Our Process

Biodesign Innovation Process

There’s a popular idea that technology innovators depend on some kind of creative magic to be successful. We have a different take. Stanford Biodesign was founded on the belief that innovation is a process that can be learned, practiced, and perfected. It’s hard work, takes lots of time, and requires multidisciplinary teamwork, but it’s not magic.

Since 2000, we have developed, refined, and enhanced our approach to health technology innovation, which we call the biodesign innovation process.

We teach the biodesign innovation process to our fellows, students, and faculty trainees through hands-on, project-based activities that follow three key phases:


The identify phase is first and foremost about finding important unmet health needs. By directly observing the full cycle of care from diagnosis and treatment to recovery and billing, our trainees discover problems and opportunities. They watch what’s done and how it affects the provider, the patient, and the system, while asking pointed questions that challenge the status quo.

During this first-hand observation period, it’s ideal to collect hundreds of needs, initially without judging or prioritizing. Then, it’s time to filter the list with rigorous objectivity, taking into account everything from the different stakeholders affected by each need to how much potential it has to improve care and/or save the system money. This is an intense and iterative process, with progressively deeper dives into the needs that have the most potential. Ultimately, the trainees arrive at the two or three most promising needs which—if they can be solved—will have major impact on health and wellness.


Next, Stanford Biodesigners begin to invent. They brainstorm hundreds of potential solutions for each of their top needs. Then, they organize their ideas and objectively compare them against key criteria for satisfying the needs. During this phase, our trainees create rough prototypes in a rapid “think-build-rethink” sequence, so failures emerge early and iteration can lead to better solutions. They then filter the surviving solutions by researching everything from intellectual property issues and business models to reimbursement and regulatory pathways. In the end, the process produces a lead concept that has done battle with a number other ideas that were almost as good. It’s survival of the fittest—and it guarantees that the lead concept has a good chance of actually reaching and improving patient care.


In the implement phase, our trainees take the next steps in prototyping and testing their technology, developing their approach to patenting, regulatory approval, and reimbursement, charting the market potential for the innovation, and exploring sources of funding. To help them, we bring in the “varsity players”—industry mentors with deep business knowledge and experience who know the health technology sector inside and out.

In the end, each team will have generated an invention and a plan for execution that is as at least as well formulated as any Silicon Valley “pitch.” And, in fact, many of these projects do wind up being successful businesses. But that’s beside the point. The most important “product” of Stanford Biodesign is the trainees themselves. They are masters of the biodesign innovation process and will go on to use it again and again in their careers, whether in business or academia. It’s not magic; it’s the kind of training that produces innovators with lifelong impact.

Check out our textbook and videos and our new Student Guide to Biodesign for more information about the biodesign innovation process.