Symptoms: California is losing jobs faster than the national average.

Treatment: Initiate MedStart social infusion STAT.

“Recruiting medical technology companies to the region is a significant part of our effort,” said Robert Leonard, assistant to the Sacramento County executive for Economic Development. “These companies fit nicely with the healthcare and development sectors already in place.”

But how do you nurture and care for them once they are here?

That was the topic of conversation March 3 at the Sacramento Area Technology Alliance (SARTA) MedStart launch at the Sierra Health Foundation building on Garden Highway.

Leaders of the new initiative prescribed:

• Exposure to local universities to breathe new life into promising medical device startups.

• An infusion of venture capital attention to turn hemorrhaging young research and development operations into viable medical technology manufacturing companies.

• A CEO forum to share ideas and spread success.

Ten of the estimated 80 Sacramento area medical device companies, offering everything from automatic resuscitators to urinary incontinence therapies, presented to an audience of more than 100 venture capitalists, higher education representatives and job seekers.

“We call it a nascent cluster,” explained Cary Adams, chair of MedStart and a medical technology angel investor. “Social networking can turn those isolated companies into thriving clusters.”

Early results were largely positive.

“I made some important connections,” reported Brian Watwood, founder of Roseville-based SuperQuad and inventor of the Wijit wheelchair driving and braking system. “I’ll be making some calls to follow-up with at least one venture capital representative.”

Watwood has an FDA-approved product developed and is looking for up to $3 million in angel investment to move forward with manufacturing and distribution. While the handshaking was helpful, he didn’t think the VC advice to control costs by going overseas or get to profitability faster was going to help him as he already has parts made in China and Taiwan before being assembled in California.

“And it’s hard to get to profitability without the funding to make the devices,” he said.

The cocktail parties and CEO forums that have been taking place for the last seven months can be powerful ways to jump start a company looking for ideas and connections, but the long-term treatment will come in stages and will require a boost from the big idea guns – universities.

“Aligning workforce training with the recruitment of medical device companies will require coordination with community colleges and universities,” Sacramento County’s Leonard said.

UC Davis Health Systems and School of Medicine has so far been the biggest financial supporter of the MedStart effort. Adams, a retired attorney, would like to streamline the process of moving all that knowledge housed in the medical school into the marketplace faster.  

“It is very important that the technology transfer process be transparent, expeditious and fair.” Adams said. “Commercial companies need a process that can be tracked and counted on or they won’t invest.”

The day after the launch, Adams admitted this wasn’t the first effort in the region to take on technology transfers. He pointed to the links that stem cell preservation company ThermoGenesis has established with UC Davis and California State University of Sacramento to create devises for delivering genetic solutions.

“I would like to build on that,” Adams said.

The next checkup on the sector will be a report card on the state of the medical device industry that will be released later this year.

“It will be a benchmark to gauge our effectiveness,” Adams said.