Illinois Based Medline Industries Announces Medtech Innovation Challenge


Medical and surgical supply distributor Medline Industries Inc. may be more than 100 years old, but it was originally started by entrepreneur A.L. Mills selling aprons to butchers in the stockyards of Chicago in 1910 before pivoting to operating gowns a few years later. It has grown into a $5.8 billion family business selling wheelchairs and canes, and hospital apparel. But like many companies in healthcare, it’s faced with the challenge of how to continue to make itself relevant at a time when healthcare reform is changing how companies do business.

It needs a way to encourage more entrepreneurs to view it as a partner they can work with. Cue innovation challenge.

Francesca Olivier is the corporate sustainability and innovation manager at Medline who is overseeing the company’s first innovation competition. Why now? In response to emailed questions, she said Medline has added more structure for working with entrepreneurs in the past couple of years. It has also placed a greater emphasis on initiating relationships with startups, and that’s led the company to kick off its first innovation challenge.

Among the criteria it is looking for are:

  • Market need
  • A cost-benefit analysis of the invention
  • Product advantages, relevant to Medline’s business
  • It also wants companies to explain the regulatory path and potential challenges along the way

It has already begun accepting applications from companies with ideas that span broad categories including infection prevention, surgical solutions and patient care. But if you’re a health IT company thinking about submitting a few ideas, don’t bother. It’s not interested in drugs, implantable devices, or mobile health tools either. Finalists will be invited to Medline’s corporate HQ in Chicago to compete for a top prize of $10,000 and $5,000 second-place finish, with $2,500 for 3rd place. They will also have the chance to power network with medical device professionals and company executives.

Asked what Medline’s involvement with startups has been like to this point, Olivier gave some examples.

It has worked with nurses and doctors to develop tools to make the most of the insights they bring from hospitals. One example is its work with Myrna Chang, the director of perioperative services and sterile processing at O’Connor Hospital in San Jose, California. The operating room nurse developed an idea for a long-sleeved scrub top to keep nurses warm in the OR and still comply with industry infection control guidelines, Olivier said.

She added that it has collaborated with startup companies to develop several advanced wound care dressings and clinical programs. It also partnered with Providigm, a healthcare technology company to exclusively market a quality management system for nursing homes to help them improve resident care and help them do prep for state surveys.

“We’re especially interested in products that are developed within the medical field, which is why we’ve focused our first challenge on technologies from universities, healthcare providers and research institutions.”

She added: “We want to receive ideas from nurses and doctors who are on the frontline of healthcare to engineers and scientists with specialized expertise. The challenge is the first major event in this new strategy.”