April 21, 2021

Sophomore Inventor

Connor MacFarlane ’23 brings his idea closer to reality with start-up help from UMass Amherst

Any day now, UMass Amherst sophomore Connor MacFarlane will have in his hands a molded plastic prototype of an innovative device he invented to improve insulin delivery for diabetics. His device has advanced quickly from an idea sketched on the back of a restaurant napkin to reality with the support of the UMass Amherst entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Connor had the idea for a device to make managing diabetes more user-friendly while he was still in high school in Medford, Mass. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 17, he grew tired of the need to inject himself with insulin more than four times daily. As a competitive swimmer and rower and busy student, he found insulin pumps, the alternative to needles and pens, inconvenient and bulky. Instead, he dreamed up a solution—a plastic port that affixes to a diabetic’s skin and allows a user to administer insulin without repeated injections. At approximately one centimeter square, the tiny device is light and unobtrusive.

“It’s super-simple and reliable,” Connor says. “It reduces pain and plastic waste.”

The invention remained a sketch on a napkin until Connor enrolled at UMass Amherst as a chemical engineering student in the fall of 2019 and heard about the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship’s boot camp. He brought his idea there and was encouraged to enter the Innovation Challenge, the campus’s premier entrepreneurship competition. He progressed through the Minute Pitch, the Seed Pitch, the semi-finals, and finals, held in fall 2020, and left the Innovation Challenge with $27,000 in funding to develop his invention through the company he named Improved Insulin Delivery (IID).

“As an engineering student, I didn’t know much about business development and the people at the Berthiaume Center were extremely helpful,” Connor says. “I’ve made really good connections and friends through this project.” MBA fellow Katie Moonan worked with Connor to refine his pitch and presentation. “I tend to go too deep into the technical side and she helped me zero in on the business model,” he says. “And her level of enthusiasm was incredible!”

Connor has relied on Innovative Challenge funding as well as support from the Western Mass tech incubator VentureWell, i-Corps @UMass Amherst, and FORGE, a Massachusetts nonprofit that connects start-ups with manufacturers, to bring his idea to life. This academic year he developed his device from a 3D printed model to a prototype and hired a patent attorney; the device is currently patent pending. “My lawyer jokes that because I ask so many questions, she is giving me a free education in patent law,” Connor says, “And I probably know more about injection molding than anyone else in my engineering classes.”

With the prototype in hand, Connor will proceed to testing the device that he foresees will make life easier for diabetics like himself. “Through the Berthiaume Center I’ve become part of the Western Massachusetts entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he says. “It’s been a lot of work, but it will be worth it."