My Medtech Life: GenX Medical’s Tyler Ware
Welcome to our blog series sharing highlights from conversations with Chamfr sellers, the leaders of companies that are helping to shape and drive the medical device industry forward.
This month, we spoke via videoconference with Tyler Ware, CEO of GenX Medical. Based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, GenX Medical provides quick-turn, custom-extruded medical tubing, specializing in microbore tubing, bioresorbable extrusions, and multilumen tubing.
Before founding GenX Medical in 2016, Tyler taught companies all over the world how to make medical tubing as a process engineer at American Kuhne.
Learn how a fishing trip led to his first job in the medical device industry, how growth came from never saying no, and why customers with their own extrusion equipment still rely on GenX.
Did you always know you wanted to be a chemical engineer?
I liked to take stuff apart. I didn’t always get it back together, but I liked to work on stuff. At my college orientation, they were like, “You’re good at math and you like to take things apart. Maybe you should be an engineer.” So I went with it. I liked learning; engineering came easy to me.
People always say, “Oh, your chemistry background must be good for working with polymers.” No. I do zero chemical engineering. It’s all what I learned in the industry. It did teach me to solve problems, which is the benefit of getting a degree. It shows that you can actually start something and complete it.
How did you find your way to the medical device industry?
After I graduated I did catering and waited tables. I was offered a job working at a company that extruded carpet fiber. That job lasted about 18 months. Then I quit and I worked for myself as a contractor for the next 6 years, buying rental properties and remodeling houses.
I also did a lot of fishing. I met a bunch of people on this fishing website, and somebody happened to read a post of mine saying that I used to do extrusion. He emailed me asking if I was looking for a job, because he was looking for an extrusion guy. So for my first interview, we went out on his boat and fished all day. That’s how you get to know somebody and see if you’re going to be compatible. I didn’t have any medical device extrusion experience, but they had an opening and I was local, so I kind of snuck in the back door. That was Accellent in Trenton, Georgia.
What appealed to you about the medical device industry?
At the carpet company, I saw them take the machines apart one day a year. Then I got into the medical device industry and we were taking machines apart 2 or 3 times a day sometimes. That’s how I came to like the medical industry—it’s real hands-on. I liked doing real engineering work. We haven’t been making the same product for 30 years and trying to cut corners and figure out how you’re going to save .04% of waste or something like that.
I just like hands on. We just bought a CNC [computer numerical control machine] and I taught myself how to run it so we can make our own tooling. It’s hard. It’s fun. I just love it. It’s something new every day. We never stop learning.
What motivated you to start your own company in 2016?
When American Kuhne sold to Graham, a lot of people were jumping ship, and I was one of them. I had bought some used machinery, so I had a warehouse with equipment. I had been in a lot of my competitors’ facilities, and I knew more than they did. So I took a chance and started GenX in an office building. I had to tear a wall out between 2 offices so there would be a room long enough for the extruder.
I also got tired of corporate environments. That’s why we’re so transparent here. Everybody at GenX has influence on how we steer the ship. I might be the captain, but I do take advice and we all have input. Transparency makes happy employees, and happy employees make good products.
What was the key to your success in the early days?
We never said no because we were hungry. There’s a great quote by Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Atlantic: “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you’re not sure you can do it, say yes—then learn how to do it later.”
We truly lived by that! We took opportunities that we had no idea how to do. We stayed up late and worked and figured it out. It was tough, but it was really fun. People were giving us these opportunities because nobody else could do it.
What can GenX do that others can’t?
Most of our customers have extrusion facilities of their own. But they come to us because we can turn jobs around faster, or because they can’t actually make what we’re making.
We do a lot of polyethylenes. We have a process around polyethylenes that nobody else has that I developed here out of necessity. We also have a process that allows us to make tubes up to .6” in OD, and you don’t find a lot of medical customers that can do that.
We’re also pumping out multilumen tubing quickly because we have our own CNC now. Nobody else is getting out prototype samples that people can take to their customers. We have customers who make multilumen tubing who will come to us because they’re jammed up making production stuff, making little single-lumen tubing. They’re giving all the easy Pebax® extrusions to the internal extrusion people and giving all the hard stuff to GenX: urethanes, polyethylene, thin-wall, sticky tubing.
What sets your extrusion company apart from others?
We beat ‘em on lead time. We work weekends; we work nights. We put a lot of effort into making sure that we stay ahead of the curve. Our customers love the fact that when we give them a lead time, we’re gonna hit the lead time.
We just had a customer say, “We love you guys!” They placed an order. We happened to be running that polymer. We ran their tubing in 2 days. We just happened to push the ECO through in one day and we tagged it onto another run. Same resin. We were like, “Get that tubing made!” If we need to, somebody comes early, somebody stays late. Their normal supplier quoted them 8 weeks. Guess who’s going to become their normal supplier? We will! That happens every day.
We’re reeling right now. We’re trying to boost capacity as fast as we can because the growth is coming in at an exponential rate and we can only expand capacity at a linear rate. It’s a good problem to have!
You’re at a trade show and you meet an engineer who hasn’t heard of GenX. What are the top 3 things you’d want them to remember about your company or your products?
1. We don’t lose customers. If you’re going to test the waters with GenX, you’d better be ready to dive in because you’re going to be like, “I need some of this.” It’s like drugs. Once people get our stuff, they get addicted to it. We let our product sell itself.
2. We don’t ever have lead times over 3 weeks. If a resin supplier can’t get us something in that time frame, we’ll schedule it for the day after the resin arrives to get it out as fast as we can.
3. We run ODs from 0.011” to 0.600”, which is a very large range. When I worked at American Kuhne, we sold extruders not just for medical applications but for coating large wire, pipes—a lot of stuff. I was able to take technology from those industries and apply it to medical, so I think that gives us an advantage.
What’s the coolest device tubing has been part of?
We make an infant feeding tube and do some secondary operations. It’s a very complicated product when it leaves here. The customer has forwarded us emails from doctors saying, “We’ve never had a product like this,” and “Thank you so much; this is going to save babies’ lives.” That’s awesome right there—we’re saving lives.
What appealed to you about partnering with Chamfr? Why was it a good fit for GenX?
At GenX, we do things a little differently. We don’t have a sales person. We saw Chamfr, and we were like, “This is how people like to buy stuff. Man, I need this. Boom, done. I’m not making a shopping list, calling the sales guy…NO.”
It’s more about, “Can customers find your products online?” We know that once they get our tubing in their hands, they’ll buy more. Chamfr has really brought us a lot of customers. It’s brought us customers that have left their companies and gone to new ones and still buy from us. In the last few days we’ve had Chamfr stuff going out to Australia, Brazil, Israel, Ireland, Czech Republic, and more. We saw it as a really great opportunity. Chamfr was new, we were new. We all needed to get our name out. It’s a win-win!
What’s the best thing about the GenX corporate culture?
People thank me every day for giving them a job here just because it’s so fun. I wanted to create that environment. I wanted to show that it’s possible to have happy employees and a successful company and make money.
We don’t work a day in our lives over here! We just put out good product, make happy customers, celebrate good times, and live as a family.
Let’s keep in touch.
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