If there is one theme coming out of the regional medical startup community, it is "You can make it here." In other words, if you have a viable idea, Northeast Ohio's collaborative culture, fueled by forward-looking economic organizations and angel investors, will help elevate your bright idea to the next big thing, and hopefully far beyond. Five Cleveland and Akron healthcare companies at varying stages of growth shared the secrets of their success.
is a Chagrin Falls-based company that invented a device to identify pregnant women at high risk for a preterm birth, a leading cause of infant mortality and morbidity worldwide.
"Many health problems are related to being 'born too soon,'" says company co-founder and president Dean Koch. "We created the company anticipating the need for all pregnancies to be screened for preterm birth risk."
CerviLenz was founded in 2008. Best practices in obstetrics have changed since then, with more doctors examining the length of a patient's cervix as a factor in premature delivery. In the U.S., over 12 percent of pregnancies result in a preterm birth, says Koch.
The company's probe-like device is used during a routine pre-natal visit. While transvaginal ultrasound remains the "gold standard" in cervix examinations, the screening is expensive and is not offered by all practitioners, Koch says
"We have a huge market potential worldwide," says the company co-founder. "We have done the heavy lifting to be in the right spot, with the right product, at the right time."
Through work with BioEnterprise and other support organizations, CerviLenz has been able to raise enough capital to educate physicians on the screening process. By harnessing the market in the early going of its existence, Koch expects his company to undergo major growth within the next couple of years.
In fact, since launching as a company of one, Cervilenz will by year's end be a company of 14.
"There's a great culture here," he says. "We are developing the ideas, people and companies that will help define Cleveland in the future."
Finland-headquartered wireless network technology company 7signal Solutions
placed its network operations office in Akron’s Biomedical Corridor last year.
7signal's mission is to increase the performance of wireless networks in hospital settings through a software solution that eschews the upgrading of the entire network, says company founder Veli-Pekka Ketonen. The software supports Cisco, Motorola and other networks in performance management and other areas.
"Wireless networks are unreliable but widely used despite this," says Ketonen. Through 7signal's "Sapphire" software, "we've seen 100-percent to 300-percent increases in performance and capacity."
7signal landed in Northeast Ohio from the cold climes of Northern Europe in part due to the BioFinland Technology Bridge Program, established by Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic in 2010 with the city of Helsinki. The life-science incubator initiative introduced the company to Akron's robust hospital system. 7signal also receives support from the Akron Global Business Accelerator, the City of Akron and various support organizations and investor groups.
That business has caused the local office to jump in size from two to five employees.
"We are very satisfied with our choice," Ketonen says, pointing to aims of a $1 million sales goal by the end of 2012. "We will be actively expanding our business here."
SarahCare Adult Day Care Services
Dr. Merle Griff's father and both of her grandfathers were small business owners, so developing SarahCare Adult Day Care Services
was a natural extension of the family legacy.
Griff, a gerontologist with two decades of experience, created the program because she was unsatisfied with the elder-care options available for her mother, who had suffered a severe stroke. SarahCare is designed to individualize care for the elderly in a structured yet home-like environment.
SarahCare is built on the mantra "No situation is hopeless," no matter how complex a client's health-related needs, Griff says of her Strongsville-based multi-million dollar company that now boasts 11 locations in the U.S. Locally, the operation has increased in size from five to 42 people.
"Our services extend beyond the partcipant and direct caregiver," says Griff. "Our solution is tailored to each family's needs."
Providing creative solutions for local families is now easier in a region where healthcare innovation and education is a strength, she says.
While the region must continue to make itself a desirable place to live to keep homegrown healthcare talent, the knowledge coming out of its research facilities has helped foster SarahCare's success, Griff says.
When you get right down to it, Cleveland-based Cryothermic Systems
has a fairly straightforward reason behind its successful foray into the healthcare market. "We have a very effective, novel product that meets an unmet need," says president and CEO Mike Burke.
That need is a low-cost cerebral cooling device used by EMS and hospital ER departments. Cooling the brain protects it from neurologic damage suffered during cardiac arrest, stroke or traumatic brain injury.
The "Excel Cryo Cooling System" is simple and non-invasive -- a change from what the 40-year veteran of the healthcare industry had been used to seeing.
"Saving lives and improving outcomes for patients is very satisfying," says Burke.
Cryothermic Systems was founded in 2008. Its growth in the space was spurred by nonprofit business accelerator JumpStart, which offered advice in areas including marketing and human relations, says Burke. BioEnterprise, meanwhile, offered key contacts and support, while the medical device company received funding from the state-run Global Cardiovascular Innovation Center.
"We expect rapid growth," says Burke of his company's future. "We want to become the standard for pre-hospital and emergency room cooling."
As of now, the company employs five full-time employees.
Solon is the U.S. headquarters of Valtronic Technologies,
a Swiss company that designs and manufactures cochlear implants and other miniaturized medical devices. Valtronic has flourished in Northeast Ohio to the point where it had to relocate operations to a 60,000-square-foot facility in the Cleveland suburb's Fountain Parkway.
"We were busting," explains Patty Klavora, Valtronic's marketing and communications manager. The company employs nearly 100 staffers now.
Biomedical engineering and advanced electronics are among the firm's specialties.
If it's assisting in the design of a grain-sized part for a circuit board, Valtronic can get it done for you, Klavora says.
The company has many regional partners in its electronics miniaturization work. The Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network (MAGNET), for example, cultivated the creation of a high-powered laser used in pain management. Valtronic also has partnered with local academic powerhouses like Case Western Reserve University and The Ohio State University on other projects.
With these institutions as well as the Cleveland Clinic in town, "there's so much local talent and customers for us to support," Klavora says.