Pete Ullrich was a young spine surgeon in Neenah, Wis., who wasn’t satisfied with the available tools. So he came up with a new one: a titanium spacer to put between vertebrae during spinal fusion surgery.
"We really thought we saw an opportunity for an unmet market need," notes Ullrich. "And another thing is I knew nobody else was going to do this, and the patients were doing significantly better."
The invention took Ullrich, a self-described reluctant entrepreneur, on a very successful startup journey. He and Kevin Gemas, an experienced business person who happened to be his best friend from high school, built Mequon-based Titan Spine. The innovative company grew to obtain multiple patents, experienced rapid revenue growth and employs 134 people.
Today, Titan Spine leads the category of surface-enhanced titanium interbody implants. It also has a world-leading nanosurface technology that encourages the body’s stem cells to mature into bone-healing cells.
In June 2019, Titan Spine was acquired by for an undisclosed price by Medtronic plc, one of the world’s largest medical device makers. During that same time, Ullrich was named one of 10 winners of the EY Midwest region Entrepreneur of the Year awards. He won the Business Innovator category and will now compete in the EY National Entrepreneur of the Year Awards (to be held in November).
Here are some tips Pete Ullrich has for other entrepreneurs:
- Only engage in a business that you are very passionate about.
- Being an entrepreneur means overcoming many challenges and obstacles on a daily basis. No is not an acceptable answer. You need to get over, under or around the obstacles.
- There will be hard times and good times, so stay optimistic.