Eamonn Hobbs, a visiting scholar and entrepreneur in residence at the Brigham, spends much of his time these days advising, training and mentoring physician-scientist inventors. As he guides the next generation of entrepreneurs, he often finds himself reflecting back on some of the most valuable lessons he’s learned from his own mentors.
One common theme Hobbs’ mentors all shared, he says, is passion. Whether it was how they managed others or the way they ran an organization, Hobbs said his mentors were always excited about their work.
“It was inspirational to see how they applied passion to everything they did,” Hobbs said. “They weren’t only in the business to make money, they were in a field that was intimately and inseparably aligned with the betterment of mankind, and it permeated everything they did. They had a profound impact on my career and philosophies.”
Inspired by his mentors’ endless passion, Hobbs has been applying what he’s learned in his 36-year career in the medical device, pharmaceutical and combination drug industries by working with physician-scientist inventors through the Translational Accelerator (TA) at BWH since last October.
The recently launched TA offers a range of services for investigators and is made up of a team of experts from around the Brigham with deep knowledge on many different facets of safe and effective clinical trial design and invention development. The accelerator supports the development of innovation with potential for commercialization, from pre-clinical proof-of-concept to first-in-human translational research.
Through the TA, BWH investigators are offered services that help them develop their ideas, including project management, FDA regulation training, financing, access to visiting investors and clinical trial design and execution. By providing consultation on inventions with commercial potential, Hobbs is able to help them transform their concepts into a self-sustaining, commercially viable stage.
Since joining the Brigham, Hobbs has found the hospital to be a very successful and productive incubator for high-potential opportunities and ideas that are capable of attracting investors. Once a BWHer is at the stage of sharing their idea with an investor, Hobbs and the TA will help them quantify their return on investment, as well as assist them with market assessments and formatting of the concept into “investor speak.”
Throughout the last seven months at the Brigham, Hobbs says he’s enjoyed working closely with other entities around the hospital and throughout Partners HealthCare that are closely affiliated with the same concept as the TA, including the Brigham Research Institute and Partners Innovation Fund.
Describing himself as a serial entrepreneur – someone who begins and leads one business after another or many businesses simultaneously, Hobbs began his career working for the late entrepreneur and medical device maker Bill Cook. He says working for Cook exposed him to the field of entrepreneurship.
In addition to being a member of several medical boards, Hobbs is currently the president and CEO of Digital Cognition Technologies, Inc., a Boston-based company with the goal of bringing to market easy-to-administer and non-invasive tests to detect pre-symptomatic cognitive impairment.
Through his years of experience, Hobbs said the financial aspect of developing an idea can be the most challenging for inventors. When approached about their projects, Hobbs works with them to figure out if investors would find their ideas appealing.
Oftentimes, there’s a harsh moment, Hobbs says, where he or a colleague will have to turn an inventor down if they find that their project is not viable: “No one wants to hear that, but failing fast can be a good thing. You don’t want to fail late. Hearing this news early and often can be the unfortunate part of the process.”
In addition to facing financial barriers, the transition to “entrepreneurial thinking,” can be difficult for investigators, Hobbs said. In his role, he helps researchers and clinicians think like an investor.
“Entrepreneurial thinking isn’t intuitive, so there’s a lot of know-how involved that can be quite daunting, but incredibly intriguing and satisfying to immerse one’s self in,” Hobbs said. “Clinicians and researchers are also trying to balance their day jobs on top of their inventions, so it’s constantly a challenge.”
Turning Science into a Commercial Product
As Hobbs has worked with countless inventors over the years, he says many are often surprised to learn about what goes into turning science into a commercial product. He explained that because many people he works with often have expertise in one particular area of health care, many times they’ll look at business as being something they can easily learn about in their spare time.
“But that’s not the truth,” Hobbs said. “Those of us who have spent our careers in business understand the field is anything but easy.”
To help educate physician-scientist inventors about what they’re up against, Hobbs will ask a surgeon, for example, if they would trust Hobbs to perform a surgery on one of their patients: “I’ll usually say to the surgeon: ‘I’ve been in the operating room many, many times in my career. I’ve watched what you do and think I could do it just as well.’”
“They’ll usually laugh at me and tell me how wrong I am,” Hobbs said. “I’ll look at them and explain that business is the same way. You can’t pick it up overnight.”
Looking Back and Moving Forward
Hobbs started his first medical device company, Hobbs Medical, Inc., in 1983. The company focused on trans-endoscopic interventional devices for gastroenterologists.
Two years later, he sold the company and over the next several years, started a few more medical device companies.
His biggest claim to fame is the founding of AngioDynamics, a successful medical device company that designs, develops, manufactures and markets image-guided, minimally invasive devices for the targeted treatment of cancer and vascular disease.
Over the next several months, Hobbs said, he looks forward to meeting more physician-scientist inventors and learning more about the Brigham. He enjoys coming to the hospital each week to experience the collaborative atmosphere.
“The level of excellence I’ve witnessed is palpable in everything that goes on here,” he said. “Everyone just seems to get it. Working here, you really feel like you’re part of a big team and together you’re moving the ball in the right direction for really good reasons. You can feel the passion in every part of this hospital, and that’s what keeps me coming back.”