Q – Justin Starbird: Today we’re discussing how Lighthouse helps companies with their disposable medical endoscopes and visualization systems. We’re going to get a little bit more specific today about the use cases around how Lighthouse actually integrates with clients and what we do. Really excited to have you on today.
A – Benjamin Gray: Yes, this is really a passionate topic for me, Justin. I’m excited to be talking about it.
Q: You get clients and folks come to you that have seemingly solved a whole bunch of really challenging problems out there. For me, it’s one of those things where when I hear you speak, or I hear other members of the leadership team speak. It’s inspiring to hear that you’ve created solutions to problems that most people don’t know exist, or don’t take the time to think through. I think it’s really important to understand how you work with potential device manufacturers or become part of their team as well, and what you do to help clients find solutions. Take us through how you initially start educating your clients or partners.
A: Yes, it’s a really great setup, Justin, because this is where the rubber really meets the road, in terms of what Lighthouse can offer to our clients. Just to frame this, Lighthouse’s core expertise is in optics and visual imaging for medical devices. That includes general endoscopy, but also a lot of highly specialized devices. As a contract developer and contract manufacturer, typically, our goal or our job is to help our clients realize their vision for a medical device.
They really are the ones that have come up with new and novel ways to do something, whether that’s from a technology perspective, or a cost perspective, or performance. It’s our job to help them actualize that into something real. It’s not uncommon for our customers to be very skilled at design and manufacturing themselves, but perhaps they’re not optical groups. We come in and help them out there.
Really, this process typically starts where we educate each other. We’re learning about their device, their technique, their process, or technology, and we’re educating them on the world of optics and imaging endoscopes and everything that’s associated with it. Really, it’s, for me, a fun process but it’s also a very engaging process where we’re really working together collaboratively to try to figure out how we can help each other and where the benefits for both sides are going to come into play.
Q: That makes a lot of sense because you’re there to, obviously provide assistance, but also help them design solutions that, like you said, they may have pieces of it together. You’re that catalyst that actually brings it to the next level. Let’s talk a little bit about the custom design and contract manufacturing elements of Lighthouse for your clients.
A: Yes. One of the things that we bring to the table on the design development side of things is that our core business is very specific. Like I said, it’s imaging and visualization for medical devices. We’re able to do that really well and really efficiently. There are a lot of things that we don’t do and we don’t claim to do. We want to be really good at what we do and be able to provide that service to our clients in a real value-add scenario.
Typically, this comes into play in the optical design, the optical performance and evaluation in really bringing an entire system together. We are a holistic, systems focused organization where we aren’t looking at just optics or just illumination. We’re looking at how the optics may interact with an image sensor and how the processing of that image sensor functions and how the illumination works with the optics. It really is a fully interconnected system where you have to understand the entire part for it to be as optimal as possible.
Q: You actually really help your clients focus in on what’s important. At the end of the day, they want to have the best solution possible, but not everybody has unlimited budget, either. How do you navigate those waters?
A: Yes, one of the very first questions that we ask has to do with budgets and for development, so that we can make sure that there’s the right scale of effort that’s anticipated. Our entire business model is predicated on manufacturing devices for the long haul for our customers. From day one, we’re trying to make sure that there is a good match. If there’s not, then if we don’t provide the value to a prospective client, then we think they should go somewhere where they do find that value. Now, many times quite often, if they’re coming to us for a device in the imaging or visualization world, we are going to make them quite happy, because they’ll see that there is a lot of value to be added.
Q: Right. Once the cost has been evaluated in measured versus feasibility of a project, what are the next pieces that really get drilled down?
A: There really are the categories that we look to make sure there’s a strong fit on the technologies, the timelines, the budget, and the performance. Then, of course, we also want to make sure that there’s the right chemistry, if you will, among the teams. It’s really important that we can work together well but we have similar styles. Typically, we’re just trying to make sure that everybody is going to be ultimately happy at the conclusion of the project, whether it be for cost reasons or performance reasons.
Q: When do you ever turn somebody away when you get to that level?
A: It can happen for a variety of reasons. Just to be clear on how we typically do that. Generally, we still want to provide value even to prospects that we think may not be a great match for our services. We are often, if we are not able to help them or for whatever reason, we decide maybe it’s not the best fit, we try to point them in the right direction so that they can find the right fit. This may happen with a company that’s very early stage.
Either the technology is not quite proven out enough, and it’s still in its infancy and not quite to a point where Lighthouse could take it and develop with it. Or perhaps they’re new and still working on getting funding for their project and all they’re looking for is some very initial quick help. Typically, what we’ll do is try to help them find resources to get over those challenges and in hopes that down the road, whether that be months or years that there is an opportunity to then engage with from design and manufacturing perspective. That’s happened quite a few times in our history.
Q: It is fair to say that it’s worth getting value out even if a prospect isn’t really good fit for who you’re working with.
A: That’s absolutely correct. I firmly believe that we all benefit when we help each other out. The net result of that not only is hopefully better standards of care in the medical field, but also I think our prospects see that as well. When they’re to a point where it makes sense to engage with Lighthouse either at their current company or even a company down the road, they remember that. They remember the attention that we were able to give them and just notice how we cared about their project and what they were working on. Oftentimes, they can come back later and say, “I think we’re ready to work together.”
Q: Well, recently you had a big press release come out from a partner of yours touting the work that you’ve done with them that was pretty public. You did that right before MD&M West. Do you want to talk a little bit about how your performance and evaluation that you performed actually led to that partnership?
A: That publication was about a 3D visualization system. It was in conjunction with OmniVision, our partner for image sensors. We’ve been working with them for quite some time as they have bolstered their medical device side of the business. We’ve been working with them in lockstep to make sure that we’re implementing the latest and greatest technologies and performance and cost attributes into the products that we’re developing.
It made sense for us to collaborate with them on this 3D visualization system it’s a platform that really doesn’t exist. There are certainly 3D imaging systems available out there, but they’re typically very proprietary and very expensive. We collectively thought it was the right opportunity to come up with a platform that would allow medical device manufacturers and prospective clients to evaluate the performance and the technology, and also give us a step up when we look for commercialization to have the performance proven out. It’s a matter of customizing it for their specific application. One of the nice things about this is, it allows us to refine and tweak over time and potentially pull this down into a system that could be low enough cost to be considered as a disposable or perhaps a reposable device where it’s used five to 10 times.
Q: One of the things I found to be such a game changer in the industry or in this specific space is, it helps future clients take advantage of the work that’s already been done and potentially move to market faster.
A: Yes, that’s absolutely correct. We work with a lot of similar companies, and so we have to be very careful about something that we’ve developed for company A that it doesn’t get used for company B. We’re very careful to protect our client’s IP and design ownership by developing a platform system it does allow us to be able to use that and multiple applications while still customizing and specifying the final device for a specific client that they own, it doesn’t get used for another client. It benefits everybody.
Q: That allows you to focus on best practices, or focuses on allowing you to solve some of the world’s major problems right now by introducing visualization to procedures and solutions that may not have had it before.
A: That’s exactly right. Yes.
Q: Do you have any other examples of products that you’re able to use, some of the latest technology that you implement it in a way that the world hasn’t seen before?
A: We are involved in a lot of airway management and laryngoscopy applications. We see the cross section of devices that are reusable versus disposable. The traditional way to intubate is to use, basically a metal rod to stick down somebody’s mouth and hold their tongue down and do what they need to do. This has progressed over the decades to using video-based systems.
They’ve slowly started to migrate over towards disposable parts. Now we’re getting into an area where they are not only have disposable elements, but the performance is quite impressive, the size is very small. Advanced features such as automatic region detection or guidance that can help out, let’s say an emergency medicine practitioner who is trying to do something in a hurry and perhaps less than ideal conditions.
Essentially just tell them what they need to do for an effective outcome. By being able to combine our knowledge in the space and the field and not have to focus on making the system work because we’ve been there, done that many times. We can help focus on the value-add and the improvement to performance or cost or technologies and help our clients get an advantage in the marketplace.
Q: How can a potential client or somebody that has a company with a great idea, just missing the final piece that Lighthouse can provide, how do they go through that process of potentially working with you?
A: We typically meet our prospects through either trade shows or they visit our website, which is lighthouseoptics.com and learn a little bit about us and try to see if our services may be a fit for them. Typically, then it starts with either a phone call or an e-mail. We go through a process where we do an initial introductory call, typically it’s a pretty brief conversation, just to learn a little bit about each other.
It’s a sanity check to make sure we’re speaking the same language and looking for the same things. Then from there it flows to a discovery call, where we are learning in detail about what it is they need, how we might want to go about it, what some of their requirements are, and also tell them about our capabilities. Generally, from there we’re able to put together a proposal and work with our prospect and hopefully at that point in time we can engage in a partnership.
Q: You’re saying it can happen pretty quickly then?
A: Yes, certainly one of our goals is to move quickly. It is for our benefit but also for the benefit of our customers. We first and foremost are a contract manufacturer, and so our goal is to make products for our clients. I’ve never met a client that didn’t share the same goal of wanting to get to market to make some revenue. The faster we can move, the more value add it is for our clients but it’s also advantageous for us as well.
Q: It’s always exciting to hear about how you come to create such incredible solutions to the problems that are out there. Is there anything else that folks should know about how to work together?
A: The primary thing is that Lighthouse is an organization that is focused on value add. We work in a very specific field and we know that field very well. Our goal is to have happy clients and we view our relationship with our clients as a partnership not as a customer based scenario. We want to work collaboratively because we’re both getting value out of the engagement, and we hope that it’s a long term engagement that can benefit us, our clients, and also the patients that will eventually be using those products.