Derek Lewis, veteran BPC mentor and judge, reflects on the value of mentorship

by Akash Mandavilli and Emily Myrick

Derek Lewis on Med Tech judge panel during 2019 JHU Business Plan Competition.

Derek Lewis (1997, WSE, Biomedical Engineering), vice president of operations and R&D at Checkpoint Surgical, boasts twenty years of experience in the medical device industry and half as many as a mentor and judge for the JHU Business Plan Competition. Derek recently sat down with BPC student coordinator Akash Mandavilli to share what his experiences have taught him about the mentorship process.

Competitors & Mentorship

For many competitors, the BPC is their first attempt at developing a business plan or starting a new venture. For this reason, Derek believes many teams “don’t know what they don’t know.” Mentors can bridge this knowledge gap, he says, but teams must take an active role in the mentorship process in order to benefit from their mentors’ expertise.

According to Derek, one of the biggest obstacles to a successful mentor/mentee relationship is the intimidation factor. Because mentors are industry leaders, many teams are reluctant to engage their mentors; however, Derek assures us that mentors enjoy facilitating this unique, hands-on learning experience. Teams “should recognize that mentors and judges are more than willing to spend the time to help teams,” he says. To combat intimidation, Derek advises student teams to prep effectively before engaging with mentors by “coming prepared with thoughts and questions” about business plan development and pitching their venture.

Finally, Derek urges student teams to remember that the mentorship process does not end with the completion of Stage 1. For teams to perform well on competition day, they must reflect on their mentors’ feedback and effectively implement that feedback in Stage 2. Speaking from experience as both a mentor and a judge, he points out that judges expect to see teams taking their mentors’ feedback into account on competition day.

Mentors & Mentorship

Mentors are selected because of their level of success in their respective fields and their expertise, which they can impart to their mentees. However, Derek acknowledges that may make carving out time between their professional and personal lives to dedicate to the competition sometimes difficult. Derek says mentorship “is always going to be a time crunch, but to make an impact it only takes really an hour and a half that can be done on rides back from work or while multitasking.” It only takes a couple of sage pieces of advice, he argues, adding, “If you can fit in a few touch points and nudges, then students at Hopkins will be able to take that and run with it.”  

What has surprised him most about the mentorship process?

After ten years, Derek is still impressed by the caliber of ideas and level of innovation BPC competitors bring to the competition. It’s surprising “how well teams actually do in modeling a product with very little experience and context,” Derek says. The “level of solution that teams come up with” keeps him coming back every year.