ACT embraced by Chattanooga community, commitment

Paul Fitzpatrick is clearly an entrepreneur. He’s been involved in eight start-ups – seven in healthcare and the eighth running a bed and breakfast with his wife in the New Hampshire Lakes Region, but he does not like the term “serial entrepreneur.”

Today, Fitzpatrick is serving as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Director of his latest venture start-up – Advanced Catheter Therapies (ACT) – from an office on Chattanooga’s Main Street. It’s the same street that houses the CO.LAB and other entrepreneurial endeavors.

We sat down with the engaging and always smiling Fitzpatrick over lunch to discuss his career, his latest venture, the factors that caused ACT to relocate from Atlanta to Chattanooga, and the lessons he’s learned from his seven previous ventures.

Fitzpatrick was born in Massachusetts and trained in California as a paramedic. That training brought him back to the Northeast where he practiced his new skill and also taught in a paramedic training program.

He was asked to help launch a new hospital-based Advanced Life Support Emergency Medical Paramedic Service, the first of its kind in Massachusetts. In what seems to be a typical approach, Fitzpatrick says that he responded to the request to start the venture with a simple answer – “Sure, why not.”

The experience of working three jobs at the same time seems to have served Fitzpatrick well. He learned how to balance the priorities of a start-up, and he was also able to address a personal requirement that he described as “thriving on an ever changing environment where no two days are the same.”

Atlanta Catheter Therapies, the previous name that ACT used before relocating to Chattanooga, was founded in 2008 by three individuals – Dr. Rex Teeslink, an interventional radiologist, who now serves as Scientific Advisor; Dirk Hoyns, a medical device engineer, who is Vice President of Development; and the Medical Device Development Group. Fitzpatrick joined as CEO in January 2009 and Kevin Dye joined as Vice President for Finance and Operations in 2010.

ACT describes itself as “an early stage research and development medical device company with a portfolio of innovative catheter technologies targeting vascular disease including thrombosis, inflammation, occlusions and restenosis.”

Fitzpatrick said ACT has four platform technologies, three domestic patents, 60 claims and five international patents pending on its initial device that is called the Occlusion Perfusion Catheter TM (OPC).

“We are developing a universal therapeutic agent delivery device that is agnostic to the disease or agents,” Fitzpatrick said, explaining that those experiencing severe narrowing or blocking of blood vessels are faced with two procedures to open them – angioplasty or atherectomy.

“Approximately 30 to 40 percent of these patients will develop restenosis, some as quickly as six months after the procedure, resulting in another medical procedure that costs the U.S. healthcare system more than $475 billion annually,” he added.

The OPC is designed to immediately administer a physician-determined agent into the cleared blood vessel to reduce or possibly eliminate the incidence of restenosis.

For ACT, it’s the first of a family of products that Fitzpatrick expects the company will launch. He draws a distinction between medical device companies like Johnson & Johnson and ACT.

“Our business model does not include sales, marketing or manufacturing,” Fitzpatrick explained. “We will bring our new products to a certain stage, then either license or sell the technology to one of the larger established companies with existing manufacturing, sales, marketing and distribution channels. It requires less money and reduces the risk. ACT as a company does not expect to be  sold, just its individual product lines.”

That’s good news for Chattanooga as the company plans to continually deliver new innovative catheters.

The fact that the company moved to Chattanooga and changed its name is a testament to the vision and persistence of a group of Chattanoogans. Fitzpatrick cited two individuals with the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund (Charlie Brock, then with CO.LAB, and The Lupton Company’s David Belitz); Sara Morgan, with Innovate Here at the Benwood Foundation; and Dr. David Adair and his angel group which formed Act I Investments that invested in ACT. Both Adair and Belitz now serve on the ACT board of directors.

“I was on a money hunt and got introduced to Dr. Adair, then to Sarah and David,” Fitzpatrick said. “Dr. Adair, Sarah and David introduced us to others.”

The result was a $2.9 million Series A round that was funded by four entities – Act I Investments, Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, Maclellan Foundation and affiliates, and Innovate Here.

“All of these folks  have been  huge supporters, both financially and strategically,” Fitzpatrick said.  He credits the company’s progress and achievements thus far with having a great team that includes not only Dr. Teeslink, Hoyns and Dye, but its board of directors, investors and the Chattanooga business community.

The Chattanooga funding did come with two stipulations – ACT had to move to Chattanooga and change its name. The conditions seem to have been positive with Fitzpatrick saying, “We are thrilled with the support we have received.”

So, two or three days a week, he comes to Chattanooga from his home in Marietta, GA, and focuses on the three legs of the ACT business plan – clinical validation, intellectual property protection, and regulatory approval. Fitzpatrick expects ACT to submit its 510K application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by the end of  Q1 2013.

As far as the lessons he’s learned, Fitzpatrick cites the almost universal one – “cash is king.” He also says that he is not a fan of the field of dreams concept. Instead, Fitzpatrick advises, “You build what you need to meet the need of whomever you are trying to attract.”

Finally, he advises flexibility in strategy, urging entrepreneurs to “constantly revisit their original assumptions while keeping a constant eye on the market.”

That’s good advice from a guy who has been engaged in eight start-ups, yet shuns the term serial entrepreneur.

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