“We’re a safety company focused on safety in surgery,” Chris Doody, President and Chief Executive Officer of Knoxville-based SensorMed says.
“Everything we try to pursue is based on a need already identified in surgery,” he adds in describing the self-funded, three-year old start-up that is located in the University of Tennessee’s (UT) business incubator.
We recently sat down with Doody and William Milam, the company’s Vice President of Engineering, to learn more about SensorMed, its origins, its plans and the manner in which the two joined forces.
Doody is a Knoxville native who earned his undergraduate degree in Family Business and Entrepreneurship at Auburn University and his Master’s in Business Administration from UT’s Knoxville campus.
“I wanted to stay in Knoxville,” he explained, adding that his father, Dr. Michael Doody, a local surgeon, “would create devices that would help him in surgery.” One of those was a technology platform, patented in 2003 but not pursued until the younger Doody matched his desire to remain in Knoxville with the opportunity to commercialize his father’s invention.
Milam is a South Carolina native who came to Knoxville with Philips Electronics in 1995 and later joined Vig Sherrill at ASIC International, which was acquired later by Flextronics, before founding Telesensors.
“We (Telesensors) got walloped by the great recession in 2008,” Milam said, but not before Doody served an internship with the company.
A look around SensorMed’s office clearly underscores the duo’s respective roles. Doody had a relative clean desk, indicating his focus on the business and marketing roles. Milam, the engineer, had parts all around his desk.
As far as SensorMed’s focus, Doody talked about fire safety in operating rooms and the fact that surgical light cables, such as those attached to laparoscopic devices, are one of the main identified burn and fire hazards. When unattached to the scopes, he said that the cables can generate 450° of heat from the end closest to the patient and cause a fire or inflict third-degree skin burns in less than 10 seconds.
SensorMed is using Dr. Doody’s platform technology to sell both disposable and reusable “caps” that can be placed on the end of the surgical light cable to diffuse the heat. The product is called “CableCap.”
For the surgeon and hospital or surgery center, it is a welcome device. “When a surgeon needs light, he needs it right then,” Doody says, adding that “CableCap” can be removed or installed very quickly.
“CableCap” is the first of several products that the SensorMed team plans to bring along. Another addresses an issue that Doody says is “the greatest threat to a patient and most dangerous part of laparoscopy – access to the abdominal cavity.” He explained that more than 50 percent of the complications from this type of surgery occur during the “entry” or “access” phase of the procedure, which requires a physician to insert Veress needles and/trocars into the peritoneal space.
Doody explains that this is a process that relies on the surgeon using their instrument to “feel” their way through the various layers of the abdomen. Using SensorMed’s Veress needle guidance device, the surgeon receives a series of auditory and visual cues, signaling the Veress needle tip’s precise entry into the patient’s peritoneal cavity.
“The Veress guide will effectively eliminate the guess work,” Milam said and showed how it works using a grapefruit. “We are adding sight and sound to what has been the surgeon’s feel in the past.”
For SensorMed, it appears that generating ideas to commercialize is not a challenge, particularly with a surgeon who is also an inventor. Instead, it’s the “difficulty of taking it (a medical device technology) all the way when you’re a company of our size,” Doody says. “We can take a product idea from concept stage to commercially viable, but then we need to partner with others to bring it to market.”
Doody sees two options in the future for SensorMed – establish partnerships or a pursue significant funding to ramp-up of R & D, clinical work and the start-up’s team. “We are actively soliciting partnerships and have multiple possibilities,” he says. “The decision on what is best for us is under review now.”
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM PERSHING YOAKLEY & ASSOCIATES, 2012