13 Apr Vector Surgical hopes to turn frustration into faster surgeries
Surgeons have little enough time without spending inordinate amounts of it on rote procedures. For Milwaukee-area general surgeon Michael Phillips, frustration with having to spend four to five minutes to mark tissue cut out during cancer surgeries led to the creation of the MarginMarker and a company to sell it, Vector Surgical.
Vector is one of 20 finalists in this year’s Governor’s Business Plan Contest. The finalists were picked by independent judges from a field of 49 semifinalists earlier this month. They have until May 4 to submit final business plans to the Wisconsin Technology Council, which is producing the contest along with its membership subsidiary, the Wisconsin Innovation Network Foundation and other groups.
Judging will take place throughout May, and the winners will be announced June 7 in Milwaukee. The grand prize in this year’s contest is $50,000.
MarginMarker is a single-use device that helps surgeons orient excised tissue in cancer-related surgical procedures much more quickly than they can with the traditional suturing method. Usually a surgeon will indicate the original position of excised tissue with sutures to ensure that enough area is cut away and removed. With the MarginMarker device, a surgeon would be able to use a sterile ink pad to orient the tissue in about 20 seconds.
Vector Surgical also has developed a second product, EndoMarker, that can be inserted through a laparoscopic trocar, or tube, during surgery and allows marking of tissue for mesh placement (as in a hernia surgery) or removal.
“The devices we developed, the two we currently have going, came out of areas in my practice that I thought … could be done better,” said Phillips, who invented the devices.
His wife, Janet Phillips, runs the company and said the development of MarginMarket and EndoMarker was “a matter of being involved in a procedure and getting frustrated that one doesn’t have the tools that make things as easy as possible.”
“Whenever he feels that kind of frustration, then he thinks, ‘What kind of tool might make this easier?'” she said. “That’s the initial inspiration.”
That inspiration came late last year, and Vector only has been in existence since January 2. Despite the short time frame, Vector has projected that it will have MarginMarket prototype ready by June and that production and sales will begin in the fall of this year. The company has gathered an experienced team to support its efforts in patent applications, FDA approval, marketing and strategy formation.
Michael Phillips brings 20 years of surgical experience and 12 years of teaching laparoscopic surgery to the venture, while Janet Phillips has the advantage of 20 years of business experience, most recently a three-year stint with a Milwaukee-based bioinformatics start-up company, where she led beta testing operations with surgeons and other physicians.
Vector will be working with Converting Biophile Laboratories in Fond du Lac to manufacture the two products. CBL supplies medical device components to several well-known companies, including Medtronic, 3M and Boston Scientific. “They have a lot of experience in the industry, and they’re experts in figuring out the manufacturing process for this type of product,” Janet Phillips said. “We’re really pleased to be able to work with them.”
She added that she was “really shocked” at the amount of help, particularly the number of different grant and low-interest loan programs, available in the state for technology entrepreneurs. The contest came up “in the throes of searching for what all he different options are,” she said.
Michael and Janet Phillips are spending $180,000 of their own money to start the company and are looking to raise about $280,000 total, which they estimate is the amount needed to achieve profitability. In the mean time, the workshops and networking made available during this process have been “wonderful,” Janet Phillips said.
“The process is worth it, even if we don’t make it all the way to the dollars at the end,” she said. “We’d love to be at the end with funding, [but] it’s been a really great process.”