Mark Pothen, Mechanical Engineer, Working in Health Care – NJIT News |

Techies call it the hands-on imperative — that the best learning is by doing — and the concept is something Mark Pothen, a mechanical engineering major, takes to heart.
Pothen worked part-time this academic year as a business analyst for health care startup Axuall Inc., where he’ll become an associate product manager after graduating from NJIT.
Most engineers tell their story of growing up a tinkerer, whether it’s electronics, Legos or just taking things apart to see how they work. Not so with Pothen, raised in diverse Teaneck, where his parents pushed him to study medicine and he planned to rebel by studying law. He thought that an undergraduate major in engineering would be a better safety net than holding a political science degree, and that perhaps patent law might be his niche.
Ultimately, he stumbled onto a friend’s entrepreneurship lecture at VentureLink and it sparked his passion for the logistical side of building products.
This was around February of 2020. Pothen, only a sophomore, and his friend decided to attempt a startup. They didn’t have an idea until a month later when the COVID pandemic hit. The idea presented itself: instead of a company, they’d lead a distributed project to design, build and distribute personal protective equipment for local hospitals. They called it The CommonHealth Project. Pothen’s role began with supply chain management, at a time when such supplies were distressingly difficult to acquire. It morphed into scaling and optimizing the operations for the distribution network, which included 200 constructors, drivers and distribution managers in several counties.
That story has been told but it left Pothen with a deep sense of wanting to continue building health care products. “It scratched an itch,” he said, after realizing how he could make a difference by tapping into what he called “the wellspring of communitarianism” from people wanting to help and not knowing how.
It wasn’t a passing fad. He served as a commercialization project associate for NJIT’s Mobile Medical Care Unit, working on refining a possible business model, helping apply for grants, developing partnerships with external organizations and evaluating technical research. For his senior project, Pothen is designing a scaffold-like electric lift to help wheelchair users enter and exit their cars. Meanwhile, over at Axuall, he’s working on standardizing the growing company’s release schedule of software designed to help verify health care worker’s credentials. That way they can spend less time in HR purgatory and get down to the business of saving lives.
“It was a crisis of purpose. I struggled my first year,” Pothen said, joking about tears of sadness over his Calculus 2 assignments. “I’ve become a big believer in building unconventional paths for yourself.”
Looking forward a few years from his role at Axuall, “Hopefully I’ll do this, and then a big company … And then I’ll have the startup lifecycle in my head, and then build something. That’s the idea.”
Pothen said his mentors are civil engineering Adjunct Instructor Vatsal Shah, the university makerspace leaders, and VentureLink General Manager Will Lutz. “They’ve been quintessential to who I am in my time here,” he said. The university’s Amnesty International chapter, debate club, and Vector student newspaper have also been important to him.
So it’s no surprise that his advice to incoming students is to build whatever they can. “For me it was really valuable to get a grasp of what exactly is possible out there by building things. A lot of people are dissuaded, or are told that those ideas are not worth pursuing, the cool Python project that they want to build,” Pothen noted.
“Sometimes you won’t know what you want to do at the end of the day. But prioritize building things over everything else. The money will come, the job will come. Find a good mentor, don’t be afraid to take risks. If you want to talk to somebody, just reach out to them.”
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