Why the Medical Devices Industry is Ripe for Disruption: A Closer Look at Innovation Opportunities

At Speck Design, we believe that thoughtful, intelligent innovation—combined with best-in-class engineering—can improve the world around us in practical, tangible ways. Today we take closer look at the medical devices industry, historically one slow to innovate. But with healthcare being such a prominent, hot-button issue in our country, one who can benefit the most from innovation.

Speck Design’s own Anthony Le, Director of Engineering, and Ryan Fernandez, Mechanical Engineer, share their thoughts on innovation in the medical devices industry and how our approach can help disrupt the industry to help improve—and in many cases save—the lives of patients in need.


Question: What challenges does the medical devices industry face today?

Anthony: Medical device companies are often motivated by the wrong incentives to innovate. For too many, the primary benefit of medical innovation is financial…while patient benefit becomes a secondary fringe benefit. Medical breakthrough technologies exist today, such as heart pumps and cancer treatments, but unfortunately, they can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s difficult for successful Silicon Valley executives to afford, let alone people struggling to get by in less economically-advantaged parts of the country.

Question: Why is innovation so critical to this industry's success...and the health of our nation?

Ryan: Many people question whether access to medical care is a right or a privilege. As innovators and engineers, it is not our place to decide that. Our goal should be to create technologies that are more easily accessible, available and affordable to patients in the US and around the world. Making a better device for more money is easy. True innovation is considering the entire spectrum of humanity and creating a device that is equally as good or maybe even slightly better, while making it more affordable and easily available to those who need it most.

                      Surgeon Console designed by Speck Design for Intuitive Surgical

                      Surgeon Console designed by Speck Design for Intuitive Surgical

Question: Intelligent innovation, like the work we do here at Speck Design, can help transform the medical devices industry and improve people’s health. But what are some of the challenges you see when it comes to bringing those innovations to market?

Anthony: Venture capitalist funding for medical devices is extremely difficult to come by. To present your idea—even during the initial stages of development—a large amount of research and mature animal data, and possibly even human clinical data, is required. Jumping the gap from zero to that type of data is huge. Companies are often required to bootstrap millions of their own dollars just to get funding. For a lot of very intelligent people around Silicon Valley, that kind of capital is quite rare. These requirements limit innovation opportunities to a very exclusive group of innovators.

Ryan: If you’re going to start a medical devices company, like any other business, it needs to be profitable, or it will never survive. The scale of funding required for medical devices is very high compared to other industries. With regulatory burdens, need for IP and extensive research and development, so much funding is needed for medical devices. Add to that the challenges of accessing venture capital funding and it makes it a very tough industry to enter.


The bar for medical devices is set very high. If a cell phone fails, you’re only annoyed or inconvenienced. If a medical device fails, people die.
— Anthony Le, Director of Engineering

Question: How can innovation and design firms bridge the gap between intelligent innovation and a risk-adverse industry?

Ryan: Focus on solutions without constraints, such as:

  1. Business models. The “we’ve always done it this way” or “we only work with these types of physicians” mentality makes companies unable or unwilling to jump into a segment that’s fairly close…or to envision solutions that are different.
  2. Breadth of technology. As a design firm, we have the unique ability to see the whole big picture spectrum of technologies, various disciplines of healthcare and outside industries. We then apply these insights to help create the innovations that make a real difference in healthcare.

Take Balloon Sinuplasty (BSP) as a great example of this principle. The BSP procedure uses a basic technology of a balloon catheter, something that’s been around for decades, for chronic sinusitis relief in patients. Before this innovation, patients had to endure brutally invasive surgery involving cutting nasal bone and tissue, to open and drain sinuses.

The engineers who developed and brought the BSP device to market had previous experience with catheters and cardiac angioplasty. They succeeded by applying their knowledge to a field that was purely hand surgery based.


Having the breadth of experience of working with different technologies, different disciplines within healthcare and different industries, empowers us at Speck Design to leverage these technologies and adapt them into new, life-improving (and in certain cases, life-saving) applications for health care.
— Ryan Fernandez, Mechanical Engineer

                                                                             Sinuplasty Foam Models by Speck Design

                                                                             Sinuplasty Foam Models by Speck Design


Learn More about the Speck Approach

Headquartered in Redwood City, CA, Speck Design can help you extend your brand into exciting new growth areas by identifying new innovation opportunities and bringing them to market through our unparalleled in-house engineering capabilities. We pride ourselves in avoiding over-specialization in any particular vertical. Here, user insights, industrial design and engineering teams come together to provide the best solutions for medical devices and other industries—while bridging the gap for smaller companies with limited resources to accurately understand their audience and build the right design to satisfy their needs, today and tomorrow.

To learn more about how we can help you leverage innovation to help make a better world and improve your bottom line, please Contact us.