Innovation from concept to commercialization: our SEMDA 2017 takeaways

 In Conference, News

At this time last year we were in full ‘go mode’ for SEMDA 2016 in Nashville, the flagship event’s first foray outside of metro Atlanta. Amazingly SEMDA 2017 is already in the rear view mirror. As we put the program and the people together, we knew we had something special and everyone delivered. We hope your experience at SEMDA 2017 was of high value and that you will continue to use us as a resource for connectivity within the Southeastern medtech ecosystem year round.

For those not able to attend here are a just a few of the event’s many highlights: concept to commercialization.

The plenaries and keynotes

Aimee Copeland shared her inspiring story of surviving necrotizing fasciitis, a rare flesh-eating bacteria that took all four of her limbs – both arms below the elbow, her right leg below the knee, and her left leg almost to her hip. Her words struck a chord with every person in the room: physicians, innovators, investors and healthcare professionals alike. She provided us a glimpse into the patient’s point of view. Her story served as a vivid reminder as to why we continue to innovate- to better patients’ experience and save lives. When learning how to tie her hair into a ponytail, Aimee shared, it took her over 200 tries. She attempted a different strategy on try 201 and she got it.

“If I would have given up when I was frustrated during my 100th try I would have never figured it out,” Aimee said. “If I ‘won’t’ do something, it’s because I don’t want to. If my will is fully in it, any goal is accomplishable. And if you don’t get it, you probably didn’t want it bad enough.”

Aimee Copeland

Regarding the patient experience, Aimee said, “People like to talk about themselves. All you have to do is ask them: in person, with no ego. Ask the about the experience, not the device. Bring the conversation down to everyday life for device improvement. Make it more open ended and you might [learn something] you didn’t expect. If you ask something too specific you might miss out on something of high value.”

Thank you, Aimee. We are grateful you shared your story with us.

Don Turner, Global Head, Commercialization, IBM Watson Health spoke during lunch on day one of SEMDA 2017. He focused on cognitive systems, their impact on the future of healthcare and how innovation must be a collaborative effort. Engineers and developers must be creating and meeting clinical needs with the end user in mind- the physicians. He provided a valuable perspective on medtech innovation, especially for the early stage medical device companies, entrepreneurs, and physician innovators.

Dr. William E. “Billy” Cohn, VP for Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies and the Director of the new Center for Device Innovation at the Texas Medical Center in Houston really blew us all away! I am not sure if anyone was expecting to receive a complete timeline of the development of the artificial heart, but that is exactly what he gave us. The point? Innovation is a process that can sometimes take decades and definitely takes a village. The first practical and total artificial heart is on the horizon after thousands of hours of research, hundreds of large animal studies, and all of the devices that have preceded current technologies in use and the continual advancements that follow on decades of innovation.

The politics of innovation

On day 2 of SEMDA, GCMI and T3 Labs CEO, Tiffany Wilson took the main stage to lead the panel “The Politics of Innovation.” She curated a power packed panel featuring Craig Buerstatte, Director, Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship for the US Department of Commerce, Russ Lipari, Founder & CEO of Health Connect South, and Ashley Wittorf, Executive Director & Sr. Vice President of AdvaMed Accel. The four discussed the current political landscape and how it influences investment in innovation in the US medtech industry.

The takeaways were many but to highlight a few…

  • Cuts to NIH are not likely but other cuts may happen so get involved and engage the organizations that communicate to Congress to ensure innovation is funded.
  • FDA operates on a pendulum- right now it is more collaborative. We hear often from the FDA “please come and talk to us.”
  • State representatives do not know what you need until you tell them. If they are going to advocate for you they need to know why. Make sure to be succinct with why what you do matters. Know your audience.

Insights from SEMDA breakout sessions led by industry leaders 

  • In the session “Immigration Compliance for Employers: Practical Advice for Uncertain Times” one piece of knowledge that definitely stood out was that over-compliance (having your employee provide more than the required identification documents) when submitting I-9 forms is actually not compliant.
  • Startups and physician innovators, alike, received practical advice from Baker Hostetler and DePuy Synthes during the session “IP Protection Strategies for Emerging Medical Device Companies.” The takeaways? Make sure you are aware of what you actually own with your IP and narrow your claims when filing patents- knowing that your claims can be amended and even added, provided of course the initial disclosure is broad enough to cover the added or amended claim. Expand your patent claims in the United States before investing in multiple international patents. For example, unless you are manufacturing in Sri Lanka, then you shouldn’t spend the dollars to obtain a patent there.
  • Large companies are not immune to data security hacks and are in some cases more of a target than smaller firms. During the session “The Pacemaker Hack: Unpacking Risk Scenarios for Integrated Medical Devices” it was stressed that data breach is an issue for everyone- not just the IT team. The panel did point out, though, that the FDA has recently stepped up its efforts to combat the hacking of medical devices.
  • During the session” Beyond the press release: Integrated marketing strategies for medtech and med device,” we learned from each level of the organization that PR isn’t something that you can just hand off to an agency- as a medical device company you need to stay hands on and be the eyes and ears of your product users, patients, and sponsors. For marketing efforts to prove successful there should be engagement from the C-suite through to the program directors.

So many thank you’s

At the risk of missing someone, I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to our outgoing Chair, Chris Lyons, Conference Chair Neely Carlton, Conference Programming  Chair Kornelius Bankston, and Rob Natowitz for their conference program and PitchRounds Road Show leadership. A special thanks to Colette Inomata for her tireless work on behalf of the organization as a whole. Finally, thank you to all of our sponsors and producers without which none of this is possible.

Neely Carlton

Congratulations Patientory!

After scouring the Southeast during our six-stop PitchRounds Road Shows, 21 medtech startup and early growth stage companies met with investors and pitched their businesses to 19 investors, corporate development professionals, and industry experts at SEMDA 2017. When the dust settled, Chrissa McFarlane, founder and CEO of healthcare blockchain solution provider Patientory, walked away with $10,000 and a slot to present at AdvaMed 2017.

Congratulations Chrissa and crew! Good luck at AdvaMed!

Stay involved year round

SEMDA does not take a hiatus after the annual conference. Stay involved and learn more about the resources available to medical device innovators by engaging SEMDA. One thing is for sure, we are already counting down the days until #SEMDA2018 in Greenville, South Carolina! In the meantime, follow SEMDA on LinkedIn and Twitter for the latest.

What did you think? How was your SEMDA 2017 experience? What would you like to see more of? How can we increase the value of your experience in future editions? Email