Doctor/inventor encourages W.Va. entrepreneurship
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hurricane native Dr. Mark Bates was working as a disc jockey after high school when he developed his first invention. He wanted a laser light show for dances he worked. So he invented one.
More than 60 U.S.-issued and pending patents later, Bates believes there are other potentially successful entrepreneurs in West Virginia.
"There are some really bright people here, and we need to come together and understand that we can make a difference working together," Bates said. "It's that long-standing history of curiosity and solving problems."
Bates, whose patents include devices in various medical areas including stents, embolic protection, gene therapy, stem-cell implantation and others, was the keynote speaker Tuesday at the fourth annual West Virginia Bioscience Summit, in Charleston.
"There's a difference between discovery, invention and innovation," said Bates, a renowned physician and founder and CEO of Nexeon MedSystems, in California. "Innovation is something that changes our lives for the better."
Bates got his start in West Virginia. He attended the West Virginia University School of Medicine and completed his surgical residency in West Virginia.
Bates said there are a lot of similarities among scientists, physicians and "end-user innovators." It's the mindset of the innovator that sets them apart.
"They tend to be eclectic, they don't like to lose, and they're very creative," Bates said.
Since starting his career 25 years ago, the field of bioscience has changed.
"You were either making a pill or a device," Bates said. "Today it covers a lot of areas."
It's about linking ideas with the right people and places.
"You can have a great discovery or idea, but you have to be able to execute it to market and create a commonality to society," Bates said.
Bates talked about his timid beginnings. In his first two to three months as a resident surgeon, when he had the chance to scrub in on a surgery, he often allowed someone to take his place.
He soon noticed that, with that attitude, he was losing ground with his peers.
"I needed to go toward what I was afraid of," Bates said.
He embraced that, and by the end of his residency was asked to scrub in on difficult procedures. He likened his attitude to Nike's "Just Do It" motto.
After finishing his residency and fellowship, Bates wanted to come back to Charleston.
"I got a lot of grief for that," Bates said. "I came back with a bit of an attitude to break through the stigma associated with Appalachia."
In his first three years back home, Bates and his medical team at Charleston Area Medical Center had several firsts -- the first heart stent in the state, the first carotid stent on the East Coast.
Bates talked about a patient in the mid-1990s who was undergoing a catheter procedure. The patient coughed during the procedure and the device moved, rupturing the patient's kidney.
There weren't a lot of options, Bates said. What are the alternatives to removing the kidney? he asked.
"Basically I took a little vein from the arm and sutured it onto the stent and put that inside the kidney artery and it sealed up beautifully," Bates said.
The spirit of invention or solutions to problems that didn't have answers is what drove Bates to start Accelerator in 2005. Accelerator began in the Kanawha Valley Banking building downtown.
It was "literally impossible" to get the talent they needed from engineers to move to Charleston, Bates said. So its research-and-development facility was built in California near the world's largest stent manufacturer.
Moving forward, West Virginia needs to cultivate its native talent, Bates said. He added that it's important to have the talent around a company to "get you over the hump."
Communities need to be supportive through its legislative leaders and general population.
Bates is working to develop a cluster of innovation in Greenbrier County. The goal is to build the infrastructure to attract engineers and innovators.
"We need to give those people, who are innovators in the fields of science, cardiology and medicine, legal and business support to fertilize the entrepreneur mindset," Bates said. "This is important because you just don't see that in West Virginia. You don't see passion or support for the true entrepreneur."
Reach Caitlin Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5113.