Rested and Ready, Pathway Medical Founder Scouts UW, Gets Itch to Start Something New

12/2/09Follow @xconomy

One of the Northwest’s leading medical device entrepreneurs has had a chance to rest for the first time in 20 years, do a little scuba diving, and sniff around the University of Washington for the next big idea. Now Tom Clement says he’s getting the “itch” to get back to work.

“I’m anxious to get back,” says Clement. “There is some very cool stuff going on [at UW], and most of it needs help on the business side.”

Clement, who turns 54 this month, has been in a transition this year. The company he founded and led since 1998, Kirkland, WA-based Pathway Medical Technologies, has graduated from product development mode into a company with a marketed product for clearing out blocked arteries in the legs. That meant Pathway didn’t really need an engineer like Clement at the helm anymore, and it recruited a CEO with more commercial experience, Paul Buckman.

After about 20 years of nonstop focus on building up two companies (Heart Technology came before Pathway), Clement suddenly had time to look around more broadly at the Seattle medical device cluster to see what fires him up. He has spent more time on his nonprofit work this year as chairman of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association. Since May, he’s also been working on a roughly 15-hour a week temporary gig as one of the entrepreneurs in residence at the University of Washington’s tech transfer department, who have been enlisted by Linden Rhoads to help identify and nurture some of the best raw ideas in the university that have strong business potential.

I spoke with Clement a couple weeks ago at a Starbucks near my office on Seattle’s First Hill. At the time, he wasn’t quite ready to spill the beans on what his next company will aim to accomplish. So I asked him more about what’s he’s learned from his experience scouting technologies this year at UW.

Interestingly, he says he has enjoyed getting to know some of the other entrepreneurs that Rhoads has brought in from different disciplines—such as Perry Fell (biotech), Alex St. John (technology, gaming), Bob Wilcox (medical devices), and Gino Borland (cleantech). Clement has also spent some of the time hanging around the UW’s bioengineering and electrical engineering departments, and getting a better feel for what’s happening in the labs. He says it’s also given him a sense that he can be helpful.

“There are a lot of dedicated inventors here, but they need help in getting beyond knowing that there’s a need and they have a technology for it,” Clement says. “They don’t understand the market, the reimbursement pathway, the regulatory pathway, the competition.”

While the ideas might still need a lot of work, there is no shortage of them, and they come in a lot of varieties, Clement says. With a few well-placed introductions to investors, leading physicians, and people in the medical device industry, Clement says these ideas could be the basis for some interesting companies.

“I’m realizing the opportunity for getting companies started is greater than I thought,” Clement says.

How many of these ideas will get a realistic shot will depend in part on whether Clement and a few other Northwest medical device leaders can assemble an angel investing network with the expertise to vet ideas and attract some more capital from other angel groups, like the Alliance of Angels and Keiretsu Forum. That’s yet another story that Clement is working on, but it hasn’t quite congealed yet. Stay tuned.

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