Five Questions with ArchGuard co-founders Kevin Rosenthal and Kelly Yang

October 10, 2021

Five Questions with ArchGuard Co-Founders Kevin Rosenthal & Kelly Yang

As Duke Design Health Fellows, Kevin Rosenthal (Master of Mechanical Engineering ’20) and Kelly Yang ’21 were part of a team that worked with the Duke Heart Center to move through the phases of needs identification and the invention and implementation of their novel medical device ArchGuard, which helps prevent stroke during cardiac surgery. With teammates Len Assakul MBA’21, Pratik Doshi MD’21, and Anish Nigade (Master of Biomedical Engineering ’21), they received a 2020 Bass Connections Student Research Award to continue their work with ArchGuard.

Now the team are finalists in the Collegiate Inventors Competition, with voting open October 11-13 to determine the winner of this year’s Arrow Electronics People’s Choice Award.

Below, Kevin and Kelly share some takeaways from their journey so far with ArchGuard.

Tell us about ArchGuard.

Kevin: ArchGuard is what’s called a temporarily implantable medical device. It goes into the body for only about a couple of hours during a cardiology procedure known as a transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, and acts as a filter that prevents stroke from occurring as a result of this procedure. So during this procedure that puts a new valve in the heart, ArchGuard offers protection against the flow of debris into the brain.

What has been the most difficult part of your entrepreneurial journey or a hurdle your team has faced along the way, and how did you address it?

Kevin: From an entrepreneurial standpoint, I would say the biggest challenge is managing some self-doubt along the way, where you’re trying to figure something out that quite frankly hasn’t been figured out yet.

Being part of the Duke Design Health Fellows program was a great opportunity to really start from the ground floor. We were presented with a blank slate and had to go out and find an unmet need in cardiology. So in addition to the faculty on the project, we’ve also been in collaboration with Duke Heart, and specifically Dr. Kevin Harrison. He’s been with us the whole time in needs finding and going into procedures, including ongoing collaboration today in helping to refine ArchGuard’s design.

You’re talking to people about a device that won’t be commercially available for a few years because it’s going to take quite a bit of testing to prove the safety and efficacy of it. The more you believe in the technology, the more it helps remove some of that self-doubt, knowing that you’re working on something that will truly address an unmet need.

How has your work been influenced or impacted by your team’s diverse disciplinary backgrounds?

Kelly: I don’t think we would have gotten this far without everyone’s backgrounds in business, medicine, and engineering. Even though the device itself is an engineering product, it did take a lot of business expertise to take it from a research project and a class, to eventually forming a commercially viable business plan.

We’ve all learned a lot from each other, and that has definitely helped us get to where we are today. Also, we as a team often communicate with people from different backgrounds, so having all of those backgrounds on our team definitely helped with that.

How did Duke resources influence ArchGuard?

Kevin: Duke puts such an emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship, and Duke’s multi-disciplinary nature is second to none, I would say.

It’s been helpful being able to tap into Bass Connections resources, starting with a Bass Connections workshop I did before starting the program that helped me better understand needs finding. The Office of Translation & Commercialization has also helped us a lot with the business and stakeholder side and understanding we’re doing something more than creating a piece of technology.

We started out creating a prototype and wanting to do some testing, but these Duke resources have been so accessible, and touched on so many things we were interested in, and the community was so inclusive, that it spurred us to keep going. We’re mentoring a group of students now in a Fuqua class that’s using ArchGuard as a case study—it feels like being able to return some of the favor after Duke has provided us with so much knowledge and mentorship.

What advice would you give to current students embarking on entrepreneurial ventures?

Kevin: I would say find a mentor early on. It’s so crucial that you find someone who you can learn from, but who will challenge you too. Our mentors are so supportive of us, but they’re not blindly supportive. I think when a mentor challenges you, that’s his or her  invitation to really be part of your journey—to understand the self-doubt you may have and help you ask the questions you may not be able to formulate. We were fortunate to find mentors through the Design Health program, especially Dr. Eric Richardson.

Kelly: I would say you just have to believe in your product and believe in your team. At the end of the day, you guys are the ones who’ll have to show off this product and champion this product to the end. You have to put your full weight behind it.