Pitt | Swanson Engineering
Undergraduate Bioengineering Alumna Turns Senior Design Project Into a Business
Lia Winter (BioE ‘17) was awarded seed funding for her surgical tool, EasyWhip
Winter holding the winning check from the VolCourt elevator pitch competition.

PITTSBURGH (January 11, 2018) … For undergraduates in the Swanson School of Engineering looking for a seamless transition into the “real world”, the opportunity to turn an idea into innovation and even a start-up can be a stitch in time.

Lia Winter received a BS in bioengineering at Pitt in April 2017 and has since used her entrepreneurial spirit to start a business from a project whipped together in her undergraduate Senior Design class.

Winter developed EasyWhip, an orthopedic surgical device that improves the whip stitching process during reconstructive procedures, like ACL surgery.

“In these procedures, tendons are harvested from another part of the body and surgeons use a graft preparation station along with a whip stitching needle attached to a length of suture to construct a replacement graft for the injured ligament,” Winter explains.

During her summer internship at an orthopedics medical device company, Winter saw an opportunity for improvement in the system. “I was inspired to create EasyWhip when I realized that there was an unmet medical need to make the whip stitching process easier,” Winter said. “EasyWhip is a modification to the conventional system that allows surgeons to recreate the same stitching pattern both faster and more consistently.”

She worked closely with the Swanson Center for Product Innovation to create a highly functional prototype, and was awarded 3rd place at the Swanson School of Engineering Fall 2016 Design Expo.

Winter took this winning project with her as she matriculated at the Dual MBA/MS Biomedical Engineering program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) and entered it into VolCourt, a 90-second elevator pitch competition. She was awarded first place and received $1,500, office space in the University of Tennessee Research Foundation Business Incubator, and several services to help her start a business.

With the resources received from VolCourt, Winter started a sole proprietorship and filed a provisional patent application. She formulated a full business plan and was encouraged to present her idea at another pitch competition: UTK’s Boyd Venture Challenge.

The Boyd Venture Challenge awards up to $20,000 in seed funding to student-owned businesses. Each participant gives a 25-minute presentation on the various elements of their business plan. Winter said, “I explained the problem at hand, detailed my innovation, gave a market estimate, illustrated my business model, presented a pro-forma budget, and projected financial statements for three years.” She was one of two student startups awarded $12,500 and plans to pursue a full patent and potentially license her product to a medical device company.

Winter gives credit to Pitt for serving as a solid foundation in her biomedical engineering career. She said, “After completing a summer internship in industry and taking Senior Design, I realized that I am passionate about helping solve unmet medical needs.” 

Winter was awarded the Ergen Fellowship at UTK, which provided her with a scholarship and graduate research assistantship in the Department of Management. She said, “I plan to combine my biomedical engineering skills with business skills to help efficiently bring new innovative medical products to market.” She also encourages current bioengineering undergraduate students to stick with their Senior Design projects. Winter said, “A lot of these projects are actually great ideas that, with the right motivation and resources, you could use to start a business.”

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1/11/2018

Contact: Leah Russell