University of Tennessee, Knoxville, alumna and entrepreneur Lia Winter tore her hamstring playing soccer at 16.
While the mishap sidelined her play, it focused her sights on new goal: a career in biomedical engineering.
Winter—a Pittsburgh native who graduated in May with a dual MS–MBA in biomedical engineering and business administration earned in UT’s Tickle College of Engineering and Haslam College of Business—is co-founder of Winter Innovations, a product development company. Her invention, EasyWhip, is a patent-pending surgical needle designed to increase the speed and accuracy of the whipstitching used in orthopedic reconstruction surgeries.
Winter received numerous UT awards to support her fledgling company and invention. Now’s she’s been named a graduate finalist in the 2019 Collegiate Inventors Competition sponsored by the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Next month, Winter will compete at the finals, presenting her business pitch to Hall of Fame inductees and officials from the US Patent and Trademark Office at the federal office in Alexandria, Virginia.
Winter’s entrepreneurial journey began as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh. Winter landed a summer internship at an orthopedics company where she worked in product testing and became familiar with surgical stitching products. Around the same time, she watched her mother go through ACL repair surgery that required a do-over because surgical stitching failed the first time.
Drawing on those experiences and harkening back to her own sports injury, she created the first iteration of the EasyWhip needle in a fabrication lab for her senior design project.
After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, she came to UT for the MS–MBA program—an opportunity she learned about from Preston Dishner. He had attended UT as an undergrad and worked alongside Winter at the orthopedics company.
Dishner also graduated in May from the MS–MBA program, with a focus on business analytics. He is co-founder of Winter Innovations.
AT UT, Winter fine-tuned the EasyWhip design and began readying her invention for market.
She found coaching, mentorship, and all-around support through the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Haslam College of Business. She won several of the center’s business pitch competitions, earning consulting and design services as well as legal advice.
The competitions also brought in much-needed capital: $1,500 from the fall 2017 Vol Court Pitch Competition, $12,500 from the 2017 Boyd Venture Challenge, $5,000 from the 2018 Boyd Venture Challenge, and $10,000 from the 2019 Boyd Venture Challenge.
“None of our progress would have been possible without that funding,” Winter said. The money was used to file for patents, create a business plan, travel to interview surgeons to gather research, and develop better prototypes.
This summer, Winter participated in ZeroTo510, a medical technology accelerator program in Memphis, to help her navigate the FDA clearance process. She and Dishner continue to work with the Anderson Center’s Business Accelerator program, and Winter will participate in the Knoxville’s Innov865 Startup Day pitch competition on September 24.
Their next steps include securing investors and finalizing patents and FDA approval. They have teamed up with Knoxville patent attorney Stephen Adams, also a UT alumnus, to help them draft patents and navigate the legal landscape of intellectual property.
“We’re a full-fledged company,” Winter said. “It’s a big step, but also very exciting.”
Amy Blakely, UT News and Information, (865-974-5034, email@example.com)
Carrie McCamey, Anderson Center (865-974-9964, firstname.lastname@example.org)