6 Questions with Chris Hughes, an entrepreneur who is challenging conventional thinking in Orthopedics
This is the first in a series of 6-Question interviews with the leaders who are challenging conventional thinking in Orthopedics. (you can read other interviews here)
I have known Chris Hughes for over a decade. After serving in the Army, he rose through the ranks of Sales and Marketing in Orthopedics and Spine, the latter with Medtronic Spine & Biologics and two start-up ventures. In 2008, he threw himself into his first startup as President of Paradigm Spine, a Viscogliosi portfolio company. He now heads up an innovative startup called OsteoRemedies that is thinking differently. Chris is the President and CEO. I sat down with Chris and asked him a few questions.
1. What were the origins of OsteoRemedies? Tell us how it all started.
Chris Hughes: I founded OsteoRemedies in September of 2013. A few months prior to this, a group with the IP approached me wanting to introduce their ideas to the US market. I was immediately impressed with the progress they had made with design, regulatory approvals, as well as pre-clinical and biomechanical data. As I researched the market potential, I realized quickly that this was a great alternative in a very differentiated space. I recall discussing with my family, a few mentors, friends and potential business partners that I would need help from them to get things started. The support was overwhelming. So I searched a few potential company names, hired The Robinette Group to help develop our brand, logo, and image and we were off! It was exciting to literally “start-up” from the napkin. Our first introduction was at the CCJR meeting in December of 2013, where my primary goal was to find several high quality distributors. At the time, I had product being manufactured and was focused on developing a brand, vision, goals and refining our strategic plan. I was overwhelmed with the reception from some of the largest, best independent agents in the country. I look back and it was lonely on that island booth with no products to sell and no sales force, but I knew we had a great story and a compelling opportunity.
My vision then, when starting OsteoRemedies, and still today is to provide simple procedural solutions to complex musculoskeletal disorders not addressed in the market today. OurREMEDY™ Antibiotic Spacers andUNITE™ Antibiotic Bone Cement address the first of several markets we have targeted. In the near-term, we will enter new markets while ensuring we stay true to providing simple, differentiated solutions to complex problems.
2. How is OsteoRemedies funded and why have you chosen Memphis as a base?
Chris Hughes: We are fully funded by the group that approached me in 2013. OsteoRemedies is not your typical start-up; we are not funded by a VC firm or traditional “exit focused” investors. I believe this allows for a more pure management driven strategic plan that is focused on customers, sales, operations, cash flow and growth. In the past, I have been fortunate to work with small, medium and large organizations, ranging from cash rich market leaders to boot strapped start-ups. The greatest lesson I have learned is that cash is king. That is top of mind in all decisions we make; as long as it allows us to ensure our mantra of ALWAYS meeting our customer needs.
As for location, Memphis was a no brainer. I have lived here now for 18 years and have come to appreciate its numerous business advantages. As we grow, there are 4000 plus medical device employees to attract and recruit. We have first-class, multi-disciplinary physician practices in town, world-renowned hospitals, FedEx, Millstone Medical Outsourcing and several bioscience companies, all centrally located in the U.S., with an excellent cost of living. You add it all up and Memphis is a great choice for any medical device start-up.
3. Who are OsteoRemedies’ targeted customers?
Chris Hughes: Currently we focus on providing simple procedural solutions to surgeons who perform Hip and Knee Revision Arthroplasties. As we develop and launch new products, we will continue to target segments of the market where we can address unmet needs for the clinicians we serve. Our goal is to be the “Premier Choice” in these markets and not compete in the commodity musculoskeletal spaces. In other words, we are not focused on pedicle screws, cages, primary hips and knees or plates and screws. We are very interested in serving the clinicians that use these products, but only where we can help the medical industry solve meaningful clinical issues, provide economic value, while creating barriers to entry that protect the sustainability of our business and the interests of the world-class distributors that carry our products.
4. What makes the REMEDY Knee and Hip spacer different from other antibiotic spacers on the market such as Biomet’s StageOne mold?
Chris Hughes: From both our view, and the feedback from our customers, we see many advantages including simplicity, modularity, interchangeability, strength, elution profile of the antibiotics over time, proper sizing and cost effectiveness. Unlike some competitive options, our spacers are pre-made, saving the surgeon time in the OR which saves the facility money.
Our hip system is modular with 6 stems and 3 interchangeable heads, allowing for proper fit, both in component size and through tensioning with our unique variable offset design. Our knee-size combinations are totally interchangeable, allowing surgeons to address situations where they want or need to mis-match constructs. We have the only system that offers wedge augments (10 mm height) that allow the surgeon to replicate the joint space defects. Because REMEDY™ Spacers are pre-made; they are manufactured in a controlled environment. This provides a consistent blend of our PMMA and Antibiotics that cannot be replicated with hand-made molds. This proper mixture also yields superior mechanical strength, which is critical for a weight-bearing spacer. Off-the-shelf cements mixed in molds are designed for fixating devices and filing gaps but were not intended to be articulating joint replacements. Our formulation and geometry also allows for elution of the antibiotics over time where mold designs have shown in the literature to “trap the excess or wasted antibiotics” in the mold after 24 hours. Simply put, the REMEDY™ Spacer System is simple, strong and both clinically and cost effective.
5. What are the challenges of breaking into this market?
Chris Hughes: Distribution is one of the critical requirements for success in medical device markets. The challenge we face as a small start up is reaching our surgeon customers. We are fortunate to have attracted some of the best distributors nationwide this past year. I was so busy after the CCJR making product, developing marketing materials and signing-up distributors. Time was literally flying by. A few months later we launched at AAOS. I remember driving down to New Orleans with a new company, new brand, new booth and a few distributors ready to sell. I left AAOS with 26 distributors carrying our spacers and cement and we just ramped. It was fun, and I am still energized by the excitement of the distributors and customers about our products. Today, we now have over 40 distributors carrying our products and we are excited for our second AAOS in Las Vegas.
6. What are OsteoRemedies goals for the next few months and years?
Chris Hughes: Our goal for the next few months is growth. We had a great first year but I always say, never fast enough and never enough. This year we plan to grow sales, personnel and enter new differentiated markets where we can offer surgeons solutions to complex problems. We also plan to help our distributor partners grow their business. I believe our products can continue to help them increase revenues with OsteoRemedies, but just as strategically important, can help them grow their respective main lines too. The REMEDY™ Spacer, UNITE™ Antibiotic Cement and our new revision offerings (to be unveiled at AAOS) can open doors for our sales force.
I am also proud to announce, that effective March 1st, Eric Stookey joined OsteoRemedies as Chief Operating Officer. Eric has 20 years experience in orthopedics most recently as President, Wright Medical, Extremities and Biologics. Eric and I started in marketing together 18 years ago. After two years we went different paths in Orthopedics and Spine but maintained our professional and personal relationship. For OsteoRemedies, it is an ideal time for business expansion and a pleasure having Eric on board to collaborate with, further develop and grow OsteoRemedies. Our goal over the next few years is to continue providing simple solutions to complex disorders currently not addressed in the musculoskeletal market, thus allowing the valued customers we serve to restore their patients’ lives!
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