Joe McGinley is a physician with an unexpected background in mechanical engineering. So it's probably not surprising that when he heard a surgeon's gruesome story one night about surgery gone wrong, he had an engineer's reaction.
The surgeon described how his 16-year-old patient had torn tendons in his hand. In a surgery designed to help, a screw that was too long caused damage to the patient's wrist that could have lifelong impact.
McGinley was transfixed.
Why was the screw too long, he wondered.
The story was that surgeons traditionally use a sense of touch to know when the drill had gone through to the other side of the bone.
"You can't see the other side of the bone," said McGinley, and his head was spinning with ideas.
"I grabbed a piece of scrap paper and made sketches" for a drill that was more scientific in determining when it had reached its proper location, said McGinley.
To him it was simple mechanics.
Soon he had designed a drill that made the whole process much more accurate.
In scientist-speak, McGinley decided that he would "create a plunger mechanism to measure depth as the drill bit goes in. With an attached sensor using a reverse depth measurement," he said, the surgeon could puncture through the other side of the bone and have an exact measure of how far to go.
He showed it to a surgeon friend, who liked the idea so much that he gave money to help get the drill built.
Carrying a startup to market
This is how a business gets started, with an idea that solves a problem.
But at the beginning, McGinley was just a young man fine-tuning the idea while going to medical school. He got a patent for his drill in 2003, 10 years ago, and "struggled for a few years," he said.
He "didn't have funding to get from that brainstorm to market, and didn't have a business background."
Eventually McGinley finished medical school and brought his small family to Casper because he fell in love with the outdoors opportunities.
At a reception when he was new in town, he met Adam Johnson, a field engineer from Manufacturing Works, which provides technical assistance to businesses. Johnson gave him some good advice.
He told McGinley that he lacked the business knowledge to make his drill a success and directed him to Casper's new business incubator, the Casper Area Innovation Center on the old Amoco refinery site.
With the help of the Casper Area Economic Alliance, the University of Wyoming and the Wyoming Business Council, McGinley began a process to bring his idea for a medical drill to reality.
He moved into the Casper incubator as its second tenant, and got busy raising money to produce his IntelliSense Drill. He how has 65 investors, 80 percent from Wyoming, mostly Casper.
Through the innovation center, McGinley has learned how to price his product and sell it. He has started up a company, McGinley Orthopaedic Innovations LLC. The device is almost ready to submit for FDA testing, and he expects to hear back in the first quarter of 2014.
From there, McGinley and his 65 investors hope he will take the medical drill market by storm -- all because of a story over dinner many years ago, a mechanic's mind, and help from Casper's entrepreneurial community.