My Medtech Life: Poba Medical’s Dan Kasprzyk
Welcome to our new 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 Dan Kasprzyk, CEO of Poba Medical. Based in Flagstaff, Arizona, Poba Medical provides high-quality, rapid-turn thermoplastic balloons for any interventional device or surgical device application.
A serial entrepreneur, Dan worked for several medical device startups as well as W. L. Gore & Associates before founding or co-founding companies including Symple Surgical, ExperiENT Medical, and Poba Medical. (Read his bio here.)
Learn how a kid from Milwaukee ended up in Arizona, the coolest devices he’s worked on, and how medical devices became part of his DNA.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to play baseball for the Milwaukee Brewers, which clearly never panned out! I think you lean toward the things you’re good at or things that come easy, so for me, math and science were intriguing and interesting.
When I was a freshman at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a guest speaker came to my Introduction to Engineering class to talk about how engineering was being applied to advance medical devices and patient care. It was the early 1980s and there really wasn’t a dynamic medical device or bioengineering industry yet. But it just resonated with me.
I ran over to the library and found information about a bioengineering program at Arizona State University. The brochure had lots of palm trees and sunshine, which was pretty motivating to me as a kid from Wisconsin. I was always into risk-taking, so I hopped on my motorcycle and drove to Arizona to pursue a bioengineering degree.
Did you plan your career path or did it evolve organically?
I wasn’t really a career or a life planner. I just wanted to learn as much as I could. Once I learned what I thought I needed to be really good at that skill—whether it was a startup or a big company—I would get bored and start to look around. So that’s what drove me early in my career. I moved every two and a half years. I was willing to explore.
A couple of really good recruiters also latched on to me early in my career. In the days before LinkedIn, they helped expose me to new opportunities that led to a handful of the career opportunities I had after that.
Was there a moment you knew you wanted to spend your career in the medical device industry?
Early in your career, you don’t realize that your first or second job is going to set the course for your 30 years, but it does.
One of my first jobs was with Advanced Cardiovascular Systems, a startup in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a couple hundred twentysomethings with engineering and tech degrees. We were learning all the things you don’t learn in college—teamwork, collaboration, equity—all working together to grow this crazy balloon angioplasty idea, and it just became fun.
I was fortunate because I fell in love with working to improve patient care and save lives. Once you do the work, it becomes your DNA.
Is that life-saving element of the work what still motivates you?
Yeah, that’s still a part of it. But now it’s more about changing the lives of people I’m able to work with and bring into a startup in their 20s so that they can do great things. Now I get to build a team to experience this journey with me.
Another thing is that at Poba, we’re often a step removed from the life-saving aspect because our technology gets used in some blue-sky therapies. And many times we’re not privy to that end use. So we’re just really focused on delivering the product based on the customer’s development plan for their life-saving medical device.
What motivated you to found Poba Medical?
It was more out of need than anything else. At Symple Surgical, we were struggling to find a supplier to work with us to develop a unique, custom balloon for our microwave ablation technology. I had 3 or 4 “thanks, but no thanks” conversations with people who didn’t want to take on our balloon development project because they didn’t see enough volume. Once I had struck out enough, the lightbulb went on that there’s got to be other people like me looking to develop novel technologies around balloons. So that’s when we decided to buy some equipment and do it ourselves at Symple Surgical.
I sent out a couple notes on LinkedIn to see if I could find others who were looking for help with balloon development. Within a couple weeks, I had customers in Israel, Europe, and California. That’s when I realized that we needed to treat Poba as its own entity.
Looking back, I’m really glad those suppliers had said no, because if they would have sent me balloons, I probably would have kept using their contract expertise and Poba would never have come to be.
If Poba Medical were a person, what would it want to be when it grows up?
As we grow up, we want to be the go-to company for anybody that’s at lab bench or involved in intellectual property (IP) that involves a balloon in their concept phase. It’s going to be challenging to become that, but I think we’re on a great course. We’ve got a collection of really smart twentysomethings on our team, and I want to continue to bring in as much talent as I can find to grow the brand.
What does success look like for you?
Continual customer adoption of the Poba contract manufacturing and contact development brand. I think we’re well on our way. We had a call this morning with a customer in Israel who is just completely outside the box asking the balloon to do something that looks impossible on paper, but we’re going to give it a shot. It’s being able to engage early with these early-concept ideas, and then just hoping that we can find a commercial success.
We don’t need 10 commercial success stories a year—we need one a year. For us, that’s success. And if a year comes when we get two or three, we just have to scale and be ready for that. Right now, it’s just a really fun place to work.
What’s the coolest device Poba Medical has been involved with?
There have been a bunch! Our first commercial success is a company in Costa Rica involved in women’s health applications, such as early detection of cervical cancer. We’ve also imbedded cameras in balloons for in vitro fertilization applications, and we’ve added microwave antennae into balloons for esophageal cancer ablation.
Other recent advances are being able to trap clots to avoid strokes by using a porous balloon, and neurovascular aneurysm repair: a novel balloon approach for treating brain aneurysms before they rupture. We’re also actively involved in the ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialty.
Sometimes the path of your business is dictated by the projects you’re successful with and the customers that embrace with your technology early. We’ve become well-known in the women’s health and neurovascular markets. The areas I thought we would be really successful in, like cardiovascular and peripheral vascular, where balloons are really easy to produce—those areas are not as common for us.
What should engineers know about your company?
It’s quick turn, attention to detail, and responsiveness. The things that should be easiest for companies to provide are often ignored. In the multibillion-dollar contract manufacturing space, they’re almost always ignored. We’re just giving customers an opportunity for a proposal to solve their most difficult balloon challenges. And if we say we’re going to deliver in 4 to 6 weeks, we want to deliver in 4 weeks. That’s very different from how many of our competitors behave and react.
What appealed to you about Chamfr? Why did you partner with us?
The Chamfr side has just been phenomenal. As an entrepreneur, it made logical sense to me to engage early and see where it could take us. We partnered with Chamfr back in 2018 because it felt like a smart way to focus on what we’re good at on the balloon side without dealing with all the back-end stuff that Chamfr is really good at.
I was an early adopter. When I met the Chamfr team, it was a perfect time for us to create a partnership that allowed us to get our balloons out with a novel approach. At the time, we had no means of connecting with early-stage customers other than through tradeshows and word of mouth. We didn’t have a website yet. We didn’t have 80 SKUs like we have now. We had nothing. We had a couple of balloons in our R&D lab that we thought somebody might want to buy.
It always made sense to me that a busy engineer would go to Chamfr, buy some balloons, and then call us if they worked. And certainly with the early adoption of customers embracing Chamfr as a means to engage with us, it’s been a really beneficial relationship.
What advice would you have for people starting out in the industry?
The stuff they learn in school gets thrown out the window the day they start, unfortunately. They have to learn entirely new skills: some hard skills, some soft skills. For example, how to catch someone’s attention so you can hit a 4-week lead time on a project that has no business quoting 4 weeks as a lead time. The engineering skills? They’ll get used, for sure, but they’re way, way down the totem pole.
Don’t burn any bridges, no matter what. That single bridge you burn could have an impact on your future.
But most importantly, just build strong relationships with the people you’re sharing a lab bench or an office with. We don’t appreciate it when we’re in our first or second jobs, but those relationships that we establish early on will be career-lasting relationships.
Let’s keep in touch.
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