January 27, 2014 |

Mike Eisenstein: design, build, test, innovate

While the PATH shop is designed for testing products and creating prototypes, “there’s really not much we can’t do,” says shop manager Mike Eisenstein.
Bearded man in plaid shirt and safety glasses presses buttons on keypad of large silver machine.
Mike Eisenstein at work in our product development shop. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

When Mike Eisenstein arrives at work, he pulls on a faded blue apron and tucks his essential tools—pen, highlighter, safety goggles—into the pockets.

“I’ve ruined a lot of clothes,” he explains.

Wardrobe destruction is a byproduct of managing PATH’s state-of-the-art product development shop in Seattle. Among an impressive array of machinery, Mike and his colleagues devise and adapt technologies with the potential to improve health care in developing countries.

Follow the bouncing idea

Ideas bounce around like ping-pong balls as engineers, technical experts, and others working in the shop come up with new ways to look at devices and products. For example:

Could an infusion pump that delivers antibiotics to hospital patients in the United States deliver anesthesia to patients in remote clinics in poor countries? Mike and his colleagues are developing a new, portable, battery-free infusion pump that could serve that purpose.

Could phase-change material that maintains temperatures in building construction also be used to protect vaccines during transport? Mike and others are advancing a project to develop a portable vaccine carrier that prevents vaccines from freezing or overheating.

A lifetime of fixing things

Managing the PATH shop is exactly where Mike hoped to land when he joined our organization in 2008. Newly married and with a unique résumé—from fixing bikes to running operations at a tech start-up to servicing wildlife tracking equipment to managing operations for a wine distributor—Mike worked first as a computer support specialist, then as a program assistant until PATH’s longtime shop manager, Bill Van Lew, announced his retirement. Bill, an expert model-maker, took Mike under his wing and guided him into the role.

It didn’t hurt that Mike had a lifetime of hands-on experience under his tool belt.

Growing up as the son and grandson of engineers, “we always fixed everything at our house,” Mike says. When Mike and his wife bought their first home in Seattle, they gutted it to the studs and rebuilt it from the ground up.

Products in context

The product development team in the PATH shop share a similar mindset. While the shop is designed for testing products and creating prototypes rather than manufacturing new technologies in large quantities, “there’s really not much we can’t do,” Mike says.

“A lot of what we do is test things. We’re always building our knowledge base about what’s going on in global health, what’s out there.”

PATH’s engineers must always consider how the products they advance will be used in developing countries, a lesson Mike learned when he traveled to Kenya a few years ago. He talked with doctors, nurses, and lab technicians about their needs and realities. Technologies must be rugged and easy to maintain, for example. Mike heard: “If it’s too hard to fix, then we use it until it breaks. Then it becomes that very expensive paperweight in the corner.”

Connecting people and ideas

Back in the shop, Mike and his coworkers consult frequently with our experts around the world to gather new ideas and be sure the ones they’re working on make sense. Mike also serves as a people connector, linking ideas throughout the organization and even with our partners. He leads everyone from graduate students to Washington State’s governor to Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan on tours of the shop to showcase PATH’s work.

Mike says he’s proud of the work he does and PATH’s mission to save lives through transformative innovation. “We’re doing things that are helping people.”

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