13 Companies and Counting: Serial Entrepreneur Continues Winning Track Record in Life Sciences and Medical Devices

Rudy Mazzocchi, CEO of ELENZA, speaks with GrowthCap’s CEO, RJ Lumba. Rudy has co-founded thirteen companies; notable exits include sales to St. Jude Medical, Warburg Pincus and Medtronic. Below is the Q&A:

RJ: You have a very impressive business and entrepreneurial background. Maybe you could share with us your background and the various businesses you’ve been involved with.

Rudy:  Sure, my background has been technology oriented. My undergrad was from University of Pittsburg in life sciences and biochemistry and I went to grad school at UCLA. I didn’t finish the degree as I was recruited out of school when I was working on my Masters in Biophysics by a company in Bloomington, called COOK Inc., a private medical device company. That’s where I cut my teeth and learned a broad business spectrum – everything from product development, sales and marketing, a bit of manufacturing, dealing with the FDA, and launching a variety of products.

Then in 1989, at the age of twenty-eight years old, I had the opportunity to start my first company. I moved up to Minnesota and founded a company called MICROVENA, another vascular device company specializing in cardiology, radiology, pediatrics and eventually interventional neuroradiology. We also developed one of the first implantable devices for treatment of congenital heart defects, also known as Patent Foramen Ovale (“PFO”) and Atrial Septal Defects (“ASD”). That company was acquired in a buyout by Warburg Pincus as part of a roll-up strategy to form eV3 which went on to complete an IPO and then be acquired by Covidien.

RJ: That’s an impressive start to your career.

Rudy: Thank you. We had a great team and the regulatory environment was quite different back then. While growing MICROVENA, I also had the opportunity to create another company called Vascular Science. We recruited a CEO and raised $7 million in private equity. The Company was focused on the development of a percutaneous coronary by-pass procedure and was acquired by St. Jude Medical approximately two and a half years later for around $100 million. While not huge home runs they were good doubles and solid triples that proved I could produce good returns to shareholders and gave me the ability to attract capital by identifying and developing extremely novel technologies. I’ve recently published a book called “Storytelling”, a key element to being an entrepreneur. That’s basically what I do—attempt to tell great stories based on phenomenal new technologies in order to raise capital and build teams.

RJ: Can you tell us more about the other companies you founded?

Rudy: I have been a co-founder of about thirteen companies now; serving as CEO of about five or six of them and chairman of probably eight to ten – everything ranging from cardiology, radiology, neurology, biotechnology and ophthalmology. One was a neurosurgical company based on technology licensed from the University of Minnesota which we sold to Medtronic, to optimize the placement of pacing electrodes into the brain for treatment of Parkinson’s Disease. Previously, I was the co-founding Chairman of a company called CytoGenesis, which was one of the first embryonic stem cell companies in this country back in 2000. We fortunately were also one of the first approved stem cell alliance participants under actions by President Bush, which pretty much saved that company. We ended up doing a merger with an Australian company which we took public down on the Australian exchange, and then was later acquired.

Afterwards, I went into venture capital for about three years for a firm called Accuitive Medical Ventures out of Atlanta, which had an affiliation with The Innovation Factory, an incubator designed to create new med-tech companies as well. We raised a second fund of about $175 million, half of which was earmarked to establish new companies within the Factory.

RJ: How did you like being on the venture capital side?

Rudy: I actually ended up leaving venture capital after realizing that I was just wired too differently than the rest of the team. My DNA as an entrepreneur and start-up CEO conflicted with my abilities to be a good fund manager. Nearly every deal that came across my desk I thought we could do successfully, so I wasn’t the ideal venture capitalist… unless you were sitting across the other side of the table! My risk tolerance was, and still is, through the roof. So I left to step in to run other companies, the latest of which is an ophthalmic-device company called ELENZA.

ELENZA has developed an autofocusing intraocular lens for the cataract market using a proprietary liquid crystal technology with a Swiss-based development partner. I’ve been commuting back and forth to Switzerland and have had a small office there, for the last four years. We’ve recently engaged an investment banker, and are now in the middle of acquisition discussions with a variety of potential acquirers.

RJ: I noticed you have been quite prolific through the years in developing patents.

Rudy: Yes, I have nearly 50 patents not including the ones that have expired or are still pending. In 2007, we received a patent for devices that provide accurate placement or electrodes into the brain or another body organ used for treatment of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. We’ve been issued patents for medical devices that filter fluids and can be used in vascular or urinary systems. We’ve filed numerous patents on auto-focusing intraocular implants that comprise a dynamic and static aspheric focusing element, and recently I’ve applied for an independent series of patents on a minimally-invasive method and apparatus for restructuring the retina and orbit of the eye. There are numerous other devices and methods for which we are in a process of filing patents as we continue to create advancements in medical technology.

RJ: Lastly, could you share with us some of the new innovations in the life sciences field you are excited about and perhaps already involved in?

Rudy:  Because of my broad experiences and academic background, I still have a strong affinity for targeted drug delivery methodology, and of course, stem-cell related therapies. Combining these with novel wearable (or implantable) sensor technologies opens up entirely new opportunities in healthcare. I’ve also recently joined a new venture in Boca Raton, Florida that is establishing the Center for Advanced Athletic Engineering. They are striving to have a huge impact not only in the field of sports medicine, but plan to integrate genomics, regenerative medicine and patient data analytics into other therapies that could optimize medical treatments for a variety of other degenerative disorders. And finally, although it might sound a little outside of my “wheel house”, I’ve lately been investigating how best to help legitimize the potential for expanding the applications of medical cannabis (marijuana) – a phenomena that is starting to sweep this country, state-by-state. This biological substance has enormous potential in the treatment of diseases including glaucoma, cancer pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s Disease, COPD and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Opportunities here range from proprietary cloning and cultivation methods to novel extraction and delivery technologies. It’s a brave new world!

RJ: Thank you so much for your time. This was very informative and will be particularly interesting to the investors in our network focused on life sciences and medical devices.

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