Marianne Black

Marianne Black

Co-founder, Director and Advisor

AGE: 26

COMPANY: Arbutus Medical Inc.

“Sometimes, good intentions turn into a good business plan”

The story: Sometimes, good intentions turn into a good business plan. For Marianne Black, a former UBC grad student in biomedical engineering, it was a cheap drill. A typical surgical drill costs roughly $30,000; while manageable for North American hospitals, in countries like Uganda, it’s an expense they can ill afford. The solution: special drill covers for typical hardware-store drills that can be properly sanitized. “We want to make sure that every surgeon who needs a surgical drill can afford one,” says Black, who co-founded the project and the five-person company that spawned from it, Vancouver-based Arbutus Medical, in 2013. Black, who grew up in a very mathematical family—her parents were high-school math teachers and her brother is a civil engineer—is now doing her PhD in mechanical engineering at Stanford University. Yet even from California, she remains active in Arbutus, with plans to help the company expand further into Africa and beyond (each new country has its own regulatory hurdles) and develop more medical devices for cash-strapped hospitals. “We have other ideas,” Black says. “We don’t want to be a one-hit wonder.”

Markers of success: Black began the project during her master’s at UBC and by the summer of 2013 had deployed the drill cover to hospitals in Uganda; by fall, her team was invited to speak to 30 surgeons in San Francisco. The covers are now employed in seven countries, with Syria recently added (“being a conflict zone, this is really important”); the team is also in contact with “people in China and India who are very interested.” In Uganda alone, roughly 2,000 patients have already been treated using their technology, she says. —Trevor Melanson