Bioprint Heart Components: Fluidform3D CEO Mike Graffeo (Video/Podcast)

Mike Graffeo, CEO, Fluidform3D

A senior executive with a proven track record in commercialization of innovative medical technology, Mike is a results-oriented, decisive leader with a track record of successfully growing new businesses in both startup and growth organizations. Throughout his career, he has gained extensive experience translating highly complex devices and clinical data into successful businesses, both in the US and globally. Mike holds a BS in Engineering Physics and an MEng in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University, as well as an MBA from Harvard Business School. Mike will also be speaking at the upcoming 3DHEALS2020 San Francisco on June 5-6th, 2020, along with 40+ other world-class speakers. 

Jenny: How did you first encounter bioprinting? What was that experience like? What were you thinking at that moment?

Mike: I’ve known Professor Adam Feinberg since college, and kept seeing updates on his research at CMU, which was where I first learned about the field of bioprinting. Having a background in the Medical Device industry, I immediately knew that this could change everything. Most of the last 60 years in MedDevice has been focused on creating mechanical replacements for the body. What I saw in bioprinting was the ability to develop a biology-focused approach. Even as a mechanical engineer, that was exciting!

Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey in bio-fabrication?

Mike: My co-founders had done years of amazing work to bring the FRESH 3D bioprinting technique they’d developed to the point where it was ready to be commercialized. When the group of us first sat down in early 2018, we saw that we each had highly complementary skills, and that coming together to start the company made a lot of sense. The focus initially has been on making LifeSupport™ Support Gel for FRESH 3D bioprinting available to the research community, to help others achieve their goals in 3D bioprinting of collagen and other hydrogels.

Jenny: Who/what inspired you the most along this journey?

Mike: 20+ years ago, I did a co-op with a company called Abiomed. At the time, their major focus was on developing an artificial heart. What I saw there was an opportunity to use my skills to make an impact on human health. I couldn’t imagine a more noble calling. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work?

Mike: The people I have the privilege of working with at FluidForm. We’re immensely blessed to have an extraordinary group of talented, hard-working people who are doing amazing things.

Jenny: What are the biggest challenges in your current work? What are the potential solutions?

Mike: I’d like to see every biomedical engineering and cell biology lab in every college and university around the world doing bioprinting research. Today, getting started with 3D bioprinting is still overwhelming, especially in a lab that may not have experience with plastic 3D printing. We hope to inspire people with the results they can achieve, educate them on best practices, and enable them to bring the solutions to the clinic that patients so desperately need.

Jenny: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the bio-printing industry? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?

Mike: I think there are challenges in each of three critical areas for the industry: technology, regulatory, and commercialization.

With the technology, we’re a little biased, but we believe FRESH and our LifeSupport product are going to enable printing of intricate scaffolds for any purpose. But once we have those scaffolds, we’re also going to need cells. Lots of cells. As the field matures, the need for cells of all types is going to explode.

Regulators are getting the first taste of some of the challenges with recently approved cell and gene therapies. However, building an effective regulatory framework is crucial to see the industry really advance. We’re really excited to be working with the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI) and their experts on this front.

Ultimately, great technology only matters if it helps people in the real world. And that’s where commercialization matters. There are big questions left on this front, including how and where products will be manufactured and distributed, who will pay for them, and how we’ll measure value.

All of the above challenges must be addressed before the field will truly take off. Forward-thinking investors and strategics are placing bets today on solutions presenting themselves, and I agree, the need for these products is simply too great for any of these challenges to get in the way.

Jenny: If you are granted three wishes by a higher being, what would they be? 

Mike: First, I’d wish that we could all be kind to one another. Everybody we meet is dealing with stuff that we can’t begin to understand. Being kind is the first step to a better world.

Second, I’d make healthy food available and plentiful everywhere in the world. Hunger and malnutrition will continue to be the biggest barrier to increasing participation in the world’s innovation economy.

Third, I’d provide an education to all the world’s children, focused on more than just reading, writing and arithmetic. The world of 10-20 years from now will require resourcefulness, innovation, lateral thinking, and connectedness. We need to foster the development of those skills from an early age.

Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advice did you hear that they should ignore?

Mike: So many college students are given the advice to think of what they want to be doing in 10 years, and then figure out what the road map is to get there. I think that’s bad advice in today’s world. The world in 10 years is going to be unrecognizable, so the roadmaps we dream up today will be obsolete by then. I think it’s much more important to do something that “lights your fire”, that you can’t wait to get out of bed to get back to, that keeps you up late at night, not because you’re anxious, but because you love it and can’t stop thinking about it. And if you haven’t found that yet, keep exploring. You’re probably going to live until 100 and work well into your 70’s. You’ve got 50 years to figure things out. Don’t be afraid to try new things and make mistakes.

Jenny: If you could have a giant billboard to promote a message to millions and even billions of people in our community (i.e. healthcare 3D printing and bio-fabrication), what message would that be?

Mike: “Want an amazing career for the next 30 years or more? Learn 3D Bioprinting. Ask us how.”

Jenny: What were/was the best investment you made in bio-printing/bio-fabrication?

Mike: Spending the time to get to know my co-founders. The work they’ve done at Carnegie Mellon is nothing short of remarkable. I couldn’t be doing any of this without them.

Jenny: What were/was the worst investment you made in bio-printing/bio-fabrication?

Mike: I honestly can’t think of a single investment of time, money, or attention directed at 3D bioprinting that I haven’t gotten something out of. I’ve learned so much, and still, feel like I’m just at the tip of the iceberg.

Jenny: What was/is the biggest risk you took in your career?

Mike: Taking a 50% pay cut to go out and be a sales rep. I had a family to care for, two little kids at home, and was betting that I could figure out how to be good enough at the job to make ends meet. It turns out to have unlocked the last decade of my career, so I’d say it worked out!

Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing?

Mike: I’m married with 2 kids at home. We love outdoor activities like biking and skiing and cruising on Disney Cruise Lines. I love endurance sports and playing the guitar.

Jenny: What is your favorite quote? Why?

Mike: To paraphrase Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world”

Jenny: What does the word “3DHEALS” mean to you?  =)

Mike: I love the term, as it evokes not just palliative care, but the true goal of any medicine, to heal.

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