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Matthew MacEwan is the Founder / President of Retectix, LLC, a medical device company located in St. Louis, MO producing a novel line of implantable nanofabricated surgical meshes offering superior reliability, faster wound healing, and improved clinical outcomes for surgeons and health care providers.
Mr. MacEwan’s commercial experience includes founding and directing Retectix, LLC, (formerly NanoMed, LLC) a leader in nanofabricated surgical materials, and Red Rock Laboratories, LLC, a laboratory equipment manufacturer facilitating high-through assessment of laboratory animals. Mr. MacEwan is additionally MD/PhD Candidate at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO. Mr. MacEwan’s research experience focuses on applied nanotechnology, neural engineering, and regenerative medicine.
Throughout his time at Washington University, Mr. MacEwan has received multiple awards for his entrepreneurial work in the lifescience community, including the 2011 Olin Cup Award (Olin School of Business, Washington University), Grand Prize at the 2011 LES Global Business Plan Competition (International Licensing Executives Society), First Place at the 2011 I2P Global Competition (I2P, University of Texas), and Top 40 Under 40 in St. Louis (St. Louis Business Journal).
Mr. MacEwan was born in Houston, TX and attended preparatory school at The Hawken School in Cleveland, OH. Mr. MacEwan graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Biomedical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH with a specialization in polymer biomaterials / biomaterial biocompatibility. Throughout his undergraduate career Mr. MacEwan received the Jose Ricardo Alcala Memorial Award, and served as a Case Western Reserve University Alumni and President’s Scholar.
Gus: Can you talk about the process of finding and securing seed funding and do you have any advice for our readers who are currently seeking investment?
Matthew: When we first got started all we had was an idea in a laboratory. We knew that we could make this unique nanofabricated material, and that the material was very useful as a surgical mesh, but had no funding and had no sense of whether idea could become a viable business. As a result, we decided that the best way to proceed would be to start a small LLC and see if we could get any traction around the idea. In the fall of 2010 we entered our small venture into the Olin Cup Competition at Washington University, a business plan competition held by the Olin Business School. Despite our lack of any substantial business experience, we were able to meet a number of supportive entrepreneurs, advisors, and mentors who assisted in showing us how to construct a solid business case for our company. As a result of the positive mentorship and hard work we ended up winning the Olin Cup in 2011 and gained both a small investment from Washington University as well as a good deal of attention from local investors.
Looking back on it, it was that initial participation in the Olin Cup Competition which really accelerated out development and growth. From that one experience we were contacted by a number of investment groups in the Saint Louis area, worked through a number of potential seed stage investments, and eventually settled with group that we continue to work with today.
Since that time we have continue to raise funding through a variety of means. These have included angel investments, institutional grants, local funding opportunities, and additional offering of in-kind services. Together we have been able to really capitalize on these resources, build a significant operation here in the St. Louis area, and make significant advances toward the launch of our first surgical product
If I had any advice for other entrepreneurs regarding early stage funding it would most like be to consider all your options and investigate all the potential routes of capitalization. As a seed stage corporation there are many different avenues for raising capital and building your business. Grants, SBIRs, strategic partnerships, angel investment, venture capital, private equity, local technology incubators, etc. Just because one of those avenues seems closed off doesn’t mean that there may be other paths to get to where you want to go. Be open to opportunities and flexible in your thinking and you will find a way.
Gus: What problem is Retectix solving?
Matthew: Presently, the implantable biomedical materials and mesh that surgeons utilize to repair, replace, and reinforce human tissues possess a number of limitations. First, most of these meshes and materials present a significant risk of post-operative complications (infection, poor wound healing, pain, etc.). The majority of these complications result from the fact that the present materials induce a large amount of chronic inflammation and scar tissue formation, rather than promoting effective tissue regeneration and wound healing. Second, the majority of meshes and materials being used in surgical clinics today are very stiff and rigid. As a result, these materials can be very difficult and time consuming to implant, and do not integrate very well with the soft, compliant human tissues. Together, these limitations and problems have caused many surgeons and clinicians to look for other alternatives for their patients.
To address this need we at Retectix have developed a novel line of surgical meshes capable of improving patient outcomes and providing greater ease of use for surgeons and clinicians. Specifically, these materials are composed of a cloth-like material made from resorbable polymer fibers that are nanometers in diameter (essentially 10X-100X smaller in diameter than individual human cells). Due to the use of these nanofibers our material possesses a number of biological and material properties unseen in existing materials and products. First, our materials promote more rapid wound healing and more effective integration into surrounding human tissue. These properties result from the fact that human cells sense the nanofiber material not as a foreign implant, but more as natural tissue. Second, our materials do not elicit harmful chronic inflammation and scarification due to the fact they are resorbable, and are naturally degrade in the body as the wound or tissue is repaired. Finally, our materials possess a unique cloth-like feel which make our implants easier for surgeons to handle and quicker for surgeons to implant.
In total, these advantages suggest that our novel surgical materials have the great potential to significantly reduce complications associated with surgical mesh implantation and dramatically improve patient outcomes post-operatively.
Gus: How has your experience and background contributed to the development and vision of the company?
Matthew: As a medical student and doctoral candidate within the Medical Scientist Training Program at Washington University in St. Louis I have received wonderful training in both the clinical and basic sciences. I have been able to work in the surgical clinics and appreciate the problems and pains associated with clinical care, and simultaneously gain the skills and expertise needed to investigate and solve such problems in the laboratory setting. As a result, I believe that I have been lucky to receive such an ideal preparation to participate in the present landscape of translational medicine.
With that said my role at Retectix focuses on my use of this experience to provide the vision for our technology and clinical products. Essentially, to identify the problems and issues with surgical care and target our products to meet these needs. To date this has been an immensely fulfilling role and one that hope to continue long into our development. My personal goal has always been to be able to make positive contributions to the medical community and patient care, and through Retectix, I believe I have a great opportunity to achieve that goal.
Interestingly, the hardest part for me has always been to translate this vision into the everyday working of our business. Being that my involvement has always been heavily weighted towards the scientific and clinical underpinning of our products and technologies, rather than the fundamentals and inner-workings of the business, I have always required greater assistance to build the underlying business structure to support the vision. This is largely where our amazing team comes in. They have largely put the vision for this company, and the ideas for these novel surgical products, into practice and have truly brought Retectix into a space where we have great potential for future advancement and development. Being able to find such a talented and supportive team capable of complementing my expertise and weaknesses has truly made my vision for our company that much more tangible.
Gus: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while developing your platform technology and how did you overcome them?
Matthew: When we were getting started we had three big obstacles: 1) to prove the technology / product worked, 2) to secure initial funding, and 3) to put together a team capable of bringing this venture forward.
The first obstacle was largely overcome due to our relationship and presence at Washington University. Luckily we were able to receive internal grant support to fund an initial set of animal trials of the first nanofabricated surgical mesh that we had developed. The results of these studies not only demonstrated that the material was safe and biocompatible, but also that it was superior to existing surgical meshes and products being utilized in the clinics today. This data was critical in attracting our first set of investors and team members and proving to them that this concept would work.
The second obstacle was mainly addressed through our involvement in a number of business plan competitions both locally and internationally. Throughout our first year of operations we competed in a number of academic business plan competitions and won a small amount of investment capital and in-kind service that allowed us to get started and begin to build the business. While small in scale, some of these initial investments and awards were the most critical to our current success.
Finally, the third obstacle was largely overcome by utilizing every available network we had at our disposal to the team members we needed to fill out our company. During the first few months I met with anyone and everyone in the St. Louis biotech space in order to get their insight and advice on starting up the business. As a result I was able to meet a number of talented people who eventually pointed me towards our first set of investors, along with a number of our future team members. I always say that we utilized these networks as a way to get a “guerrilla” business education, having had little formal business experience, but these meeting and networks truly led to the formation of the great team that we have today.
Gus: Congratulations on winning international business plan competitions in London, England and Stockholm, Sweden. What factors do you attribute your impressive success to?
Matthew: I think that having passion for your cause or your technology has a big impact. When you truly believe in what you are doing and when you can show that you have dedicated so much of your time and effort to a venture that goes a long way in proving your ability and an entrepreneur. Along those lines, that same passion is what drives all the hard work and dedication that is needed to show that your venture, technology, or business has true potential.
Gus: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
Matthew: Professionally, I really feel that I am in a great place right now. I am very excited about the opportunities in front of us at Retectix as we move forward towards the launch of our first surgical product in 2013. Additionally, I am excited about our continued product development as I know we have some very sophisticated products coming up that could have positive impacts in a number of other clinical spaces. Furthermore, I am very excited to finish my training at Washington University and continue with my work in the clinics and in the laboratory. It has been a wonderful experience to date and I am excited to see it through to completion.
On the personal side, I really feel just as lucky. I have a wonderful family and two little girls at home who are getting bigger and teaching me something new every day. Every free moment I have I try to spend with them, and we have all kinds of great adventures together. We all look forward to spending more time together over the holidays and enjoying our time here in St. Louis.
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