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INpact Medical Device Network matches start-ups with service providers

August 24, 2009

Industry groups in the life sciences, medical and information technology realms have helped lure companies to the region and foster upstarts.

Funding is almost always an issue, but it’s not the only barrier. Getting medical devices to market often requires product design, development and marketing resources that aren’t always apparent to upstarts.

Seeing an unmet need in that development and launch cycle, companies that write software, prepare regulatory filings and build prototypes quietly formed their own initiative to help emerging medical-device makers.

The INpact Medical Device Network, which started a year ago, recently found a permanent meeting place, at the law offices of Bingham McHale, downtown. Now, with upwards of 50 people gathering each month, INpact plans to hold its first open house Aug. 25.

Medical-device upstarts “don’t know who’s in the space, who’s a service provider who could help them,” said INpact President Jon Speer. He founded and heads Martinsville-based Creo Quality, which helps life sciences companies with product development and project management.

Speer credits as “tremendous assets” industry groups such as BioCrossroads, the Indiana Health Industry Forum and the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

“There’s been a lot of focus on startups. But sort of the unknown is what are the capabilities of the service provider network” that could help them, he added.

To be sure, there’s potential money in it for the 35 companies that belong to INpact. Some have already landed work from medical-device upstarts who’ve outsourced work to them.

Perhaps the best example of the group’s potential involves Therametric Technologies, an Indianapolis dental-device company. In a hurry to build a prototype, the firm contacted local medical-device software firm RND Group. RND is an INpact member, but it doesn’t have all the expertise Therametric needed, so it steered the company to Priio, a local product development firm.

Eventually, Creo was tapped to help and, later, Online Resources Inc., in Lebanon. With the resources of various firms, RND finished a PC application for the device.

Therametric got its prototype in just over a month.

“That worked very well for us,” said George Stookey, owner of Therametric. On Aug. 19, the company said it would build a $4 million headquarters in Noblesville and hire an additional 40 people to make the device. It is said to detect the formation of tooth cavities years earlier than traditional techniques.

Speer got the idea for INpact about a year ago, after he was called to assist a company with a project late in the process. The client didn’t necessarily have the best vendors in place to work on development.

“I thought, there’s got to be a better way of doing things,” Speer said.

Speer compared notes with Pete Kissinger, founder of Indianapolis-based analytical-chemistry-device developer Prosolia. Might they be able to build a matrix of service providers based on their capabilities?

The circle of firms that came together as a result learned more about one another and their individual capabilities. Their discussions gave them a better idea of where to steer an upstart medical-device maker needing help.

“We’ve made referrals back and forth. This has helped everybody build business as well,” said Fran Gale, co-founder of Indianapolis-based Gale Force Software, a service provider and member of INpact.

Gale’s firm worked with a local business trying to get its medical device to market, helping with quality system and design controls for the firm’s submission to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Working with upstarts is no panacea, however.

“Last month’s [INpact group] topic was how you help a startup that doesn’t have any funding,” Speer said.

Some of the work might have to be done pro bono, with the hope the service provider gets future business from the upstart as it grows.•

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