August 2021 - BME Blaze: Elsa Swanson Sareen

Aug 02 2021

In this monthly spotlight, get to know the alumni and students of Columbia's Department of Biomedical Engineering. Read what our BME folks are up to, from our labs' latest research, to our students' plans for the future, to our teams' innovations, start-ups and other career successes.

We loved catching up with Columbia BME alumna Elsa Swanson Sareen (BS '14), as she reminisced about her experience as a Columbia BME undergraduate student, her ensuing entrepreneurial career growth, and told us about her new role at lean innovation and growth strategy firm The Garage Group. Read below to get to know Elsa!

 

Elsa Swanson Sareen

BS, Biomedical Engineering, 2014, Columbia University

 

Where are you from?

Albuquerque, NM

 

What drew you to the field of Biomedical Engineering?

I knew in high school that I wanted to pursue a career in applied math and science, but I also knew that I was interested in studying language, humanities, and arts. I chose Scripps College because they participated in the 3/2 engineering program, and I decided this was the best option for me to experience the best of both worlds. I was also passionate about contributing to the transformation of healthcare, but thought that the only real career option to do so was to become a physician, and knew that path was not right for me. When I learned about Biomedical Engineering as an education track/career path, it felt like the perfect intersection of subjects I loved, and an opportunity to make a meaningful impact on our world.

 

What is your current role?

In August, I am starting as a Director of Lean Growth at The Garage Group, an innovation consultancy that brings lean innovation approaches to future-proof large organizations.

 

Why did you choose Columbia BME?

I chose Columbia for my engineering education because of the incredible Biomedical Engineering curriculum developed by the professors. Specifically, the Senior Design course designed and run by Professor Aaron Kyle inspired me to pursue launching a company post-graduation.

 

What were some of your favorite projects/memories from the program?

My favorite project/memory from the program by far was our Senior Design project. My teammates Emily Cen, David Xing, Forrest Miller, and I identified a care gap in monitoring for infection after joint replacement surgery. After establishing the market opportunity and business case for infection monitoring post-joint replacement, we developed an implantable device to proactively monitor the synovial space, and alert the patient and physician of the presence of infection before it is too late and a revision surgery is required. We all spent countless hours in the basement BME Lab alongside our classmates culturing cells, mixing bovine synovial fluid, and hand-making a flex circuit for our prototype. After winning the BME Design Award for Top Senior Design Project, post-graduation, Forrest and I pursued patenting our technology, and worked to build our company while also working other startup jobs to gain experience (David went on to pursue his Ph.D., and Emily her M.D.!). We launched our company, raised a small seed round, and were acquired in 2017 by a venture-backed medical device manufacturer.

My other favorite memories of the program involve developing relationships and lasting friendships with my classmates. I continue to be inspired by my fellow BME Class of ‘14 graduates, and especially by my friend and cofounder Forrest Miller, without whom I never would have survived BME or the adventure of starting a company.

 

What was your proudest moment at Columbia?

My proudest moment at Columbia came with the successful validation of the sensor technology that my team and I developed. It was incredibly rewarding to develop technology with real-world applications, and to be recognized for the significant impact such a technology could have on a patient's life.

 

How has your experience with Columbia BME contributed towards your goals?

My experience with Columbia BME sparked my interest in entrepreneurship, and ultimately guided me in forming my non-traditional career path. I started my career launching a company as CEO, and have since had the opportunity to help others innovate in a startup setting, a corporate setting, a venture studio, and now in innovation consulting. My time in the Columbia BME program taught me to always focus on the problem, and the customers/stakeholders most heavily impacted by the problem, rather than jumping to a solution. This skill set has allowed me to apply my entrepreneurship skills in a variety of markets, from medical devices, biopharmaceuticals, and IVD technology, to construction, consumer electronics, personal care, and more.

 

Any words of wisdom or tips for prospective BME students?

Education is what you make it! Keep an open mind, and pursue what inspires you.

 

What are you excited about?

I am excited about a future where healthcare is more patient-centered, and more accessible to all.

  

My time in the Columbia BME program taught me to always focus on the problem, and the customers/stakeholders most heavily impacted by the problem, rather than jumping to a solution. This skill set has allowed me to apply my entrepreneurship skills in a variety of markets, from medical devices, biopharmaceuticals, and IVD technology, to construction, consumer electronics, personal care, and more.

Elsa Swanson Sareeen
BS '14, Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University

Images (clockwise from top left):

1. Forrest, Elsa, Emily, and David senior celebration!

2. Forrest and Elsa, early days as founders

3. (L to R) Emily, Elsa, Forrest, and David winning 3rd Place at the Collegiate Inventors' Competition in 2014

   

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