Working on High Impact Projects, Part I - By Tom Kochem '06

This is the first in a 2-part series written by an ME alumnus about how he feels he's 'making a difference' working in the medical device industry. 


Tom (right) and Andrew Hollet '07 supporting early human procedures in an operating room in Chile

I graduated Olin in 2006, the front line of graduates that Olin deployed into the world.  As a young mechanical engineer, I wanted the opportunity to DESIGN.  Looking back, I didn't know what design meant - but still, I wanted it.  I had fallen in love when our project class had visited IDEO my freshman fall, and I knew that I wanted to work in product design.  I was drawn in by some combination of the foam models, the hip young employees, and the bicycles hanging from the ceiling.  Who wouldn't want to work in this kind of environment?


I was fortunate to land a position at a very small product design firm in Cambridge, and this was a great first job.  In my first year and a half in the work force, I worked for clients in the consumer, industrial, and medical spaces.  We were generally working on early prototypes, or ergonomic and aesthetic housings to turn a prototype into a commercial design.  But what I found fairly quickly was that we never truly finished anything - we were hired for a phase of the project, and beyond that, there was no ownership or even much visibility.  I knew I wanted to try a company where I could take greater ownership of a project from start to finish.


When I was offered a role at Hologic, a medical device company, I decided it was a good opportunity to take.  It was a major cultural change to go from a 10-person company to a 3000-person global company.  My division alone included multiple departments: R&D, clinical, regulatory, quality, marketing, sales.  In my five years at Hologic, I worked on a few projects, mostly centered around the Novasure global endometrial ablation system. 


Most recently, I've spent about two years at Fractyl Labs with Andrew Coats '08 and Andrew Hollett '07.  We're working on a device that uses a minimally invasive endoscopic procedure to treat Type 2 Diabetes, without drugs.  It's a fascinating technology that takes advantage of new insights into the root cause of the disease.  With hundreds of millions of diabetics in the world, the disease inflicts enormous social and financial cost - especially with all of the comorbidities correlated with diabetes, including heart disease, liver disease, and blindness, to name a few.  And there is no real cure or lasting solution. 


So, if we do our job and succeed at developing a great product, we have the opportunity to change medicine.  I've already recognized that it's probable I will not work on a project with greater potential impact in my life.  Opportunities of this scale do not come along often for mechanical engineers!

Posted in: Alumni Speak, Careers in Healthcare