This is Our Story.
This is Our Story.
Watch Ken and Kurt’s Video
‘We met our future business partner while working in the materials lab in college.’
In the early 1990s Ken Gall and Kurt Jacobus crossed paths at the University of Illinois. Studying mechanical engineering, one as an undergraduate and the other a graduate student, they shared an interest in materials science and met while working in the same lab. When Jacobus changed labs after finishing his master’s thesis, Gall took over and completed their project for his doctoral program. This fueled his interest in inventing new materials and making those materials applicable to the medical industry.
‘I am intrigued by how materials behave and how we can make them stronger, lighter, faster, and less expensive to produce.’
In 2005, after becoming tenured at University of Colorado, Gall received an offer to teach at Georgia Institute of Technology. Georgia Tech, which has one of the top biomedical departments in the country, provided Gall with the opportunity to not only teach, but also further his laboratory research on new materials.
As a former athlete and CrossFit enthusiast, Gall set out to make a product that would create a synergy between human performance and sports medicine. He reconnected with Jacobus, who also was living in Atlanta at the time and working as a business consultant, with the intent of bringing him on board. After some convincing, Jacobus left his steady job to become the CEO of MedShape, a new startup company utilizing a proprietary shape memory technology. This unique technology would be implanted in surgical patients’ bodies to fix injuries by transforming and adapting once inside.
‘Take advantage of resources that are available to you.’
Gall used his faculty status at Georgia Tech to start MedShape out of VentureLab, a Georgia Tech incubator that brings faculty, staff, and students’ research and ideas to market. To date VentureLab, has helped develop more than 300 startup ideas and the formation of 150 companies. It was recently named the No. 2 university-based incubator in the United States.
As with any startup, finding funding was critical to MedShape’s success. During an entrepreneur class targeted to Georgia Tech students interested in starting their own company, Gall and Jacobus often talk about the importance of knowing your community and potential resources that are available. They discuss how there are numerous funding opportunities based on need and type of company being started.
For Gall and Jacobus, they applied for and won funding from the Georgia Research Alliance, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health. These grants, coupled with support from angel investors in the Atlanta community, helped to launch MedShape.
‘What we originally invented in the lab didn’t work. It’s important to always have a backup plan.’
After Gall and Jacobus secured the initial funding, they continued to develop their research. It wasn’t always easy. In fact, there were many hurdles at the beginning, including one that could have been disastrous for many startups. Just as they were getting U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval on their first product, they discovered there was a small chance the product would fail inside the human body. They made the ethical decision and quickly chose not to release the product. Fortunately, they had numerous other projects in the research stage and within six months were back seeking FDA approval. This time it was on a better, more durable product, which became MedShape’s first product to the hit market and is still their most successful product to date.
Another challenge they faced through the formidable years was acquiring a first rate sales team while only having a couple products to market to doctors. After those initial years, they were able to grow their portfolio, which has allowed them to build a knowledgeable and reliable sales force.
Gall and Jacobus pushed through these obstacles and have created a company that is improving surgery success rates one patient at a time.
‘You can really change the world by inventing new materials.’
It’s been 10 years since MedShape took its’ first product from lab to market. In that time, the company has developed six products and project it will be release two more each year for the foreseeable future. Gall and Jacobus not only found success in developing their own company, but their products are changing lives:
- A professional athlete experienced a season-ending gruesome injury that would normally sideline someone for at least 16 months. His surgeon was introduced to the MedShapes Morphix® product and by utilizing the suture anchor technology to repair soft tissue damage; this athlete was back on the playing field in eight weeks.
- A young woman with an agonizing bunion was having difficulty being on her feet during her day job. Her doctor used MedShape’s FastForward™ Bunion Correction System to use suture tape during surgery instead of drilling through the bone. She was able to return to work in three weeks and experienced less pain than the more traditional corrective surgery.
- A diabetic was told her badly diseased ankle – which underwent two unsuccessful fusion attempts – needed amputation. After researching alternatives herself, she approached her doctor with MedShape’s DynaNail® solution. Not only does she still have her foot, but today she is able to walk.
‘You have been able to attract and retain people that have a commitment to what you are doing.’
When hiring, Gall and Jacobus focus on building a company around two main character traits – people who possess a high level of skill in a given area and/or people who are highly motivated and willing to learn and work hard. For them, it’s important that team share their values around improving human health.
For entrepreneurs looking to start their own company, Gall will always give the advice that it’s vital to be resilient. Gall says, “There will be a lot of ups and many times more downs when starting and building a business, but try things and continue to try things. Get started when you have the idea and keep working at it. It will take time, but it will be worth it.” Jacobus’ advice is to always have a back-up plan and properly finance your business. “It’s hard to grow a business with limited sources of financing,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to ask or you may miss opportunities.”
‘We are excited to see what the future holds.’
Jacobus adds that, “As a founder, you need to be all in. You have to commit. Unless your original career is closely tied to your startup, it’s difficult to have another job on the side while trying to launch a new company.”
Gall says, “To create a company from the ground up is special. But to create a product that allows candidates for amputation the ability to walk again, is extremely powerful”.
Ken Gall and Kurt Jacobus were nominated for Faces of Manufacturing by Dr. Naresh Thadhani, Chair, School of Materials Science and Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
Founded in 2005, MedShape is the innovation of Ken Gall, a Georgia Institute of Technology professor, who took his research from his lab to the market. Pairing up with Kurt Jacobus, the CEO of MedShape, the company now employs 20 people and has a portfolio of six forward-thinking products. They are also committed to releasing two additional products each year. Based in Atlanta, MedShape products use shape memory biomaterials to improve the technology of soft tissue fixation, fracture repair, and joint fusions. MedShape products are being used by world-renowned surgeons in the United States and seven additional countries.