By Sarah Terry-Cobo
Courtesy of The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – Like many people, Karl Nelson is working to keep his business costs under control.
The vice president of operations at a small startup, VADovations, Nelson works to make sure the team of scientists stays on track when it comes to research and development. The company is working to build a miniature ventricular assisted device, a mechanical blood pump, that is smaller and lighter than the ones on the market.
The company recently received $2.7 million in a second round of funding from the federally funded Small Business Innovation Research. In addition, VADovations is partnering with the University of Oklahoma for research and Stillwater-based Frontier Electronic Systems for a lithium-ion battery about the size of a USB thumb drive.
The scientists still have a lot of work left to complete the pump design, said Trevor Snyder, vice president of research and development. Once the pump has been tested in the lab, they can begin a clinical trial and the onerous process of Food and Drug Administration approval. Snyder said they may also begin a clinical trial in Europe, where there are fewer barriers to approval.
To finish the design and begin the testing phase, VADovations had to expand. They moved from a 1,200-square-foot space in the Presbyterian Health Foundation’s Research Park to a 6,000-square-foot building near Will Rogers Airport. As the company gets closer to completing the design, they need to figure out how to scale up the manufacturing process from a few devices to a few hundred devices, Nelson said.
In the meantime, Nelson said he’s always looking to create new relationships with potential investors and searching for the next round of funding. In order to meet the timelines established by the grants, the scientists have to stay focused on finalizing the design, he said. But that can be a challenge, Nelson said.
“Sometimes, we are challenged operationally, due to disconnects between business operations and the research and science,” he said.
By their very nature, scientists are always exploring and engineers are always working to improve the design of their product. At some point, it’s important to know if changes will help the overall mission, or if they can be left to a future version of the device. So staff members have weekly or biweekly meetings to discuss progress.
“That allows me, specifically, to match the research and development goals and the strategy of our operations with financing and timing those things,” Nelson said. “We have to keep our process lean and mean and focused. Science is wonderful and ideas are wonderful and knowledge is wonderful. However, in business we have to make sure we keep things focused and targeted.”
Trevor Snyder and Ryan Stanfield with VADovations in Oklahoma CIty. (Photo by Brent Fuchs)