Getting to Know the MedTech Association with Win Thurlow

Join Steve in getting to know the MedTech Association through its Executive Director Win Thurlow, and learn how the medical device developers and manufacturers are shaping the industry in NYS and beyond.


Steve Melito: Welcome to New York Manufacturing Now. I’m your host Steve Melito, and we’re in Syracuse today with Win Thurlow who is the Executive Director of the MedTech Association. Win, welcome to the podcast.

Win Thurlow: Thank You. It’s a treat to be here.

Steve Melito: I understand that the MedTech Association is the full name. Is it okay if I just call you by MedTech during the podcast?

Win Thurlow: Absolutely. Please do.

Steve Melito: Okay, very good. So welcome. Thanks so much for taking the time to be on the podcast. And I’d like to start off at a very high level and find out what is MedTech? What do you do? How do you join? Why do you want to join?

Win Thurlow: We say we are the trade association for the biomed community in New York. And by that we really mean companies, organizations, research institutions that are in the life sciences space. So medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, others that are doing research into healthcare advancement. Our mission is to grow that industry in New York and to help support those portions of the industry that already exist here. And our members find value in connecting with one another. We provide some education and we are an advocate for the larger community at both the state and federal level.

Steve Melito: Let’s talk about your members a bit. My understanding is they’re not just companies or organizations that only do biomed. That you have contract manufacturers that are on board that do other things as well. Can you speak to that?

Win Thurlow: Sure. If you were to broadly look at our membership, there are some companies and manufacturers that are completely in the biomed space, whether they’re pharmaceutical companies or medical device manufacturers. There are others, a fair number, who are in what I think of as kind of the service industry for the biomed community. So whether they are contract manufacturers or other organizations that assist biomed companies in developing and promoting their products, they are also part of our larger system. Increasingly with advancements in everything from photonics to printing to the Internet of things that find its way into medical devices and pharmaceuticals, there is an expansion of engagement in the biomed community from manufacturers and others who had not previously been in that space.

Steve Melito: That’s great. And I think that’s an important point for those who are listening to the podcast to appreciate, especially because at FuzeHub we get a lot of requests from manufacturers that say, ” I want to get into the medical space. I know this is big. I know it’s happening.” So for a company like that, would it make sense to reach out to MedTech, have a conversation and see about the value?

Win Thurlow: Absolutely. Let me give you an example of one of our members, for example. Is a great five- generation family company based in Buffalo by the name of Tapecon. Tapecon began, in fact, they say they were the original social media company. They produced marquees and signage for banks and vaudeville theaters back at the turn of the 20th century. Over time, they transitioned into the printing space and increasingly they are engaged in impregnating paper products and other devices used in the medical field with inks that are chemical or heat sensitive. For example, they produce wrapping for surgical instruments that by its color show whether the device is properly sterilized or not. I got to imagine that a company Tapecon didn’t start off looking to be in the biomed space, but that’s been an incredibly profitable venture for them. I like to say if you were to look back, for example, as recently as five years ago, the electronics component say of medical devices was not really something that was on the horizon. Now, increasingly, medical devices are connected to electronic components or other digital and recording devices, opening up huge possibilities for manufacturers and others who are in those spaces to also be working in the medical field.

Steve Melito: And so also as part of your membership, there are different universities, research organizations. Can you speak about them a little bit?

Win Thurlow: Sure. We are, as you mentioned earlier, a statewide association. In many ways, however, if you were to look closely at our membership profile, the bulk of our members are in upstate New York. And by that I mean really roughly that area north of the Tappan Zee Bridge. And within that footprint, most of the large academic medical centers and research institutions in the state are part of our membership. Increasingly, particularly with the decrease in federal funding for sponsored research, universities have recognized the need to both commercialize research that are coming out of institutions, but also searching for ways to partner with the commercial enterprises and with industry to host research. And so we have a number of university and corporate partnerships that have grown out of participation in MedTech.

Steve Melito: So we’ve talked a little bit about the different types of organizations that join MedTech. If there are folks out there who are interested in joining, are there different membership levels for them to look at and consider?

Win Thurlow: Yes. We divide our membership in the following ways. We have our academic members as a class of members. What we call our primary members, those are members who are actively involved in the development, production or manufacture of devices or pharmaceuticals. We have support organizations that may be service providers like law firms, banks, and others. And we have a class of members that we carve out for the entrepreneurial and startup community. Those different classes carry with them different dues schedules. Most of our dues are based primarily on the number of employees that a member has in New York state.

Steve Melito: That’s interesting. So if I understand this correctly, you don’t have to be Welch Allyn say to be part of MedTech. You could be a startup in Ithaca or wherever.

Win Thurlow: In fact, that is I think one of the most important aspects to keep in mind. Our theory is that the biomed industry will thrive in New York to the extent that we can create an interconnected ecosphere of businesses and individuals across the whole range of the industry. For entrepreneurs and startups, it is incredibly critically important to them that they be connected with the big players in the market. And similarly for the big companies, they are looking increasingly to outsource their research and development and product experimentation to the entrepreneurial community. So we need and want the individual startups and entrepreneurs to be in the ecosphere as much as we want the large companies because that’s where the synergies can be found.

Steve Melito: Do you do any matchmaking between the larger companies and the smaller companies, or does it just happen organically at MedTech events or maybe that’s the purpose or one of the reasons to have the events that you do?

Win Thurlow: We do really three primary things at MedTech. We act, as you point out, as a platform for facilitation and collaboration. We provide education and we advocate on behalf of the industry. Of those three things, collaboration is probably the single most valuable piece of what we do for our members. And so as you suggest, we create our events and programming in a way to maximize the opportunities for members to find common ground and opportunities. And I spend a lot of my time… Frankly, I wish I could spend even more of my time facilitating some of these introductions between our members because it really is these types of relationships that have developed into some surprising and innovative developments here in New York.

Steve Melito: So it sounds like there’s opportunity for some supply chain work, and you’re doing some of that work.

Win Thurlow: Increasingly, as you look at where healthcare is going, where the medical field is headed, the interconnectivity is the locus of the greatest development and innovation. So it is the pairing of novel manufacturing techniques into perhaps a device manufacturer or into the development of a pharmaceutical that we’re finding growth.

Steve Melito: So that’s a good analysis of the collaboration piece. There’s also an education piece, and if I can share a story with you, it might make you laugh, it might not. I talked to a manufacturer the other day that said, ” Why do I need to get ISO 13485 certified?” And I explained that even a toothbrush is considered to be a class one medical device. What’s the education piece like that you do? Is it along those lines? I’m sure it’s more in depth.

Win Thurlow: Well, we strive to provide the kinds of educational programming that our members are looking for. And so it runs the gamut. You talk about the ISO certification, and as you point out, the reality is that ISO and some of these other certifications may be primarily necessary because that’s what the market’s going to demand, that’s what the regulatory environment is going to demand. To be able to meet those certification requirements, particularly for small and emerging businesses, can be a difficult challenge. And so we consider it an important part of what we do to be able to match particularly small companies to the types of training that they need. Beyond that, I take a very broad view of our educational mandate. Again, taking a look at say, the entrepreneurial community. One of the big challenges for startups is that it’s difficult to know that which you don’t know. And so we work to provide comprehensive education to startups to be able to connect them with the legal resources, the accounting resources, the other information that they need to know as they begin to develop their products. And so whether it’s hosting events or providing some targeted education in those areas, we strive to help them move their businesses forward.

Steve Melito: Let’s talk about events a little bit. It’s my understanding you have a big event every year. What’s that event like? And then are there other events and are they across the state? Do they change locations?

Win Thurlow: We take very seriously our mandate to serve the entirety of the state of New York, which means we’re on the road all the time. We do, as you point out, have an annual conference. This year, this past year, it was in the middle of November here in Syracuse. We’ve already locked in. That will be in Rochester next year in October, on October 22nd and 23rd for the annual conference. That event is really an opportunity for the entire biomed community to come together for two days of collaboration, networking, and education. Beyond that, we are holding events at different locations across the state of New York really every quarter. So we have what we call member meetups that are an opportunity for folks in the regions to come, usually tour a member facility, hear about the developments that are coming out of that member’s facility and have an opportunity to look for some collaboration. We’ve also launched what we call the MedTech IDEAS summits, and these are a quarterly series that are intended to really introduce a big idea to the larger community. We’ve done two of those events so far this year. The first was at the Welch Allyn facility in Skaneateles where we convened a group around e- commerce and the future of the healthcare supply chain. We brought in the global healthcare team from Amazon to talk about where Amazon sees the healthcare supply chain going. And then in September we hosted an event at CONMED Corporation in Utica that was focused on strategies to measurably increase participation by women in workforce and leadership. So we see the IDEAS summits as a real value add to our members who are looking not just for what’s in their immediate need wheelhouse, but what are the issues that they need to grapple with as we move their businesses forward.

Steve Melito: So there’s a collaboration, the education, the networking, the events, what’s the advocacy piece like?

Win Thurlow: We need to be a resource for policymakers, lawmakers, and others, both at the state and federal level to understand what’s going on in the biomed industry. What are the practices and policies that we can implement here to help this industry grow? We’re an incredibly diverse state with diverse needs in different parts of the state. Many of our companies are relatively large manufacturers in some of the more rural stretches of the state. That carries with it particular workforce development issues, and it’s of course critically important that we maintain our employers, particularly in our more remote locations. And so we take very seriously the job of really pulling our members, understanding from our members what are their needs, what can we do as a state and as a region to help this industry thrive.

Steve Melito: You mentioned workforce. That’s a pain point, not just in your industry, but in many segments of New York state manufacturing and nationally. What are you hearing from members about the workforce challenge and what are they doing and maybe even what are you doing?

Win Thurlow: Particularly in the manufacturing space for the biomed community, what our members need desperately are employees who come with the training and skills that will allow them to succeed in our high- tech manufacturing environment. So whether it’s increasing or finding programs with our community colleges and others to help train employees, or whether it’s finding the right mechanisms to ensure that employment in the biomed industry is attractive. In some areas, we find ourselves, our members find themselves competing with the retail industry for employees, and many of our jobs are demanding and require a higher level of skills. From my selfish perspective, I think the trajectory is really promising for somebody to be working in the biomed industry. We want to make sure that residents of New York recognize the advantages of working in the industry and that we also make sure that there are resources available to help recruit and retain those valuable employees.

Steve Melito: If you had a inquiry, a phone call from a MedTech member saying, ” I’m looking for a workforce, I can’t find it,” what would you do? We get these calls often at FuzeHub and they can be very challenging.

Win Thurlow: They are challenging, and I think that one of… There’s a couple things I would say. We have recently rebuilt our internship and career listings so that we do provide an online resource to connect potential employees with our members and others. I think long term where we could be more helpful, and frankly I think where we have not done enough at MedTech, is to identify those types of workforce development programs that are succeeding and finding ways to expand those opportunities elsewhere. So it’s not uncommon for a manufacturer may have a really good program connection with say, a BOCES or a community college or some other training facility. We have not done enough to figure out which of those work and find ways to make sure that they’re happening not just in a single location, but that they’re happening elsewhere. I think the other thing that is critically important is to recognize that the workforce needs in the biomed industry really run the gamut of high school graduates, undergraduates, master’s degree students, PhDs and postdocs. So we are an industry that is looking for employees from across that spectrum. I think it can often be daunting to try to figure out what is the right career path. I think we have not done enough to explain that there are opportunities no matter where you are in that system. I think the other thing that I would say is as our manufacturing needs become increasingly specialized, the value of those employees become increasingly valuable. That the ability to develop long- term relationships with employees who will grow as their employers needs grow is an incredibly important part of a successful recruitment and retention policy.

Steve Melito: So when you’re around the manufacturing industry as you are, there are certain buzzwords right now, automation, Internet of things, robotics. Do any of those things resonate with your membership? Are there issues there that you talk about? Maybe it’s additive manufacturing instead. What are the hot topics?

Win Thurlow: It’s interesting, those things that you mentioned are all of the things that we’re talking about. Certainly the Internet of things is probably the cutting- edge issue that we are grappling with. And frankly, the developments in the Internet of things with respect to medical devices and pharmaceuticals is just explosive. I don’t think that any of us could have fully appreciated the connectivity to the Internet that the medical industry would find itself in. And that brings with it a host of issues that weren’t on our radar screens, most notably, for example, cybersecurity. So the ability to ensure the integrity of the connectivity of say, a medical device is now a huge issue. We weren’t as manufacturers or producers of devices hiring people with expertise in cybersecurity. Increasingly we are. I think too that the ability to recognize opportunities across industry segments is been another big development. We have really moved away from the old model of I’m a pharmaceutical manufacturer and all I do is produce medicines and pills, or I’m a medical device manufacturer and all I do is produce these things. Increasingly, we are finding that those industries are cross pollinating one another, and we need to be able to train employees to be able to work across those divides.

Steve Melito: Let’s talk about cybersecurity a little bit because I’m fascinated by this. I know at FuzeHub right now we’re managing a program through the Department of Defense that helps to pay for manufacturers to get a cyber assessment done so that they can meet a certain standard. Are there security standards yet for medical devices?

Win Thurlow: Well, yes, and the reality is those standards are also rapidly developing and growing. And so similar, say to your question earlier about ISO certification and the likes, we are seeing that both purchasers and regulations are requiring increasing upgrades to cybersecurity engagement. That’s an area that we need to be ahead of the curve on, and frankly, New York manufacturers are going to succeed if they can demonstrate to their end users and customers that they have already thought about the next generation of cybersecurity issues. It is, I think, going to be incumbent not only that we meet current regulations and standards, but that we have an idea toward where the future is going and how can we be developing programs and systems so that we can say to our customers, this is a product that you can have some certainty with that your cybersecurity is going to be safe.

Steve Melito: Good. Let’s zoom back out a little bit to talk about MedTech as an organization. Do you have to be a New York state manufacturer to join?

Win Thurlow: You do not. You do have to have a presence in New York. So the vast majority of our members are located in New York, although we do have members in other places of the country and also members from Canada who are doing business in New York and have a vested interest in the success of the biomed industry in this state. The other thing that I would say to you, and I would encourage all of our listeners to kind of pull out their mental map. And if you were to look at the places in the country that are really hotspots for the biomed industry, Boston and Cambridge, of course are at the very top of that list. Increasingly western Pennsylvania in the Pittsburgh area, northeast Ohio, in Cleveland particularly and Toronto, are all really developing markets for the biomed industry. And so again, take a look at your map. I always say you can’t get from Boston to Cleveland or from Boston to Toronto any way other than straight through upstate New York along the Interstate 90 corridor. So for our members that are in Albany or Utica or Syracuse, Rochester or Buffalo, those connections say between what’s already happening in Boston, what’s already happening in Cleveland are incredible growth opportunities.

Steve Melito: You’ve built MedTech into a real powerhouse. I’m sure there have been some challenges along the way. Can you speak to anything? What are some of the things you’ve had to overcome and just kind of break on through to get to that other side?

Win Thurlow: I think the primary challenge that we and candidly all organizations in our space have is how do we ensure that we’re delivering value to all of our members all of the time? So the value proposition is going to vary whether you are say in the device space or you’re in academic institution or you’re in pharmaceuticals. Our theory, our mission is to grow the larger industry. So we need to constantly be looking for those important intersections between our various membership groups to ensure that we are delivering value to all of them. And I think one of the challenges in terms of events and programming is that everybody is working full bore at running their own business. And sometimes it’s a big ask to say, can you spend two days at a conference in Rochester, or can you give up an afternoon to come to a member meetup? And so it’s incumbent on us to make sure that we are delivering valuable programming to make that time worth the investment.

Steve Melito: And then in addition to the challenges, obviously you’ve had some great successes. Are there some examples that you can share?

Win Thurlow: Yeah, I think the areas that I am most proud of at MedTech is our ability to connect emerging technologies, individual entrepreneurs and startups to some of the larger companies. The old model in many ways for the large companies is to have in- house research and development operations. Whether it’s something kind of the groundbreaking approach that was taken by Bell Labs, was to hire a bunch of engineers and inventors to work in that area. By and large, that model no longer exists. And so large companies are looking to the entrepreneurial community to be developing the next generation of products. And so when we are able to connect one of those entrepreneurs to a manufacturer or a large company, that’s a win- win for everybody. And I think that’s a huge success.

Steve Melito: So if there are some folks out there still that are on the fence about whether MedTech is for them, and I don’t know how they could be after all the excellent information you’ve shared, is there a way for them to get involved in a light lift kind of way? Could they come to an event? Could they talk to someone? Could they get more information?

Win Thurlow: Absolutely. Our events for the most part are open to everyone, whether you’re a member or not. We try to ensure that our events are affordable enough, that the barrier is relatively low to coming to one of our events. And I also encourage people to spend some time on our website. There’s a wealth of information. You can find a directory of our existing members, our programming. And listen, we live and love for telephone calls and inquiries from people because it may sound a bit hackneyed and I’m not sure what to say, but we succeed when our members succeed. So to be able to expose what we’re doing and what our members are doing to the larger community is what we’re all about. So I would absolutely encourage people to reach out to us, take a look at our events calendar, come to a meetup, come to an event, look for those opportunities. Frankly, take a look at our directory of members and are there some connections that you are interested in making with one of our members? Give us a shout and we will make sure that we’ve made the necessary introductions and kind of opened up that doorway for you.

Steve Melito: Great. I did want to ask you one question about the website. There’s a page that talks about a membership advantage program. Can you tell me more about that?

Win Thurlow: One of the real dollars and cents advantages to belonging to MedTech is that we have pulled together what I think of as a curated group of service providers that offer particular and unique discounts and services to our members. For many of our members, the savings that they get in their purchases through the Membership Advantage Program, more than pay for their annual membership. And so for those people, I say, listen, you’re leaving money on the table if you’re passing up those opportunities. So particularly if you are someone who is in the space of buying large numbers of supplies and other things, the savings that we can offer through the Membership Advantage Program really make it a valuable piece of the membership pie.

Steve Melito: This has been super informative. Again, we’re here with Win Thurlow, who is the Executive Director of the MedTech Association. Win, is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap it up? Anything else that we should cover?

Win Thurlow: No, I think can’t think of anything except to say, I hope that your listeners will recognize the importance of the manufacturing piece for the biomed industry. That we are not just scientists and laboratories, but we are manufacturers, we are employers, we are producers of products that are used all over the country, all over the world. The real treat for me is that I get to work with people who, at the end of the day, have devoted their lives to improving the human condition and to saving lives. So it’s a treat. I hope that enthusiasm is a bit infectious, and I would encourage people to give us a call to check us out.

Steve Melito: That’s great. That’s excellent. And yeah, that manufacturing piece really is big. It was something I did not know coming into this podcast, and I’m happy that we’ve had a chance to explore that because it’s very important for those who think they want to get into this space, those that want to do more in the overall space. It’s a big market. It’s a big opportunity.

Win Thurlow: I think so too. So thank you very much for this opportunity.

Steve Melito: You’re most welcome. Again, we’ve been here with Win Thurlow, who is the Executive Director of MedTech. We’re out here in Syracuse, New York. And for New York State Manufacturing Now, I am your host, Steve Melito from FuzeHub. If you would like more information about this podcast, if you’d like to know more about FuzeHub, who is kind enough to put on this podcast, be happy to talk to you. There are several ways to get in touch with FuzeHub. You can go to our website at fuzehub. com. It’s that simple. There are some links you can click. There’s a contact us form of course, but if you would like to request assistance for your manufacturing company, you can also use our online portal to do so. So without further ado, this is Steve Melito from New York State Manufacturing Now signing off. Thanks for listening.

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