A pioneer in motion
The story of Actuated Medical fits ideally into the most optimistic version of the American marketplace, where talented, educated entrepreneurs find a problem in society and immediately work towards fixing it.
In 2006, Maureen L. Mulvihill, president and CEO of Actuated Medical, was discussing medical technology with a doctor when he admitted to a problem that, if not dealt with, could lead to irreparable damage to a patient. That was it for Mulvihill. That same year she founded Actuated Medical in Bellefonte and has grown it ever since.
Since the company began, Mulvihill and the business have garnered serious nation-wide attention. Last year alone, Maureen received both the Entrepreneur of the Year award from the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County and became a Goldman Sachs 10,000 small business alumni. In 2014, the business won the Tibbetts Award for SBIR Excellence from the Small Business Administration and received SBIR research funding from the Advanced Medical Technology Association, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
PBW: What was your first paying job and does that experience still influence you personally and professionally?
Mulvihill: When I was 11 years old, my brother and I shared a Pittsburgh Press paper route in our home town of Aspinwall. My brother delivered the papers, and I collected the money. At 13 years old, I took over the paper route. I liked the interaction with people – often collecting payments required persistence and alternate strategies. People really appreciated having their papers delivered on time and in good condition which was evident in the extra tips at the end of the year. On one occasion, I had a customer who was never home when I came to collect the monies due. She owed me for five weeks of papers – that was a lot at that time. I left a nice note requesting that she call me or I would have to stop delivering the paper. She called me that night. On one Sunday morning, I loaded up my wagon with the Sunday papers. It was quiet and peaceful. The trees, cars, and houses were coated in a pristine white snow that glistened. It was just me and my wagon making a trail in the snow delivering the papers. I realized that work can be enjoyable, peaceful and rewarding – but also requires persistence, dedication and a positive outlook to get you through tough situations.
Mulvihill: I had started at Penn State in secondary education with a focus in science. When I took my sophomore chemistry class – the professor was awesome. I talked to him about my passion for science and he said that I should look into ceramic science and the engineering program. I had never heard of the field before and did my research. I switched majors afterward.
PBW: Did you plan on continuing your education all the way to your doctorate?
Mulvihill: No, I did not plan on pursuing a Ph.D. in the beginning of my education. It just happened. While studying my B.S. in ceramic science and engineering at Penn State, I had the opportunity to work in a few labs. I was also the president of the Penn State student chapter of the American Ceramic Society. We did a lot of building of the chapter that year. Just before graduation, one of my professors offered me an assistantship to pursue my master of science, and I accepted. When I was nearing the completion of my master’s degree, I said to my professor that I wanted to study in Japan for a year. He arranged a position for me at Sophia University in Tokyo. What I did not know was that Penn State had just offered the doctor in Tokyo who I was studying under a full professorship at University Park. He accepted the position. He then asked me to return to Penn State and pursue my Ph.D. while also setting up and organizing his laboratory.
PBW: Did you face any challenges as a woman studying material science?
Mulvihill: No, in my opinion the professors treated the students based on academics. We had about eight women in our class of probably 60. Our class was a bit different in that one of our classmates died over spring break, and our class became very close afterwards.
PBW: What led you to start Actuated Medical in Centre County?
Mulvihill: In 2006, while sitting in a doctor’s office talking about micro- actuators, the doctor said, “I have a clinical need. I have 6 hours to get to the blood clot or my patient will have irreparable brain damage. I need a solution.” That was it ... There was a market need for an agile small business with actuation (i.e., electronically controlled motion) expertise. And thus in 2006, Actuated Medical, Inc. (AMI) was born with a mission to integrate motion into medical devices to improve patient outcomes. We trademarked it “Innovative Motion”. Our Innovative Motion devices move in such a way to improve patient outcomes, reduce healthcare costs and increase profitability.
We were already living in Bellefonte, loved the school and our neighborhood. So it only made sense to incorporate Actuated Medical in Bellefonte – an easy commute. For our team, the attraction of AMI is not only the idea of making things better for people, but also the central Pennsylvanian quality of life. The commute is pleasant and short as there are no traffic jams or large cities to navigate. The schools are great. There are a lot of outdoor activities, sporting events, and cultural events that occur year round. The people are caring and neighborly. Thus, the quality of life that central PA offers is an attractive place to live and raise a family. The number of jobs with a growing high tech company in this area is limited. Therefore, many candidates have contacted us with the goal of relocating in central PA and working for a high tech company.
PBW: Did you observe any specific barriers as a woman when starting your business? How did you overcome them?
Mulvihill: There are not many female CEOs. So it is often surprising when I walk into a room. However, once I start speaking with such passion about Actuated Medical and our mission to improve patient outcomes, people take me seriously. The largest problem that we have had is raising capital, but there are many factors that affect investors. Our previous investors have come from friends of friends. We are now seeking capital that is larger to commercialize some more advanced medical devices. Once again, I am one of the few women pitching their company, but when I am done people are interested.
Being very positive and passionate about Actuated Medical’s mission to improve patient outcomes. The passion rubs off. I often tell the story about the first patient that we helped. The TubeClear System was used on a 27 year old soldier at Walter Reed. Not only did this small Bellefonte company help a human being, but we helped a soldier. It was a very emotional day for our team.
PBW: What are you looking forward to most in the future of Actuated Medical?
Mulvihill: Medical device market leaders (MDLs) must grow the market share to remain competitive; therefore, they need to continually bring innovative devices to the market while at the same time minimize R&D expenses. That’s where AMI’s medical devices solve their need. Our devices are developed in a FDA-compliant system - positioned for quick penetration into the target market and de-risked for quick integration into the MDL’s portfolio. The common goal for each of our devices is to develop it to a point that a MDL acquires it. Actuated Medical’s goal is to be the “go-to” medical device developer for medical device leaders. .