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Farley Fellows
Michael Peshkin - Farley Fellow Q&A

Michael Peshkin, professor of mechanical engineering and Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

Peshkin has founded four startups to commercialize his technologies in robotics and human-machine interaction: Tangible Haptics, a company that “lets you feel what you see” on touchscreens; Kinea Design, a developer of robotic and mechatronic assist devices for physical therapy; Cobotics, Inc., commercializing collaborative robots; and Mako Surgical, in image-guided surgery.

How did you get started as an entrepreneur?

Michael PeshkinMy first company was ZKAT, in what is now called image-guided surgery. It later became MAKO Surgical, and MAKO was recently bought by Stryker for over a billion dollars, but those things happened when I was no longer involved. In my lab, we were trying to combine robotics with fluoroscopy. We were unwarping a fluoroscope image of a spine, showing the image to a surgeon in three dimensions so he could plan surgery, and then using a robot to help guide the surgery. In 1995, our work appeared in an article in Popular Science — this was pre-Google — and the article was noticed by a small team in Florida that was just getting started with a similar purpose. Five of us, including the grad student in my lab, formed the company.

Any suggestions on raising capital?

View Michael Peshkin's faculty profileI've always been glad I never asked family or friends for money. I've put my own money in, but never money from people I'll have to live with. I figure, if you make money they get the profit, but if you lose money you'll never hear the end of it. Also, larger investors often don't want there to be whole a bunch of small investors. Grants are the best, of course.

Have you worked with Northwestern’s Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO) to patent your technology?

Yes. Most of my patents arose from research in a university lab, so NU has the right to those inventions, but of course there are gray-area inventions too. You might think I'd prefer to own patents myself whenever possible, but actually, I'm a fan of INVO. They pay the costs of patenting up front, so that's a free loan. They've been reasonable about license fees. And if you start a business and you patent through the University, and then you sell the business, the University will still own the patent, so you retain some connection to it. If the business had owned it, then it's completely out of your control.

Catch up on Peshkin's Farley Fellows entrepreneurship seminar in Fall 2013.

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