Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper and this is HXTV, the show that champions Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs. Coming to you today once again from TMCx, and I’m very pleased to have as my guest, Lance Black, the head of Medical Device Innovation here at the TMC Innovation Institute. Lance, welcome to the show.
Lance: Thanks for having me, Russ.
Russ: Ok, so you are part of Erik Halvorsen’s team that focuses strictly on medical device innovation. What is that all about?
Lance: I help to lead the med device cohort. We have two cohorts per year, as I’m sure Erik alluded to. August through November we invite up to twenty-five medical device companies through our space. I help to scout for those companies, recruit those companies, and really find out if they’re a good fit for our accelerator program.
Russ: What’s your background? What’s your education that equipped you with being able to do that?
Lance: I started off in biological engineering as an undergrad, and really got a lot of interest in med devices when I was doing a senior design project for a patient, and knew at that point I wanted to stay in health care and around the med device space. I went to med school, practiced as a family medicine physician and flight surgeon in the military, in the Air Force. Once I was done with my commitment I really wanted to get back to my roots and get back to engineering, so I went back to school to study some product development and have since been working with startup companies, mostly around the conceptualization side of things.
Russ: Do you remember precisely when it was that you went, wait, I really like working with these devices?
Lance: I do. It was actually a patient who had post-polio syndrome that I was working with during my senior design project. Just having the interaction with the patient and being able to devise a solution that I could see was making a meaningful impact in his life, that was like, the lightbulb went off and was like, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Russ: What was that device?
Lance: It was actually a leg brace, an orthotic, that helped the patient to prevent him from falling. He would have his leg give out every once in a while. He couldn’t predict when that would happen, so he needed a leg brace that would capture that fall.
Russ: You must be working on a very broad spectrum of devices these days, based on what I see in here. Would that be accurate?
Lance: Yes. It’s not only spectrum as far as therapeutic focus, but technology wise we touch a little bit of everything at the Innovation Institute.
Russ: How many groups of cohorts have you been in this position now and what have you seen?
Lance: I’ve started since what we call X4, which is the fourth cohort, and we’re about to onboard our seventh cohort as of August, so, I’ll be here for four cohorts. We’ve seen quite a variety in digital and in med device; everything from a new transcatheter heart device, to a new diagnostic tool, to even something as simple as a stopwatch on a patient’s wrist, so pretty broad spectrum.
Russ: When they finish the cohort, what’s usually the difference if they made progress during that time?
Lance: Really, we have the company setting milestones for themselves, because the companies come in at varying stages. We have companies that are a guy and his garage, and has only been around for six months, to companies who have a well-established, thirty employee company. We have them set milestones for themselves to really figure out what it is they want to accomplish while they’re here, and we go back to those milestones; did you accomplish those? Did you achieve what you wanted to achieve? And that’s our measure as a metric of success.
Russ: Ok, and when they get out of here, some of them, are they close to going into business right away?
Lance: Yeah. Actually, some of them are deploying in the hospitals as they’re coming through a TMC program. Some of them are working on their products and so they’re just trying to refine and verify what they’re working on is actually something hospitals need, or patients want.
Russ: Hanging around the Texas Medical Center, it seems like this is pretty much a happening hotbed of medical device innovation.
Lance: We always joke, if you can’t find traction in one of our twenty-one hospitals then something is wrong with your company, not what’s wrong with the hospital. I think that is what’s different around here is just that critical mass and those opportunities.
Russ: Are there specific resources or anything unique about Houston that really encourages and helps medical device innovation?
Lance: Absolutely. When I was an undergrad in biological engineering, I remember reading a story of the artificial heart and the LVAD that was being produced out of Texas Medical Center. That’s actually what originated all of my interest to be here. When I first arrived in Houston eighteen months ago, I bought a city map and I started plotting out what it would take for a person and an idea to get all the way to commercialization, and what resources did Houston have? Very quickly, the map started filling up with product development firms, regulatory agencies, law firms that would support a startup company, and some of our latest editions like the Center for Device Innovation that J&J just built out on our campus. It’s behemoths like that that are really putting us on the map and continuing to support med device startups.
Russ: Do people sometimes come out of a cohort and go to work in one of those places?
Lance: Absolutely. Within this building here, this campus, you can go from concept all the way to commercialization, IPO, or even exiting. They have not only the support of the TMC Innovation Institute, but great partners like AT&T and Johnson & Johnson, including local partners like LivaNova and Abbott, who also has a presence here. It’s building very rapidly and it’s, really, this is the hub where it’s all starting.
Russ: From a business perspective, from a medical device perspective, you make it sound like it’s the place to be.
Lance: I definitely think it’s the place to be. It’s the opportunity really to validate your technology and to determine whether or not what you’re solving is a real problem. Really, anywhere you go there’s just not the scale that there is in Houston. There’s the numerous key opinion leaders, scientific researchers, physicians, the number of patients, the opportunity is boundless for a startup company. It’s really like a sandbox here.
Russ: Well, Lance, I really appreciate you sharing your story with us. It sounds exciting.
Lance: Thank you.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Lance Black, the head of Medical Device Innovation here at the TMC Innovation Institute. And this is HXTV.
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