Helping a Medical Startup Grow

Patrick Shanley (MBP '13) reflects on his work at Attune Medical and the role Northwestern's Master of Biotechnology program (MBP) had on his professional journey.

Patrick Shanley (MBP '13) has a unique perspective on the growth of medical device startup Attune Medical. Shanley interned with the company' founder while a student in Northwestern's Master of Biotechnology program (MBP). He was the first full-time hire the company ever made, back before it even had a product to sell.

Now, as Senior Director of Operations, Shanley has played a critical role in helping the company spread around the world with more a dozen employees and regulatory approval on three continents.

Shanley recently spoke at Northwestern's Biotechnology Day about his career journey. Afterward, he took the time to explain more about Attune Medical and how his MBP experience influenced his role and responsibilities today.

How do you describe what your role is at Attune Medical?

As the Senior Director of Operations in a medical device startup, I wear many different hats. My primary responsibilities include leading our quality, regulatory, R&D, operations, and supply chain management teams.

What is it that Attune Medical does?

We are a medical device startup company focused on commercializing the EnsoETM product family. The EnsoETM is a multi-lumen silicone tube that is placed in the esophagus in a similar manner to a standard orogastric tube. Warm or cold water is pumped through the EnsoETM in a closed loop (i.e. no water enters the body) to control patient body temperature. The EnsoETM can also be used to decompress the stomach or administer fluids to the stomach.

How did you first get introduced to Attune?

I was introduced to Attune Medical through MBP's internship program. Our founder, Dr. Erik Kulstad, had recently received SBIR grant funding and was looking for an intern to hire. He was connected with MBP through PROPEL, an organization that helps early-stage life science companies in Illinois.

What do you enjoy about working at a startup?

The aspect of a startup I enjoy the most is the opportunity to work in multiple different areas of the business simultaneously.

What are the biggest challenges you face working at a startup?

In my mind, the biggest challenge with a startup is the lack of resources, including everything from funding to experience. Most startups (at least in the beginning) are forced to be extremely frugal to preserve cash, which means that you lack many of the resources available to larger, more established companies.  

You've now been at Attune for seven years. What does it mean to you to see the company's growth over that time?

It has been extremely exciting, and I'm proud of what we have accomplished. When I first joined, I was the only employee and we didn't even have a product to sell. Now, we have over 15 employees spread throughout the world, regulatory approval on three continents, 10 different SKUs, and our products have been used thousands of times.

How do you think your time at MBP helped prepare you to work at Attune and to advance to where you are today?

To me, the most attractive part of the MBP was the ability to customize the program to your individual career interests. The core MBP classes were primarily focused on the pharma and biologics industries, and I was more interested in medical devices. However, the combination of the research element, internship opportunity, and electives allowed me to focus my individual program on more medical device-related activities, such as the NUvention program.

What did you learn from those research opportunities?

I think the research was critical to helping prepare me for the real world. Classes primarily teach theory, and, typically, all the questions posed have known answers. In research, almost everything is unknown, and you need to design experiments (most of which fail) to discover the answers (or, frequently, discover more questions).

What advice would you give a prospective student considering MBP?

Don't feel restricted by what other students have used MBP to accomplish in the past. Through the research opportunity, internship opportunity, and electives, the program offers a unique opportunity to tailor the program to your exact interests.

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