The dream of a Clarion County dentist to help patients is growing into a company that will help stimulate the economy.
Dr. James Rutkowski of Clarion plans to use the $25,000 prize money from the 2008 Ben Franklin Business Plan Contest to assure that goal. Rutkowski with the help of his dental lab technician, Tim Merrow, invented a medical device called “vein fork” which aids clinicians in starting IVs and doing blood draws for blood chemistries. Two hospitals, including Clarion Hospital, have tentatively agreed to perform a clinical study on the efficacy of the device.
The “vein fork” has been patented and will be manufactured locally creating jobs. The license to manufacture, market, and distribute this medical device will belong to the Clarion Research Group (CRG), insuring the money will lead to more economic growth.
The Ben Franklin Transformation Program and Clarion University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) sponsor the annual contest seeking technology-based business ideas or innovations that could use a financial boost. The prize was presented during a ceremony in the office of Clarion University President Joseph Grunenwald.
“In 2001, I saw some things in dentistry that could be better,” said Rutkowski about the idea that led to his product. “I had patients who needed bone enhancing treatments for the placement of implants and other dental treatments.”
When a patient has a tooth removed and desires to have it replaced with a dental implant the process can take up to six months and involve bone grafting to develop the site, such that an implant can be placed. Rutkowski, who has performed research on bone growth and repair has lectured both nationally and internationally on implant dentistry and pharmacology, decided there had to be a better and quicker way to help patients. Using concentrated platelets and white blood cells from the patients own blood, and the addition of a CRG patent pending product called CRG-1000, the length of time can be decreased to 7 to 8 weeks and diminish the need for bone grafting materials.
Rutkowski received his B.S. in pharmacy from Duquesne University in 1972, his doctor of dental medicine from the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine in 1976, and has been in private practice for 32 years, but he needed to know more. He returned to Duquesne University to pursue a Ph.D. in pharmacology/toxicology.
“I needed to take all of the required courses and biochemistry was one of those courses, so I approached Dr. Larry Bering of Clarion University Department of Chemistry,” said Rutkowski. “Larry Bering agreed to teach the course in my office from 6-7:30 a.m.”
That association led Bering, and Dr. Doug Smith, professor of biology at Clarion University, to join Rutkowski in forming CRG. Their combined knowledge led to a way of using blood from the implant patient, combined with other additives to create a bone growing cocktail. This development dropped the cost of extraction socket site preparation dramatically and decreased the time needed for the healing process.
“The impediment to the process was drawing blood,” said Rutkowski. “Dentists had to be taught how to do it.”
Problems that are encountered during blood withdrawals include veins that roll, veins that are difficult to locate, veins that are difficult to visualize, and losing site of the vein after finding it. These problems can result in venipuncture failure and patient discomfort.
Rutkowski’s answer was the “vein fork.” This device helps to locate the vein, accentuate the vein, stabilizes the vein, gives direction to the clinician, increases the predictability of getting the “stick” the first time, and reduces anxiety of the operator and the patient.
“This is really an example of the SBDC’s assistance programs,” said Cindy Nellis of Clarion University’s SBDC, who helped CRG with its business plan. “Because of our network resources we were able utilize many services including Bucknell University SBDC’s Engineering Development Services to provide engineering and design assistance on the vein fork and developed the final prototype.”
“The beauty of the vein fork is that the product will be produced here and it can provide funding for the big dream of establishing CRG,” said Rutkowski. “A patent is pending on the bone growing cocktail that we developed and the vein fork will fund more research.”
Rutkowski noted that two other pharmacologically based CRG agents are in the developmental process. The first is a product that would combat re-current urinary infections. This compound also has demonstrated efficacy in removing plaque from teeth and may serve as a contact lens cleanser. A major pharmaceutical company has expressed interest in this compound. The other project involves a drug that may be useful in treating upper respiratory tract infections.
The goal is to have CRG be one of the first occupants of the Technology Development Center being developed at Trinity Point in Clarion. The facility through CRG would create research jobs and provide internship opportunities for Clarion University students.
“Clarion University provides funding for both graduate and undergraduate research,” said Grunenwald. “We expect them to work on the business ideas and develop them so they can grow at the Biotechnology Center to be built at Trinity Point.”
“CRG does not intend to turn its developments over to manufacturers,” said Rutkowski. “The manufacturers would provide money to help develop the products, which would be licensed to them. Thanks to the hard work of all the people in this room this is happening. The success of our vein stabilizing device will be the foundation for the continual development of this research-based company and in doing so will create quality science technology jobs for our region.”
“The Ben Franklin money has helped many enterprises in our area,” said Lucy Adonizio of Clarion University’s SBDC. “This is the sixth time this award has been presented and the first time it has been awarded to someone in Clarion County. The seed has been planted and it is going far beyond expectations. This is money well spent.”
Jill Edwards of the Ben Franklin Investment Foundation awarded the prize. Attending the ceremony were: Clarion University President Joseph Grunenwald, Dr. Woodrow Yeaney, director of Clarion University's Small Business Development Center, Pete Winkler representing Congessman John Peterson (R-5), Pennsylvania Senator Mary Jo White (R-21), Adonizio, Nellis, Bering, and Smith.
Each year entrepreneurs with new ideas are invited to apply for The Ben Franklin $25,000 Business Plan Contest. Eligibility requirements included having less than 50 employees, being in operation for six months or less, and operating in one of the counties served by the Clarion University SBDC – Armstrong, Clarion, Cameron, Clearfield, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, McKean, Potter, and Venango.
The contest was designed to support manufacturing and technology-based companies. Businesses applying had to provide a cover letter explaining, in general, the type of business proposed, the future goals, and information about the business; a one-page application overview sheet; a three-page business plan summary; any supporting materials including letters from potential customers and evidence from the literature on trends and marketability of the business.
Applications were considered on the basis of degree of innovation and chances for commercial success. The potential to create jobs in Pennsylvania was also weighed. The finalists for the award were required to submit a 10-page business plan and present it to a panel.
The Ben Franklin Technology Partners organization, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, is designed to stimulate business growth and economic development in the Commonwealth. Ben Franklin seeks to develop manufacturing and technology-based companies that are interested in developing new products or processes. The centers provide low risk capital to early seed ventures, start-up companies, and established companies that meet certain technical, market, and management requirements. The overall objectives of this effort are high technology job creation and retention, and statewide growth.
The Clarion University Small Business Development Center is partially funded under Cooperative Agreement No. 5-603001-20040-25 by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The support given by the U.S. Small Business Administration through such funding does not constitute an express or implied endorsement of any of the co-sponsor(s)’ or participants’ opinions, findings, conclusion, recommendations, products, or services.
All programs and services are provided on a non-discriminatory basis. Clarion University's SBDC provides free and confidential management assistance and counseling to both start-up and existing businesses. Counseling appointments at several convenient locations in northwestern Pennsylvania may be made by calling 814-393-2060 weekdays from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.