Joe Eichinger, Top Medical Device Entrepreneur and UW Volunteer, Dies From Cancer
Joe Eichinger, one of the Northwest’s best-known medical device entrepreneurs of the past three decades, died yesterday at his home in Everett, WA, from complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 65.
Eichinger was in his prime as a businessman, and was fired up about his latest startup, Redmond, WA-based CoAptus Medical, when he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in late November.
“It hit him hard and fast,” says his wife, Mary Eichinger.
Few people have made such an impact on the local medical device industry. Eichinger was born and raised in the Chicago area, and got his degree in electrical engineering in 1967 at what was then called the General Motors Institute, now Kettering University. He came to the Northwest as a young engineer at Honeywell, and settled on a career in medical devices as an early employee at ATL Ultrasound, the pioneering ultrasound company in Bothell that’s now part of Royal Philips Electronics. He later worked as a stock analyst for Cable, Howse & Ragen and as a venture capitalist with Trinus. But Eichinger is best known in the medical device community as the co-founder of a number of notable Seattle-area device startups, including Ekos, Therus, AcousTx, NeoPath, and CoAptus Medical.
“He radiated the entrepreneurial spirit and instilled it in others,” says Doug Hansmann, a co-founder of Bothell, WA-based Ekos. “He was also kind, helpful, and selfless. He was our role model.”
One vintage Eichinger story stood out in particular for Hansmann. When Ekos was getting started in the mid-90s, Hansmann recalled, he and Eichinger had complementary strengths on the technical and business sides of the company. One time, Hansmann says, he struggled to remember the name of someone from Boston Scientific whom they had met, and Eichinger instantly remembered the guy’s name, his role at the company, and how they met four years prior at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting. “Joe had an incredible memory for events and people. He was great at pulling people together and visualizing how they would work together,” Hansmann says.
David Auth, another prominent medical device entrepreneur who worked closely with Eichinger at his last company, CoAptus, added: “He was a person with high moral character. He was always friendly, and very energetic in fleshing out new ideas. He couldn’t keep his hands off a good idea that needed some organization around it.”
Eichinger’s companies pursued a wide variety of diseases and medical technology challenges. Some were more successful than others. The common denominator, Eichinger once said, was that they turned on his engineer’s passion for how stuff works.
“For all the reasons I was fascinated with the interrelationships of locomotive systems, I was fascinated with the body,” Eichinger said in a 1997 interview with GMI Magazine, an alumni publication for his alma mater. “I have no reason to be interested in the medical field. It just caught my interest. The reason I do this is the fascination with what I don’t know.”
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