Interview with Andrew Iott, the New President and CEO of HAPPE Spine

Interview with Andy Iott of HAPPE Spine

We recently had the opportunity to meet with Andrew Iott, HAPPE Spine’s new President and CEO.

HAPPE Spine announced in December of 2022 that Andrew Iott accepted an offer to become the President and CEO. Mr. Iott brings over twenty years of experience in medical device product development and commercialization, with extensive knowledge of the spine market. As a co-founder of Globus Medical, Mr. Iott played a critical role in taking the company from a startup to a worldwide leader in orthopedics.

During this interview we talked specifically about Mr. Iott’s background and his experiences which led him to this opportunity. An edited version of our interview led by R. Sean Churchill, MD follows.

R. Sean Churchill, MD:
Andy, please tell us a little about yourself and your background so we can get to know you better.

Andy Iott:
I’ve been married 22 years now and have two children. We live outside of Philadelphia in a place called Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. I graduated from Clemson University in 1997 where I earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. I knew I always wanted to do that because I have always had a passion for construction and creating. Product development was always something that I knew I was interested in and that was where I felt like I could get the best training down there.

R. Sean Churchill, MD:
What ultimately led you to pursue a career in orthopedics?

Andy Iott:
My dream job, funny enough, was to design snowboards for Burton, a Vermont company. I saw myself living on the slopes and being able to do two passions at once. But, either fortunately or unfortunately, I never got a call back, so that that didn’t pan out. I ended up working as Product Development Engineer for Synthes, a large orthopedic manufacturer that was eventually acquired by the DePuy branch of Johnson and Johnson.

R. Sean Churchill, MD:
How did that experience end up leading you to Globus?

Andy Iott:
While I was there [at Synthes], I worked on different spine devices, and really loved what I was doing. It was kind of like a playground for an engineer, being able to come up with different solutions for problems that doctors were having.

I was there for a couple of years when my boss, a gentleman named David Paul, decided to leave Synthes to start a new company. Shortly after he left, he got in touch with me and said he wanted to start this new company. He said, “I think there are some areas that really need to be developed to improve patient outcome, would you come with me?” His pitch at the time was, “we don’t have any money and I can’t pay you, so if it doesn’t work out, you can go get a job in a year. Are you in?” So, I did what any smart, young newlywed would do, and I went home to talk to my wife about it.

I always knew that I’d love the entrepreneur spirit and opportunity. My parents are small business owners and I love being a part of something and having a stake in it. It was very appealing to be starting on the ground floor. And so that’s really what started my journey at Globus. I left Synthes and showed up at David’s house about a week later, where we went into his basement and started designing spinal implants. It was an exciting time, kind of jumping off the cliff or the ledge to explore this new opportunity.

R. Sean Churchill, MD:
Would you share a little more about that experience, as well as some lessons have you learned that might influence HAPPE?

Andy Iott:
It was a really exciting time, and it gave me the opportunity to really learn a great deal. I made as many mistakes as successes, probably, but learned a lot from them. We had a fantastic team of people who were dedicated and all in. There was consistency and a lot of passion for what we were doing.

One of the first things I learned was, who you surround yourself with and who is on your team is critical. We were all pulling on the same rope with the same goal and vision. Everyone put a lot of time and effort into making Globus successful. As we grew, we attained different successes, and launched a product within our first year.

We used some of the things we had experienced at other places and our relationships with industry professionals, surgeons, and salespeople to get a product to market and be profitable within the first year. To me, the big lesson was taking that hard work and being frugal with your resources and just having a big, hairy, audacious goal.

Then we were able to raise a little bit more money, so we were able to actually get a salary which was nice – my wife was definitely happy about that! So, we just kept the product development engine running. We weren’t necessarily smarter or better than anyone else, but we just wanted to have more “swings at the plate,” if you will.

We developed a system where every engineer could create prototypes, and then test the functionality of those designs in real time as quickly as possible.

We came up with a methodology that we termed “fail early, fail often.” The idea behind that is to discover the flaws in your design as quickly as possible. Whether that’s through mechanical testing, or functional testing, or getting it into the hands of surgeons to have them give their critical feedback. Then take that input and go back to the design board as quickly as possible, to create this iterative process that was rapid.

That was something that was very different than what we had experienced at other places where typically, to get those results and that feedback took a long time. We wanted to shorten that cycle to hours, if not days, and definitely not weeks or months.

That really led us to be able to create products at a faster pace than anyone else in the industry. It had this flywheel effect where we really started to gain a lot of momentum. It was something that was very scalable, and we invested a lot of resources into our prototyping ability and our model makers.

We brought people in who had aeronautical experience, automotive experience, and medical biomedical experience. Those years of knowledge in machining and in manufacturing was invaluable to our process. We were able to incorporate all that knowledge at a much faster pace than anyone else could in the industry. One of the biggest lessons is trying to get as many swings at the plate with a design as possible.

R. Sean Churchill, MD:
How did HAPPE Ortho come on your radar?

Andy Iott:
I absolutely loved being at Globus and had ascended to Senior Vice President of Global Product Development. I was in charge of all the products that Globus had created – well over 200 products in their history, although they’ve launched a number since then. I really felt like I had checked a lot of boxes and learned a lot. I love the people there and love the company, but I felt like I needed to take a break from that.

I left Globus a little over two years ago, and was serving on a couple boards, doing some consulting, and some investing on my own. I was contacted by a former colleague, who was involved with HAPPE who said, “Hey, you should check this company out, maybe there’s an opportunity for you to get involved?” Fortunately, for me, there was an opportunity at the Board level. I joined the Board for HAPPE early last year and got to meet the team members, board members, and investors.

I’m really impressed with the technology first off, but also the people and the passion behind it. That’s what really led me to entertain potentially getting back into a job and taking on this role. But again, to me it was a matter of the technology was fantastic and the people were its equal.

R. Sean Churchill, MD:
What do you see as some of the most exciting opportunities ahead in 2023 and beyond for HAPPE as a company?

Andy Iott:
A lot, really. First and foremost, we need to get a product to market and that is where our heads are. The whole team is really working hard to get our first spine product cleared by FDA and launched to the market.

There’s a lot of interest from the industry and clinicians to see the product, to use it, and see the benefits in their patients. That’s really our first opportunity and we’re very excited about that.

We’re working through a lot of the launch phase challenges right now of getting through production and getting all the answers to FDA. But we really see a definite future and runway. It’s not just a one trick pony, if you will. It’s a technology that really can be applied in a number of different areas, not only in spine, but in orthopedics and potentially, in sports medicine as well.

There is opportunity for us to really build on the potential success of what we anticipate will be a great first product, and then to carry that on into development of future products as well. The next products will also be in spine, but we’re also looking down the road to see where the next best potential is for the HAPPE technology.

R. Sean Churchill, MD:
Do you see a lot of swings at the plate coming?

Andy Iott:
Absolutely, it’s about getting to know the team and getting to know our resources. Finding where I can apply some of my knowledge and experience right now. I’m doing a lot of learning in terms of what the technology really can do, and how we can manufacture it in the best possible way. Ultimately, our goal is to have a great return for our investors. We think we can do that by maximizing the potential with this technology and this material.

I’m always grateful and appreciative of people who put not just their time, but their money behind an investment like this. I take a lot of pride and concern on trying to realize that return for them and so I can promise that the team and I will be working hard to realize that hopefully in the near future.

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