Since it was founded in 2016 by University of Maryland professor Dr Gil Blankenship, the Maryland Development Center (MDC) has worked with medtech innovators to develop their ideas into marketable products.
Once an idea for a medical device is proposed to MDC, it goes through a rigorous screening process to assess its market viability. If the idea passes screening, the entrepreneurs behind it can be admitted to MDC’s program and receive a $100,000 grant to support their product launch.
Using a combination of private, federal and state funds, MDC has already helped two companies graduate from its scheme and become investor-ready. Next Step Robotics has created a portable ankle robot called AMBLE to alleviate and treat muscular weakness in the foot following a stroke, while Sonosa Medical is developing a wearable ultrasound system to reshape diagnosis and treatment of obstructive sleep apnoea.
The start-ups currently incubating in the MDC studio are no less impressive, and include NeuroSonics, a company developing a focused ultrasound device to remove large and complex brain tumours. MDC is also supporting Pneumico, which is developing a device to monitor manual resuscitator bag valve masks and provide real-time, objective feedback and actionable cues to first responders.
Within the past year MDC has also added Shuriken Medical and Tritheter to its portfolio. Shuriken was founded to commercialise a novel gastrojejunostomy (GJ) feeding tube technology designed to enable quick bedside or home tube exchanges, instead of the in-clinic procedures currently required if the devices clog or break. Tritheter was founded to commercialise a novel sampling catheter technology for diagnosing lower respiratory infections.
MDIC appointed serial entrepreneur, angel investor, philanthropist and board member Dr Deborah Hemingway as its CEO in January. Medical Device Network caught up with Hemingway to find out more about what MDC does and its upcoming venture fund.
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Chloe Kent: Can you run me through what MDC does?
Deborah Hemingway: MDC was founded about six years ago now by a brilliant mathematician engineer from MIT named Gil Blankenship, and I was brought in at the beginning of this year to take the company to the next level. Gil saw a need in our ecosystem for an organisation that can help ideas become companies – how do you know which ideas are worth pursuing, and how do you know which steps to take first?
We partner with the University of Maryland Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University. Physicians at each of these institutions have ideas, mostly for medical devices, and we help them take the first step. We help them explore those areas and if they’re ready to move forward after our initial exploration process, we bring them into the programme and over the course of three years we build a company around their idea.
CK: What is the process companies go through to work with you?
DH: If you have an idea, what you’ll do is pitch it to myself or someone else at MDC, and we’ll bring it to our group of partner physicians. We have quarterly meetings and at every meeting we bring all the ideas people have had together and select a couple to go through a screening process. We look at four things: intellectual property (IP), technical feasibility, product market fit and market size.
When we look at IP, we’re looking at the IP landscape and whether the idea is something that can be protected. For technical feasibility, what we’re looking at is if the idea is actually buildable, or if it would require breaking the laws of physics. Moving to product market fit, we look at if the idea is something people desperately need, or something that is just a nice-to-have – nice-to-have isn’t really what we’re looking for, we’re looking for products where people will try to buy the prototype right out of your hand. Then for actual market size, we look for very large markets with a lot of very large customers.
We don’t mind if there are competing companies already in the space. That means there’s something to compete over. The cut-off mark we like to see is a billion-dollar market.
CK: When you’re looking at potential partners, what areas of the industry do you tend to focus on?
DH: We’re pretty open to anything that touches the medical space. We have one location in Baltimore, Maryland, which is a wonderful place to be, and we’re looking at opening our second location, also in Maryland, in the fall. Then we’ll split what we do and have more focused areas in each of our start-up studios.
CK: Why is Baltimore such a good location for a company like MDC?
DH: Baltimore is actually a really phenomenal space to set this up because there’s so much innovation coming through. The per capita intellectual talent is just amazing. But a lot of that research doesn’t make it out to the commercial marketplace, so we saw this need for this all to be captured and available for people to use.
CK: You started as CEO in January – how have the last four months been for you?
DH: It’s been a whirlwind but it’s been so enjoyable. I’ve been working on a lot of structural changes and my focus has been on a venture fund. At MDC we have everything, we have the technical support, we have the engineers who build the products, we have entrepreneurs, we have business experts and the last missing piece is financial capital.
What we’re doing now is raising a £20m fund. I’m in the final days of organising that and getting it off the ground. I’ve received investment from my own companies and I’ve been a venture partner at a venture capital firm, but I haven’t set up my own fund.
We’re making an impact not only at MDC but also in Baltimore, Maryland. If you impact your city, your city impacts your state, your state impacts your country, and your country impacts the world. We’re just trying to do something really cool here.