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Supporting startups

Med-tech work terms at Harlow Campus: meet Allison Wragg

Student Life

By Allison Wragg

The fourth in a series of six student accounts of their commerce program work terms based at Harlow Campus.

Let me start by saying that before this experience, I had never seen a 3D printer and I had never stepped foot in Europe.

Though those may seem like two very random observations at first, stick with me and I’ll explain.

While applying for my second work term as a fourth-year Memorial University commerce (co-op) student, I noticed one position that stood out among others: the opportunity to work abroad in Europe with entrepreneurial med-tech startups.

Though it was a bit out of my comfort zone, I took a leap and applied nonetheless, and I’m so beyond glad I did.

After being hired for the position, I was soon introduced to my company, PolyUnity. Though I had heard about them in passing, I had no idea just how impactful their innovations have been in our health-care sector.

PolyUnity focuses on additive manufacturing by bringing 3D printers into hospitals and providing their digital catalogue of items, expert staff and out-of-the-box thinking to health care.

The service allows health staff to address their small frustrations with daily life. From items that don’t work to missing parts to things they need but don’t exist yet, PolyUnity can do it all.

3D printing these solutions allows items to be present in hospitals within mere days instead of month-long processes with heavy designing and shipping costs.

A woman stands by a guardrail in front of a body of water. A European town with tall, closely packed buildings and mountains is in the background.
Allison Wragg on her fall 2022 work term.
Photo: Submitted

PolyUnity even helped our province when supply chains became unreliable.

The COVID-19 crisis exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain that have long existed within health care and our over-reliance on foreign imports.

By dedicating their machines to printing face shields and vial trays for vaccine distribution, PolyUnity was able to assist.

Since I’ve come to the U.K., I’ve been a member of a stellar team that is working toward one goal of bringing its innovation into health-care systems in Canada, Europe and beyond.

One thing I’ve learned, not just about U.K. companies but about systems as a whole, is that once a process becomes embedded, it’s incredibly difficult to change.

From the medical industry’s perspective, supply chains have historically worked and there’s no reason to change operations.

As a startup with a new and innovative idea, half of the job is convincing people that business as usual can be changed for the better.

With PolyUnity, this entails a huge task of convincing potential clients that 3D printing could change the way hospitals procure their products.

“After some market research though, we learned the importance of the U.K.’s net zero mandate.”

With global crises such as the pandemic and blockages in the Suez Canal, supply chains are fragile. Innovative companies like PolyUnity will be there to step in and help ease these frustrations.

As well, one major difference I’ve noted between Newfoundland and Labrador and the U.K. are the reasons why these varying geographical locations need a service like PolyUnity.

When first founded, the concept of spreading 3D printers across the province was to help rural communities have faster access to medical supplies.

Of course, living on an island means that all our products not only need to be shipped in by boat or plane, but then travel by truck into rural areas.

The supply chain meant these communities would be last to receive these vital items.

PolyUnity’s service means that with a printer and an internet connection, products can essentially be teleported to these rural areas.

When first entering the foreign market, PolyUnity pitched their product, only to realize that the U.K. didn’t face the same issue.

While Newfoundland and Labrador has a great expanse of land with relatively small communities across it, the U.K. has a much more tight-knit setup, where even the least populated areas still have far better access to goods.

U.K. hospitals have never faced the struggles involved with weeks of shipping at high costs.

Two women sit on a red leather couch.
From left, Allison Wragg and fellow Harlow Campus work term student, Lauren Courage.
Photo: Submitted

After some market research though, we learned the importance of the U.K.’s net zero mandate.

U.K. hospitals are mandated to be fully net zero by 2040, which means they need to make huge changes to become more sustainable.

Though printing plastic doesn’t sound environmentally friendly, PolyUnity’s business model can actually greatly reduce carbon emissions.

Since products can be printed on site when needed, emissions from shipping and storing products can be avoided.

As well, many of our devices can be sanitized and reused, replacing single-use items.

Furthermore, we’re continuously researching and experimenting with new materials that can be biodegradable.

It was interesting to learn just how different it was to market PolyUnity in two different locations.

Even though I had my doubts at first about working for a 3D printing company in the U.K., when I’d never experienced either of those things, the opportunity has been incredible.

Getting to work with an amazing team, learning new things each and every day and getting to experience Europe for the first time has been amazing.

So even though it’s certainly not what I had pictured for my second work term experience, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

The Supporting Startups series will run Monday-Wednesday-Friday until Dec. 14.

Harlow Campus is positioned in the U.K.’s Innovation Corridor, a leading sci-tech region between Cambridge and London.

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