Pipeline for medical device entrepreneurs leads from Nashville to Memphis

At age 23 and a 2013 graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Jim Mullen is president of a company working in Memphis to perfect a medical device that would help ensure the safety of blood being transported for transfusions.
Jul 26, 2014

At age 23 and a 2013 graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Jim Mullen is president of a company working in Memphis to perfect a medical device that would help ensure the safety of blood being transported for transfusions.

Tony Weaver, 25, is co-founder of another fledgling company working in Memphis to bring to market a device that would make colonoscopies less inflating and more comfortable. Co-founder Byron Smith, 31, said a team at Vanderbilt came up with the idea while he was working on his master’s thesis there.

That pipeline between budding medical device makers at Vanderbilt and Memphis, a center for the industry, is getting a boost.

The Memphis Bioworks Foundation and the Vanderbilt Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization are partnering to provide Vanderbilt candidates with dedicated spots in the final round for candidates in the ZeroTo510 Medical Device Accelerator program operated in Memphis by Bioworks.

Mullen, president of Blood Monitoring Solutions, and Weaver, co-founder of EndoInSight, are part of two teams with Vanderbilt connections accepted in the current accelerator program.

A total of four teams this year, and a total of 16 for the program now in its third year, each receive a $50,000 investment and support to fast-track their medical devices through a U.S. Food and Drug Administration process. Each year, the top three performers may get an additional $100,000 investment, said Allan Daisley, director of the Bioworks program.

“The Memphis ecosystem is much better equipped in terms of medical device commercialization because we’re a hub of medical device activity here,” Daisley said.

“What’s exciting about this is that it’s Nashville now collaborating with Memphis, which hasn’t always been the case.”

With four to six teams accepted each year, applicants ranged from as far away as Russia, Spain and Algeria, he said. Typically, about half are from Tennessee. Like the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and the University of Memphis, Vanderbilt will work with the accelerator program to recommend candidates that fit, Daisley said.

Bioworks’ program since 2012 shares in an annual $250,000 regional “Launch Tennessee” grant from the state Department of Economic Development.

As home to medical device makers including Smith & Nephew, Wright Medical, Microport and Medtronic’s spine business, Memphis has the state’s largest ecosystem for newcomers to the industry. The U.S. Census counted 56 medical device companies and key suppliers employing 5,000 workers in 2012 in the Memphis area.

“One of the fantastic things about Memphis and ZeroTo510 is the access to resources and people,” Weaver said. “There are a lot of other trade places that are very innovative, but here in Memphis you’re really able to sit down with CEOs of medical device companies or regional medical facilities in a way that you can’t do in other towns.”

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