won the University of Washington Business Plan Competition’s $5,000 AARP Award, and received two $2,500 merit prizes and second place in the WSU Business Plan Competition.

On the web

Engage’d for Good – Engage founders Willard and Brandenstein ready their sterilization device SafeShot for global distribution (Fall 2017 eDividend, the online magazine of the Carson College of Business)