The spark of an idea. The dedication to make it a reality.

Ben Berkowitz (BSE 10, MS 12, PhD 16) took a concept for a novel communication technology from an idea to an FDA-approved product. He discovered a way to help millions of hospital patients regain the ability to communicate using a special touchpad or the click of a tongue.

What started as Berkowitz’s homework project is now a breakthrough medical device known as the noddle™. Through simple responses like tongue clicks, the noddle™ can give patients a new voice.

In the Iowa Medical Innovations Group (IMIG) – which merges the brainpower of students in business, engineering, law, and medicine – Berkowitz transformed an idea into a marketable product called the noddle™. The opportunities created by the noddle™ led to the formation of Voxello, a business that develops communication solutions for impaired hospitalized patients.

In January 2017, the FDA approved the noddle™ for market, and Voxello’s patent for the noddle™ was approved. So how can you commercialize your great idea? Berkowitz, co-founder and product development director of Voxello, walks you through the process.

Taking shape. Moving forward.

Berkowitz understands that entrepreneurship is a team sport. Alongside his partners, he brought the noddle™ into existence.

He says, “When we started working on the project, we were working with a professor who had 25 years of experience building his own devices, tinkering around, trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t. He had been working – on a case-by-case basis – with hospital patients who, for one reason or another, couldn’t communicate with their caregivers. He came to us with the idea of a standardized solution.”

This is where the strengths of the IMIG team came into play, with Berkowitz leading the product development process.

“We worked with him to come up with a specific set of needs and a list of features for the device. What we found, through talking with people who work in this area, is that the most efficient way for these patients to communicate is clicking their tongues or pressing their cheeks up against a touch sensor,” Berkowitz explains.

Perfecting a prototype.

Berkowitz’s innovative energy then led the team into the product prototyping stage.

“We came up with a functional prototype by the end of the year. It was pretty rudimentary because we just wanted to prove the concept. But since then, we have worked with contract engineers, electrical engineers, and consultants to make it a product that would be manufacturable. It has become a high quality product that passed through the strict requirements needed to become an FDA medically regulated product, and has since received market clearance," Berkowitz's details.

When asked how the team found success, Berkowitz says the University of Iowa’s Venture School Program taught them important lessons in the startup process.

“Simplicity is important. Engineers have the reputation of implementing as many bells and whistles as they can cram into a product," says Berkowitz. "Through Iowa JPEC’s Venture School, I learned how to really listen to the customer and to implement not what I think would be great in the product, but what the customer needs. And nothing more.”