HAYSI, VA – APRIL 5, 2021 — An up to $170,000 grant from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) was recently closed for the Dickenson County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) to be used to finance a medical device manufacturing feasibility study.
The IDA is partnering with Medentum Innovations Inc. on the study to foster economic diversification into new sectors surrounding medical devices and information technology (IT). According to the application, the study will emphasize supply chain resiliency by bringing critical healthcare infrastructure production back to the U.S. and create new production partnership opportunities locally, setting the stage for Dickenson County and Southwest Virginia to be a pioneer in testing health system, IT and manufacturing innovations that could be disseminated to rural areas across the country.
Medentum Innovations Inc. is a Virginia corporation formed by Dickenson County native Dr. Starla Kiser and Dr. Vivek Shinde Patil. Chris Owens, David Owens, Grayson Martin and Nicholas Cox are co-founders of Medentum. Headquartered in Dickenson County, the company seeks to do all its design, R&D, testing and product assembly in Dickenson County. The concept was developed in Dickenson County and one of the things that makes the project unique is the involvement of students and teachers at Ridgeview High School in the development of Medentum’s signature ‘Diagnostick’ medical testing technology.
“The Medentum project is an innovative one which proposes to couple technology and diagnostic medical testing in a unique manner,” said VCEDA Executive Director/General Counsel Jonathan Belcher. “One of the things that makes it unique is the work between students, educators, a physician and biotech business professionals aimed at developing a product to enhance the delivery of medical services especially in rural, underserved areas.”
“The Dickenson County Board of Supervisors is excited to partner with VCEDA and the Medentum team in furtherance of the cutting edge ‘Diagnostick ‘ technology,” said Dickenson County Board of Supervisors Chairman Josh Evans. “We recognize the great potential for growth this project and its revolutionary technology represents for our county. We are especially proud of Dickenson County native and Harvard-educated Dr. Starla Kiser’s vision and willingness to invest in Dickenson County.”
Dickenson County Industrial Development Authority Chairman Larry D. Yates, who also serves as Haysi’s mayor, added, “the Industrial Development Authority of Dickenson County recognizes large tech centers are not the only game in town. Technology development is increasingly decentralized. Younger companies or tech startups, such as Medentum, are able to identify and embrace a challenge and turn it into opportunity.
“Dickenson County leaders understand the need to educate and train its workforce beginning at the high school level,” Yates continued. “Investing in these types of projects has the potential to create economic growth and the IDA is pleased to partner with the Medentum Innovations Inc. team to make this a successful project.”
Members of the Medentum team include Kiser, who has several degrees including two from Harvard University and who is a board-certified physician; Patil, who holds several degrees including a PhD from Ohio University and who has extensive experience as a biotech industry professional, scientist and entrepreneur; Chris Owens, a co-founder of Medentum, inventor and chemistry teacher and lead robotics mentor at Ridgeview High School; David Owens, a co-founder, inventor and lead product developer, who is an assistant principal in the Buchanan County Public School System; Shawn Tiller and Jessie Tiller, who are co-founder and teachers at Ridgeview; Grayson Martin and Nicholas Allen Cox, who are co-founders and inventors for Medentum; and Teagan Walter, who holds several degrees including a PhD and is R&D principal at Boston Scientific.
Martin is a senior at Ridgeview High School in Dickenson County and plans to pursue a degree in computer science. He was recently accepted to attend Harvard University. Cox graduated from Ridgeview and is currently working toward a degree in software engineering at Southwest Virginia Community College. Both worked on robotics while at Ridgeview.
The feasibility study to be conducted by Medentum and the IDA has three major goals, according to the IDA’s application for funding. The first goal is to attract medical device manufacturing which includes determining the feasibility of manufacturing Medentum’s patent pending Diagnostick medical device in Dickenson County. The device was invented with the assistance of the students at Ridgeview High School. The deliverable for that goal will include the production and commercialization of the first 1,000 patented and FDA-cleared Diagnostick medical devices, which will be distributed regionally at no cost to patients through a partnership with The Health Wagon, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization headquartered in Wise. Medentum recently applied for a patent for the device and expects to hear something on its application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the next several months.
“Our company is delighted to receive funding from VCEDA and the Dickenson County IDA to advance our mission of promoting rural health equity through affordable, accessible and high performance point-of-care health monitoring and testing devices,” said Medentum Innovations co-founders, Dr. Starla Kiser and Dr. Vivek Shinde Patil. “This funding will go a long way in bringing our products to the market by leveraging the local manufacturing and workforce ecosystem and partnering with local health systems to provide these devices to patients in Southwest Virginia.”
As proposed, local companies will be used in the production of the first 1,000 units to the extent possible. Unifuse, a local Dickenson County business, will handle the assembly and quality control of the first 1,000 devices.
The second goal of the study is to help build a high technology software ecosystem in Southwest Virginia, including a talent management, training and recruitment strategy geared toward job creation in the IT, electronics, advanced manufacturing and medical devices sectors.
The third goal of the study will be to assess the downstream health benefit impacts on local underserved populations through the deployment of the high-tech medical devices among Southwest Virginia residents, which according to the proposal could make Dickenson County and Southwest Virginia a test-bed/incubator for cutting-edge health technologies and health systems innovations.
“The new medical manufacturing study that the Dickenson County IDA will conduct in partnership with Medentum Innovations is an exciting opportunity for Southwest Virginia,” said 38th District Virginia Senator Travis Hackworth. “It opens up new possibilities not just for the county, but also for other rural communities looking to diversify economically and bring in more jobs. I’m also encouraged to see different groups like the VCEDA and Ridgeview High School collaborating on this project. This just goes to show how much we can do when we work together. I look forward to helping explore innovative ways to make opportunities such as these a success for our region.”
The feasibility study is expected to take 12 months and the IDA will track the progress on a quarterly basis with quarterly reporting to VCEDA, according to the proposal. At the end of the study, the proposal indicates the IDA, in partnership with Medentum, will submit a formal report detailing findings, outcomes and recommendations to the VCEDA Board in December 2021.
About Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and Southwest Virginia’s e-Region: The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1988 to enhance and diversify the region’s economy and help create jobs, markets Southwest Virginia’s e-Region and its focus on electronic information technology, energy, education, emerging technologies, and entrepreneurship. VCEDA is a unique economic development organization that manages funds for economic development projects from a percentage of the coal and natural gas severance taxes paid by coal and natural gas companies that operate in the region. Located in southwestern Virginia, the region includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton. www.vceda.us or www.e-Region.org.