Thomas D. Weldon
The Innovation Factory
For his outstanding record as an inventor and for entrepreneurial leadership that has significantly advanced the frontiers of medical technology
Drawn to a Challenge: From Puzzles to Entrepreneurship
As a boy, Tom Weldon dared to go where few have: into the world of 3–D puzzles. He liked the challenge; the puzzles suited his interests in spatial awareness and problem solving. Forty years later, he is still using those skills as a successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist with authorship of more than 12 new companies and 24 issued patents in the area of medical devices technology.
Weldon (BSIE ’77) is past president and current chairman of the board of The Innovation Factory (TIF), a medical device incubator company that employs a hands–on management approach to the creation of life sciences technology. The Innovation Factory, founded in 1999 with partners Charlie Larsen and Steve Waite, creates its own companies and is able to maintain tight control over capital structure and get the companies up and running before bringing in the venture capitalists, which include Accuitive Medical Ventures, its own venture capital group.
Weldon sits on the boards of the TIF companies until they leave the fold. In fall 2006, these companies included Accufocus, which produces corneal inlays and is in clinical trials; LipoSonix, another TIF company, will offer a high–intensity–focus ultrasound to noninvasively ablate fat for cosmetic reshaping.
Leaders Need Engineering and Management Experience
Born in West Lafayette, Indiana, and raised in Elkhart, Weldon developed a keen interest in business as a high school student and was involved with Junior Achievement. When it came time for college, his father advised the business–minded young man to pursue a degree in engineering first and then get an MBA. Norman Weldon knew something about that path. His own education had been at Purdue in agriculture (BS ’56), management (MBA ’62), and economics (PhD ’64).
“He felt that to be a leader in the business world, you were going to be leading and managing technical people,” Weldon says. So he enrolled in Purdue’s School of Industrial Engineering, where he studied operations and systems management. He emerged from Purdue in 1977 and moved to Iowa to work as a project engineer for Square D Corporation, which manufactured circuit breakers. He returned to Indiana in 1979 for graduate studies at Indiana University’s School of Business.
During the 1980s, Weldon built his resume and experience, as well as a family. He had married by this time and was the father of two young children. His work included posts as a visiting lecturer at IU’s School of Business, a corporate planner for Key Pharmaceuticals in Miami, and a manager for Arthur Young & Company in Fort Lauderdale.
An Ad–Venture in Entrepreneurship
In 1987, with a firm foundation in engineering and business and a continuing interest in strategic management, Weldon realized a childhood dream and started his own company.
The company, Novoste Puerto Rico Inc., produced a small–caliber diagnostic catheter for use in cardiology procedures and was initially funded by a $1.2 million guaranteed loan, a risk Weldon says only someone in his 30s would take. The risk paid off, quadrupling investors’ money. The company was sold in 1992; the products and process originally created by Weldon are now under the control of Boston Scientific.
“We had made our first real money and wondered what to do,” Weldon recalls. “We could have sailed around the world in a boat, but we had started something from scratch, built it up, and sold it. We needed to capitalize on this and do it again.”
The “do again” was Novoste Corporation, a company formed in 1992 that also focused on cardiology. The product was the Beta–Cath, a catheter system used in cardiology. The catheter used beta radiation to retard cell growth in stents in the coronary artery and prevent blockage by scar tissue. Weldon says Novoste Corporation was “the hottest company in the sector” at the time, rising from $0 to $90 million in sales its first year, employing 300 people, and eventually having a market cap of $1.2 billion.
A self–described restless spirit, Weldon hired a replacement CEO and started a new venture: The Innovation Factory. His restlessness has served his entrepreneurial spirit well.
“The hardest part in the beginning is being able to sustainably raise cash,” he says. “Until you make money, it’s hard to get people to give you money. We moved up in the food chain from angels to venture capitalists that were not so well known to the very best in the industry, and now on to limited partners.”
There’s little doubt that additional projects are around the bend for Tom Weldon. Maybe pharmaceutical or biologic, maybe venture capitalist investments in healthcare technology or services or information technology, he says.
In the meantime, as part of the Weldon Foundation–Norman and Carol Weldon, and children Tom Weldon and Cynthia Weldon (BSIE ’80)–he is helping nurture an entrepreneurial spirit in future generations of Purdue students by supporting biomedical engineering at Purdue. In 1972, Norman Weldon advised John Hancock, then Purdue’s dean of engineering, to establish the biomedical engineering program at Purdue. In 2004, with a $10 million gift from the Weldon family, that program became the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering at Discovery Park.
|2006||Outstanding Industrial Engineer, Purdue|
|2006–||Founder, AqueSys Inc.|
|2005–||Founder, OsteoLign Inc.|
|2004–||Founder and Managing Partner, Accuitive Medical Ventures|
|2004–||Founder, Cellutions Inc.|
|2003–06||Founder, NeoVista Inc.|
|2002–||Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship Advisory Council, Purdue|
|2001–||Founder and Chairman, LipoSonix Inc.|
|2001–03||Founder and Managing Member, Neuronetics Inc.|
|2001–02||Founder, AcuFocus Inc.|
|1999–||Founder and Chairman, The Innovation Factory|
|1998–2006||Chairman of the Board, Novoste Corp.|
|1992–98||President and CEO, Novoste Corp.|
|1987–92||President and CEO, Novoste Puerto Rico Inc.|
|1984–87||Manager, Arthur Young & Co.|
|1982–84||Corporate Planner, Key Pharmaceuticals|
|1981–82||Visiting Lecturer, School of Business, Indiana University|
|1977–79||Project Engineer, Square D Co.|
MBA ’81, Indiana University