‘Best Kept Secret’ MDC Provides Path for Medical Device Innovations

In the heart of pharmaceutical and medical innovation lies an undiscovered treasure that provides a pathway for med-tech innovation, the Maryland Development Center (MDC). The center is a MedTech Startup Studio that works with inventors to develop their ideas into working prototypes and marketable products.

MDC Chief Executive Officer Deborah Hemingway, who was appointed to the role in January, called the organization one of the “best-kept secrets” in Baltimore. Since its founding in 2016 by Dr. Gil Blankenship, a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, the MDC has provided engineering support, business development services in order to create and support companies commercializing medical devices. The mission is simple, the MDC wants to help build tools for use in medical practice.

Hemingway quipped they do not believe there is such a thing as “too early” when it comes to following through on this mission. She said they want to capture some of the ideas for medical devices that could be otherwise lost by an inability to move forward. The MDC focused on medical devices and instruments used in a hospital setting, primarily those that could be used in an operating room. Many of the ideas posed to the MDC come from surgeons and doctors who have ideas, but also have thriving medical practices.  

“We want those innovations. We love back of the napkin ideas,” she said. “It could be as complex as robotic surgery, or as small as a mechanical device.”

MDC Chief Executive Officer, Deborah Hemingway

Once an idea for a medical device is proposed to the MDC, it undergoes a rigorous screening process to determine feasibility and marketability. Hemingway said the screening takes about two weeks. She called the process “robust.” MDC screeners take a deep dive into the market and look at the IP landscape for existing patents that may become problematic for the startup, as well as technical and scientific feasibility, product market and the market size.

The complexity of a proposed device is not a driver in the decision of the MDC, Hemingway said. Rather, she said their primary driver is the current market landscape and feasibility of the product making an impact.

“We look for problems that really need to be addressed, must-haves,” she said.

If the idea passes the screening, the entrepreneurs can be admitted to the program and receive a $100,000 grant to support its launch. Those funds used by MDC come from private investors and non-dilutive capital, Hemingway noted. That seed money isn’t the only funding the startups will secure. Many of the companies MDC works with also have additional financing available. There is also grant funding that can be secured. MDC can also help the startups with grant writing to secure additional funding.

“We have a very hands-on approach. We don’t just tell you what to do, we do it with you,” Hemingway said.

One of the companies supported by MDC is NeuroSonics Medical, which is developing a novel, patented focused ultrasound device that will provide a minimally invasive alternative to cranial flap resections to remove large and complex brain tumors. Nao J. Gamo, co-founder and chief executive officer of the company, touted the support of MDC for its client companies. She praised the mission of the organization and lauded the vision that Hemingway has brought.

Since joining MDC two months ago, Hemingway said she has developed an internal, three-year structured program for the organization. The program focuses on technical development, engineering, team building and recruitment, business development and the regulatory landscape.

Hemingway said MDC wants to make sure the startup companies they support look good on these fronts and then help find additional funding for them. With this new program in mind, Hemingway said there is opportunity for growth of the organization. Typically, MDC focuses on four startups each year, but there is room to expand, she said.

“There are lots of need in Baltimore for an institute like MDC. There is also a lot of need across the state,” Hemingway said. She is also eying ways in which MDC can expand beyond Baltimore and boost other entrepreneurs across the state.

Additionally, MDC is in the process of raising an opportunity zone fund, which can be used to provide additional capital for supported companies. MDC is also looking at expanding its relationship with universities across the state.

In addition to NeuroSonics, other MDC client companies include Next Step Robotics and Sonosa Medical. In all, MDC has eight client companies, with six ready to move out from under its umbrella, and three more just accepted into the program.

“We want to create jobs in Baltimore. That’s a key point of what we’re doing,” Hemingway said.

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Alex Keown is a freelance journalist who writes about a variety of subjects including the pharma, biotech, and life science industries. Prior to freelancing, Alex has served as a staff writer and editor for several publications.