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Memphis Tennessee / Source: Wikimedia Commons and Christopher Boyd Jr

Walking in Memphis: Revving Up Your R&D

Jessica Mehta • Thu, June 1st, 2017

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In the history of spine and orthopedic innovation, Memphis is legendary.

Richards. Smith & Nephew. Sofamor Danek. Wright Medical.

All emerged from an engineering hotbed that is Memphis.

MB Innovations (MBI), which was founded and is supported by many of the same engineers who were behind these start up legends, is now ready to outsource the Memphis style to every orthopedic, spine or trauma company who wants to upgrade their product development.

The engineering co-founder is Mike Sherman. He has put on his blue suede shoes and recruited a top team for to deliver research and development, business development, and strategic development to companies who want to grow by innovation.

Sherman founded the company in December 2011 while at MB Venture Partners LLC where he was a partner from 2006 to 2015. In 2016, he transitioned to the role of Venture Partner, providing time to take on MBI full time. In its earliest incubator stages, MBI was fostered inside MB Ventures Partners facilities.

MBI is now housed inside Emerge Memphis, an incubator for the Mid-South region. MBI has tapped into the Memphis area’s logistics assets, which are world class, obviously.

MBI has also attracted some of the top local talent, who know the importance of speed, finesse, innovation and engineering excellence in spine, orthopedics and trauma development.

In Memphis, MBI taps into a deep, rich talent pool. For clients, this means that MBI can deliver any skill set—instrument maintenance, independent review, vendor or process optimization, concurrent engineering help—a one-stop solution, in other words.

MBI’s specialty is creating intellectual property and technology that serves as the foundation for successful new ventures. Through a differentiating risk-sharing model, MBI partners are able to direct capital upstream while MBI simultaneously enjoys an economic reward downstream. The win-win situation is based on a discover, develop, deliver approach.

Speed to market with a laser-focused product development accuracy is the key. MBI’s team focuses on five sectors: spine, ortho reconstruction, sports medicine, extremities, and trauma.

Dishing It Up

MBI will ultimately offer its clients a “napkin sketch to FDA [Food and Drug Administration] approval,” suite of services including:

  • CAD & Drafting Services
  • Component Sourcing
  • Concept Brainstorming & Development
  • Design FMEA (Failure modes and effects analysis)
  • Design Reviews
  • Design Validation
  • Documentation
  • FEA (finite element assessment)
  • IP (Intellectual Property) Research
  • Manufacturing
  • Manufacturing Procedures & Training
  • Packaging Design & Validation
  • Project Management
  • Prototyping
  • Quality System (Design History Files, DMRs, etc.)
  • Risk Analysis
  • Specifications (Components & Assemblies)
  • Technical Reports
  • Tool & Fixture Design
  • Transfer Process
  • Verification Testing & Reports

MBI’s Dream Team

In addition to Sherman, MBI has added Dimitri Protopsaltis and Charlie Barfield to manage design and development. Together, Sherman, Protopsaltis and Barfield have over 75 years of design and development experience, more than 130 patents issued between them, and an unparalleled record of product commercialization at firms like Expanding Orthopedics, Grace Medical, Medtronic, Synthes and Sofamor Danek. Gary Stevenson, also of MB Venture Partners, serves on the board of directors.

Behind the Making of MBI—and Mike Sherman

For Sherman, MBI is a dream long in the making. He says what makes it so unique, beyond the incredible skillsets of the team, is the business model flexibility MBI is more than happy to tackle. Sherman tells Orthopedics This Week that:

“I think we are a truly uniquely talented group of orthopedic product development engineers with a broader than usual array of experiences that stretch across the industry (spine, trauma, sports, extremities, recon and even ENT). We aim to be a full-service R&D department for hire whether that is just design and development work or strategic assessment as part of a business development effort or IP development and even defense or prosecution…We can work for a fixed monthly fee, an hourly rate, equity, a royalty, milestones or for any combination.”

Although both Sherman’s educational and career background seem like a natural leadup to creating MBI, he says, “The truth is, I am the son of a physician and I had an orthopedic issue as a kid. That led me to pursue biomedical engineering in college and graduate school and drove me to focus on orthopedics in my career.” For Sherman, that personal touch has been a driving factor and he says, “No regrets whatsoever!”

When asked what he would tell orthopedic surgeons about how MBI might directly benefit them, Sherman said, “We are particularly skilled in translating your significant surgical problems into device solutions.  We are also fully capable of taking your ideas and thoughts on inventions and helping to turn them into functional implants and instruments.”

Sherman, who regularly lectures at universities to engineering and business students, says that he thinks the toughest part of product development and invention isn’t necessarily problem solving. Instead, it’s pinpointing the right problems to solve in the first place. Once they’re identified, “solving them is straightforward for an experienced team. I would tell surgeons to partner with us,” he says. “Identify your ‘pain-points’ in surgery, and let’s develop solutions.”

Like everything else in his life, Sherman was precise and exacting when choosing MBI’s startup team. He hired Protopsaltis 12 years ago while working at Medtronic. When Sherman transitioned to MB Venture Partners, he brought Protopsaltis with him, hiring him into one of his portfolio companies. Now, MBI is the third company where the two have worked together. Protopsaltis is “one of the most talented individuals I’ve ever worked with.”

Sherman met Barfield through Protopsaltis. The two engineers worked together at a previous firm. Sherman says, calling Barfield “top-notch” and says, “he brings an enormous amount of experience in the reconstructive-orthopedic sector” to MBI.

Meet the MBI Power Duo

Sherman, Protopsaltis, and Barfield are three names the medical device community will be seeing a lot of in coming months.

Mike Sherman

Sherman joined MB Venture Partners 11 years ago, after 16 years at another Memphis-based company, Medtronic Sofamor Danek (MSD). MSD is a subsidiary of Medtronic. During his first nine years at MSD, he developed and commercialized a number of product lines. Sherman became Vice President of Technology Development at MSD in 1999 where he took charge of directing a product management team specializing in minimally invasive, motion-preserving solutions. In this role, Sherman also oversaw technical/business due diligence for acquisitions, strategic investments, and in-licensing activities.

Sherman has also worked for Synthes and Richards Medical. He has secured more than 125 issued U.S. patents for a variety of inventions. With a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Texas Southwestern Graduate School, Sherman has always had a keen interest in biomedical engineering and related industries. Currently, he serves as Chairman of the Board at MB Innovations and on several additional boards for complementary companies including Expanding Orthopedics, Veracity Medical and Zyga Technologies.

Dimitri Protopsaltis

Before Protopsaltis was in medical design, he was designing and inventing toys. In Chicago, he worked for a small but respected small toy development and invention company that created products for larger companies. There were only about 30 people, and Protopsaltis describes it as an “anything goes environment.” He says, “We were free to be as creative as possible and explore any direction we could. MBI is just like that environment.”

According to Protopsaltis, at MBI, “We have the freedom to explore and look at innovative solutions really quickly. It’s easy to collaborate with our team because everyone has something to offer, from deep analytical research and analysis to the industrial design and making everything look cool to the business and manufacturing side as well. We also love what we do.” However, Protopsaltis says MBI’s big advantage is how the company works with clients and surgeons. Building trust in those relationships, involving clients in every step, allows for the best results.

He also has a personal connection to the world of orthopedics. After a severe rock climbing accident in 1999, Protopsaltis went through a year of physical therapy and wheelchair restriction. At the PT’s office, there was a prosthetic fabrication facility on site. “They made all these cool prosthetics with carbon fiber and had titanium parts and aluminum and all these exotic materials that I was in awe of,” he recalls.

I said to myself, ‘I need to start looking in to this.’ Help people, design and build cool stuff. One thing led to another and I find myself in the medical design and development field for almost 16 years now. I have designed for ENT, OB, ophthalmic, spine and orthopedics. And it has been just as creative and exciting as designing toys. But I get to help people in the end.

Take a Walk in Memphis

It’s certainly rare to find this level of experience and talent in an R&D, product development house. But, here they are under the MBI banner. If you want to grow your company with innovative products, MBI has to be a stop along that journey.

So, take a walk to Memphis. Or plane, whatever.

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