Apollo Endosurgery Highlights Austin’s Growing MedTech Cluster
The startup spotlight in Austin has long focused on the city’s techie scene of software startups, app developers, and the like, but a medtech community has been developing, too. And Dennis McWilliams, who currently runs Apollo Endosurgery, has been along for much of that growth.
From his days working at the University of Texas’ IC² Institute, which connects university research and companies to support commercialization to a stint as entrepreneur-in-residence at PTV Sciences, a venture capital fund that specializes in the life sciences and in medical devices, McWilliams says being a part of a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem has been an important focus of his career.
“I wanted to go build a really strong career but, fundamentally, be doing things that help people and help society,” he says. “Most people in the life sciences space really like that harmonization between their life and societal goals, and their career goals.”
He became involved with the Apollo Group, a think tank formed in 1998 by a group of gastroenterologists and surgeons from academic centers around the world to focus on the development and use of minimally invasive instruments to diagnose and potentially treat gastrointestinal disorders.
In 2006, Apollo Endosurgery was created to commercialize the group’s innovations in translumenal surgery and therapeutic endoscopy and to produce minimally invasive devices for GI procedures. Recently, the company announced it was buying the Lap-band business from Allergan, a pharmaceutical company based in California that is best known for its Botox product line. Lap-band is a weight-loss procedure where a band is put around the stomach to reduce its capacity. The Austin company spent $110 million to buy the business, which included an upfront cash payment of $75 million.
Today, McWilliams and others in Austin’s biotech community are looking to the expected opening of the new University of Texas Dell Medical School in 2016 as the next milestone to boost the city’s biotech community.
“I spent some time on the board of the Texas Exes [the University of Texas’ alumni association], doing our part to help get that through,” he says.
McWilliams and I spoke recently about the medtech community in Austin, Apollo Endosurgery’s acquisition of the Lap-Band, why he works to get academic research out into the marketplace. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation:
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