Richard Stevens love for science began in an unlikely
way. As publication editor for various health care and scientific
organizations, Stevens never imagined his degree in journalism
from Ohio University would lead to him owning a medical device
company. In fact, hes created two successful companies
based on technology transfer from academia, and in so doing,
has made important contributions to the medical community.
In 1985, he and William Zabriskie launched Medical Advances,
Inc. (MAI) a business built on patented technology
transfer from the Medical College of Wisconsin. The
resulting product provided a better picture when doing magnetic
resonance imaging (MRI) procedures, says Stevens. It
gave doctors greater clarity on what was happening inside
the body, and therefore, more confidence in making a diagnosis.
Stevens got his first taste of the health care environment
during college writing news releases and other articles for
Akron General Hospital and the Ohio Department of Corrections
and Mental Health. After graduation, he worked at Battelle
Memorial Institute the largest private research lab
in the world and Chemical Abstracts Services before
landing at the General Electric Company (GE) in 1968.
Stevens began his 17-year career at GE as a press relations
specialist and subsequently moved into positions in advertising,
internal corporate communications and marketing communications.
He spent five years in materials technologies in the silicone
products department and became fascinated with the many possibilities
for silicone and plastic in medical applications. During this
time, Stevens had the opportunity to get to know GE legend,
After holding management assignments in the Medical Development
Operation, Chemical Development Operation, and Components
and Materials Group at GE, Stevens devoted the next 11 years
to GEs Medical Systems Group. As manager of computed
tomography (CT) marketing, he orchestrated the major product
introduction of the CT 9800.
It was May 1985 when Stevens received a call from the Medical
College to discuss a new product idea an accessory
item to MRI systems. Also in the briefing session was Zabriskie,
another long-time GE employee with years of manufacturing
and engineering experience.
The new invention was radio frequency (RF) coils a
type of technology used to enhance specific anatomical areas
of the body in MRI studies, thus transforming the quality
of MRI images. The inventor was James S. Hyde, Ph.D., professor
of biophysics and radiology at the Medical College.
RF coils act as antennae to receive, or transmit and receive,
radio frequency signals from the body. These signals are processed
by the MRI system computer for reconstruction into diagnostic
images. Providing the ultimate in resolution, the coils increase
utilization and profitability of MRI systems by enabling faster,
clearer and more detailed images that result in more accurate
and cost-effective diagnosis.
The Medical College wanted to transfer their technology to
a company or entrepreneur who understood the market and the
customer someone who could turn the technology into
a marketable product.
Before technology transfer can occur, an institution must
prove as a first principle that the technology indeed works.
The transferor must also understand the products
marketability. The invention cant just be a star in
the lab it has to work in the real world, too. Product
engineering is the buyers responsibility, as they must
prove the technology is reproducible and marketable.
Continued collaboration between transferor and transferee
is crucial to success, even once licensing agreements are
finalized. The technologist must be transferred
with the technology, says Stevens. Its extremely
important to keep the inventor involved, as this person is
a wealth of knowledge. He or she understands the basic principles
of the invention better than anyone else. They know how the
product was built, how its used, and any obstacles of
In the case of Medical Advances, the brains behind their
core product played an active role in the company up until
its acquisition. Unlike most scientists, Hyde possessed industry
experience and served as director and chief technical advisor
for MAI and was also one of its investors.
Regarding being funded privately, Stevens says, We
wanted to keep the investment local and have a close relationship
with our investors, rather than engage a venture capital firm.
A product line derived from Medical College technology was
a major draw for investors.
Medical Advances started out with five patents and two RF
coils one for the cervical spine and one for the lumbar
spine. Within 60 days of opening its doors, the company made
its first sale valued at $22,000. Dividing their business
between OEM sales to major diagnostic imaging companies and
direct sales to end-user customers, Medical Advances broke
even within its first year of business and quickly became
the leading designer, developer, manufacturer, marketer and
servicer of RF coils worldwide.
Within five years, Medical Advances grew 700 percent, and
in 1991 made it on the Inc. 500 list of Americas fastest-growing
private companies. Their product line eventually encompassed
a variety of anatomical applications, including the wrist,
abdomen, lower extremity (foot, ankle, and knee), breast,
head/neck, pelvic, shoulder and more.
In 1993, Medical Advances became the first tenant at the
Technology Innovation Center (TIC) at the Milwaukee County
Research Park in Wauwatosa. The location provided convenient
access to the Medical College where Stevens and his team worked
side by side with scientists and clinicians in product development
and testing. At its height, MAI employed 80 people and occupied
27,000 square feet in the TIC. The Center was able to
easily accommodate our rapid growth, shares Stevens.
After 12 successful years in business and 12 patents under
the MAI name, Stevens and Zabriskie decided it was time to
pursue other interests. They put the company into play after
developing a strategy for horizontal and vertical integration,
addressing how Medical Advances fit with other businesses.
Their employees were an important consideration in the acquisition
process. Would Medical Advances survive under new management?
Stevens and Zabriskie wanted to ensure their people would
be taken care of.
In March 1997, Medical Advances was sold to Intermagnetics
General Corporation (IMGC) a publicly traded company
on the AMEX and later the NASDAQ whose core product was a
superconductive MRI magnet. The companys profitability
and similar product application made IMGC especially attractive
to Stevens and Zabriskie.
Under new ownership, Medical Advances remained at the TIC
for seven years before moving out and consolidating with another
company, MRI Devices. Stevens stayed on with IMGC serving
as vice president and general manager of the Medical Advances
division until he began a new business venture in 2002. IMGC
was later acquired by Dutch multi-national giant, Philips
Electronics, in November 2006.
Stevens now serves as president and CEO of Molecular Specialties,
Inc., also known as MOLSPEC, a new company he formed
with James Hyde. Like Medical Advances, the company relies
on university-based technology transfer to create niche products
that address specialty market needs. Focused on molecular
dynamics, their product scope is resonance technology, particularly
the spectrum from MRI through nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)
and on to electron spin resonance (ESR/EPR). Also located
at the TIC, MOLSPECs distinct ties to the scientific
and technology communities are well-served at this location.
As a successful entrepreneur who understands the ins and
outs of licensing intellectual property, Stevens offers words
of wisdom to those seeking a similar career path. Dont
do it because you think youre going to get rich. That
only gets in the way of being successful. Rather, do it because
you have the passion to overcome obstacles and the vision
that your business will prosper. If the business is a success,
you will be rewarded in many ways.