September is National Peripheral Artery Disease Awareness month. In view of this, today’s show is an edited re-broadcast of two shows from November 2017. Kym McNicholas and I interview Ra Medical founder, Dean Irwin. Dean shares his unusual path to medical innovation with some key lessons for innovators.
From TV Tubes to Thermonuclear Fusion
Dean started his journey of lifelong learning and discovery as a kid. Tinkering with old television sets led to working in a television repair shop as an early teen. He was self-taught, reading about electronics and buying test equipment with paper route money. Innate curiosity and boldness brought him to the door of Universal Voltronics at 16. That cold call opened the door to designing circuits. People came alongside. They taught Dean the corporate ropes and helped him develop his technical skills. It was here he had a chance to work with an M.I.T. group on the Alcator program. This introduction to thermonuclear fusion opened a new world for Dean.
At 17, Dean moved from the east coast to California and joined General Atomics. The physicists gave him exposure to different areas and helped him determine his strength in Applied Physics. With experience gained at General Atomics, Dean launched his first startup. He built custom designed equipment for General Atomics. He was 21. After a good run of six years, his company went bankrupt. Going through the bankruptcy was a learning experience. As Dean says, “You actually build up a tool chest to help you navigate.” It gives you the “hindsight” to help “predict some of these issues before they arise.”
Charting a New Path
The bankruptcy didn’t stop him. He teamed up with another startup. This was the beginning of Dean’s foray into medical innovation. Believe it or not, thermonuclear fusion was the groundwork for the medical innovation he spearheads today. According to Dean, the path was straight. And it was a clear link between thermonuclear fusion and designing a treatment for atherosclerotic disease. In fact, the transition from repairing televisions to working in thermonuclear fusion was no great leap. Dean has an innate curiosity. His transfer of knowledge and skills in one field to a seemingly unrelated field boils down to one question. Why not? The principles are the same with different constraints.
The Ra Medical excimer laser has proven itself in over 500 cases. It’s used in six countries and has gained FDA approval. It’s ease of use while cutting through plaque sets this product apart. Add to this the positive patient outcome and cost-efficiency.
Dean connected similarities from nuclear fusion to medical innovation. This has produced a design that is definitively outside of the box. Others said it would not work. Engineers, scientists and physicians were skeptical. Unfazed by naysayers, Dean persevered. He didn’t let innovation antibodies distract him. He kept focus on the medical innovation that will impact people’s lives. Breaking from the mold, he’s developed a product that is truly innovative.
Are you battling innovation antibodies? Need some help with your innovation. Connect to a community of innovators who support each other through the innovation process? Join The Innovators Community.