Corporate Innovation Labs: Who Really Benefits? | So Good News


Last week, Medtronic launched a neurovascular collaboration platform designed to transform ideas and technologies into new stroke therapies by providing insight, support and scalability to physicians and entrepreneurs.

Dan Volz, president of Medtronic’s neurovascular business, told me in an interview before the official launch that Medtronic receives many inquiries from physician-entrepreneurs in the stroke space who are at various stages of the innovation cycle. These doctors typically need help getting their ideas off the ground, and the company’s new Neurovascular Co-Lab platform aims to do just that.

When I first heard this news, I was excited about what it would mean for the stroke space, given my personal experience caring for my father-in-law who suffered a stroke last year. If done right, Medtronic’s new platform could be a win-win for the company and the market — key words if it’s done right.

The corporate world is replete with examples of similar programs that have failed, turning out to be nothing more than innovation theater, an initiative that promises innovation but never really delivers.

Let’s not be surprised by the company’s rhetoric and fool ourselves into believing that the powers that be at Medtronic signed on to this platform out of the kindness of their hearts. After all, it’s a highly strategic competitive move designed to ensure Medtronic has first-mover access to any truly disruptive stroke innovation that comes along the way.

After all, Medtronic does not take kindly to new competitors appearing on its turf. Remember what happened to the sacral neuromodulation market a few years ago? Medtronic pioneered this market more than 20 years ago with the InterStim device, which is used to treat a variety of bladder and bowel conditions. In 2019, Axonics arrived with FDA approval for a rechargeable version of a similar device, and things quickly soured between the two.

It was a clear example of competition breeding innovation, as Medtronic caught up with a competitor in the market by winning FDA approval for its rechargeable sacral neuromodulation device. One wonders why it took Medtronic 22 years to bring this option to market. And if Axonics had never been born, how long would it have taken the company to innovate?

But I digress.

Despite the many failures of corporate-sponsored innovation labs, some such programs work. Perhaps the most successful example of this is right here in the medtech industry: Johnson & Johnson’s JLABS line of life sciences incubators.

Now in its 10th year, the JLABS network spans 13 locations worldwide, including Canada, Europe and Asia. The incubator network has placed approximately 777 companies, of which 44 have gone public and 35 have been acquired. Although the program features a “wireless” model, approximately 25% of companies will have a financial relationship with J&J by the end of their time in the JLABS program. As of February 2021, 192 JLABS companies have had at least one collaboration or other strategic partnership with a J&J-owned company since the first JLABS space opened in 2012. J&J clearly sees the strategic competitiveness of the JLABS program that it otherwise would not. continue to expand the network.

It gives me hope that Medtronic’s Neurovascular Lab will be exactly what the company says it will be: a platform for advancing technology concepts with the highest potential to positively impact millions of stroke patients.

I really believe Medtronic’s Volz when he says that the idea for this platform came from the knowledge that there are unmet needs in the neurovascular space and that macroeconomic pressures are making it very difficult for startups to innovate.

“This is the wrong time for innovation to stop in the stroke space,” Volz told me, and I couldn’t agree more.

If this Co-Lab platform is successful in the neurovascular market, Medtronic will decide to replicate the effort in other markets with unmet needs. As long as it actually benefits doctors and their patients, I’m all for it. I’m not naive enough to think this won’t serve Medtronic in the long run.

Pedersen’s POV appears every Monday. If there’s a medtech topic you’d like him to cover, send an email [email protected] (put “POV” in the subject line).


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