But that doesn't mean innovation is dead. In fact, during the MD&M Minneapolis show, many of the companies I met with were poised to charge ahead with their own unique innovation platforms. Nature abhors a vacuum, and it was encouraging to see how new ideas will continue to drive this industry.
First, Medtronic has formed its own ventures division, designed to encourage its global employees to put forth ideas for early stage medical technologies. "We are not just thinking for the next 5–10 years," explains Ven Manda, vice president of MDT ventures and new therapies. "We are looking maintain innovation for 20–30 years." To do so, the company has allocated approximately 20% of its R&D budget (about $100,000,000 annually) to the most worthy ideas submitted by Medtronic staff.
To draw out those worthy ideas, Medtronic had to change its thinking, says Manda. "Failure had to become a valued part of the process." he says. "We have to encourage risks, but we want things to fail quickly and for the right reasons—that is, not because of poor execution, but because of poor outcome."
But innovation from large firms, such as Medtronic, is unexpected in this industry, primarily because the many firms (well, really including Medtronic) are the types that start out with a doctor's good idea or a few people tinkering in the garage. Humble and homegrown Eurekas are part of this industry's history and has become its mythology. But innovation is also coming from other unexpected sources.
I also met with Lake Region Medical, known primarily as a guidewire service provider and supplier. The company has begun spending more time at physician conferences to learn directly from healthcare practitioners. The company plans to work with the end user to develop and patent more complex parts that can be used in medical devices. "If we just supply the guidewire, then that is all we can hope to add to the process," says James Mellor, vice president of sales and marketing. However, Mellor believes that if Lake Region Medical can work directly with doctors, it will be able to create device components that offer real innovative benefit to finshed device firms.
"Leading medical device marketers are increasingly focused on core technologies and will rely on vendor partnering relationships to deliver R&D and manufacturing of critical, but non-core devices, such as guidewires and other interventional accessories," says Mellor. "For Lake Region Medical, the pressure on major medical device companies presents a growing opportunity to further serve the industry."
There is of course, no guarantee that these efforts will be able to drive innovation if economic, regulatory, and political climates do not make the necessary changes to provide the support. But it is encouraging to see that medical device firms are not just standing around waiting to see what will happen. If the best defense is a good offense (have you had enough of my metaphors yet?), maybe its time to get moving.
What ideas for innovation has your company instituted in the last year?