Last Thursday, April 30, 2009, I attended the TEB event, since TalentBridge participants are fortunate enough to have a table at the events (yes, I love my job).  Speaking was Oak Noell of Abbott Point of Care (Divisional Vice President Manufacturing Operations and Strategy).  Thanks to the close connection between Manu Sharma and Luc Lalande of the Foundry Program, we were also lucky enough to also be present at the one-on-one session with Noell and the Foundry Program participants. 

Their product is all about faster, cheaper, portable health care.  Another addition to the real-time technology revolution.  Now that we can collect and analyze huge quantities of data, the challenge across all industries, has been to pump out that information at faster and faster speeds.

The interesting topic was Abbott’s strategy for competitive advantage was not necessarily the technology, it was compliance.  They are experts in compliance.  And with the red tape being especially thick in health care, knowing how to be compliant in the US, Canada and Europe, each geographic entity with its own rules and regulations and procedures, is a big plus.

Noell also spoke of the benefits of being in Ottawa.  The originally positioned themselves here due to Ottawa being a semi-conductor hub at that time.  That way they could get the technology faster and cheaper by being in these companies’ backyard.  That is no longer necessary the case, but being in Ottawa for their particular product has certain advantage, namely the exchange rate and the fact that the FDA is not around the corner and therefore must schedules meetings instead of knocking on their door.  A notion Noell kept repeating was the idea of Ottawa becoming known for compliance, through a series of companies working together to garnish the same reputation.  It’s an interesting thought, and through the years I have seen more and more biomedical companies being established alone.  At the OCRI awards alone this year, a large percentage of the companies represented were in the biomedical field.  A reputation for compliance would only benefit this growing field.

During our one-to-one talk, Noell was asked what is lacking in the education system today that would be beneficial to new grads starting their careers.  His reply was simple.  He said engineering programs do a pretty good job of teaching manufacturing process.  What they’re missing is project management knowledge.  If they had more experience with that, well they would get to work on bigger projects faster. 

Which coincides exactly with my thoughts that undergraduate engineering programs need to have a larger bend in program management and commercialization of technology.  If time to market is the critical advantage for North American technologies, then teaching those skills that help you get technologies to market faster should be a logical addition to an engineering education.  How else are we to remain competitive?

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