Up and Running with Ryan Um, Engineering Manager, LightningCath

June 16  

Ryan Um is the Engineering Manager at LightningCath, a minimally invasive medical device, component, and extrusion CDMO located in the Twin Cities. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and has been working in R&D/Product Development within Minnesota’s medtech industry for the entirety of his career. 

Ryan joined LightningCath in its infancy, bringing his technical skills and positive energy to support rapid growth and a culture dedicated to providing solutions to customer needs. 

Outside of work, Ryan enjoys spending time with his family and riding his bikes throughout the Twin Cities.

What does LightningCath do?

LightningCath is a design service & contract manufacturer of catheter based systems focused on delivering value to customers quickly in a well-organized manner. Our focus is delivering high quality components and finished devices quicker by building a vertically integrated infrastructure to reduce lead times and having an experienced and energetic team. Our team works with clients to develop new medical devices from the ground up through volume manufacturing, guiding them every step of the way. 

What led you to join the LightningCath team?

I joined the team through the founders of Switchback Medical, who previously founded Fast Forward Medical in 2007. I was a part of Switchback Medical in 2019 during the company’s infancy. Switchback’s clients prioritized getting their product to market quickly, which pushed us to find means and alternatives to speed up our development process and manufacturing. One way we did this was by partnering with reinforced shaft manufacturing facilities similar to our company’s size that were focused solely on sub-assembly builds. These partnerships brought more capabilities and allowed Switchback to concentrate primarily on the top assembly process, design controls, and program management. 

With how successful this approach was, the founders thought it would be a great opportunity for another reinforced shaft manufacturer, LightningCath, to join the neighborhood to help clients gain value quicker and provide more options. I enjoy helping my clients solve complex problems and saw this as a great opportunity to do so through LightningCath.  

Have you encountered any challenges when growing your company? If so, how have you overcome them?

Like starting anything from the ground up, we initially had to build up our facility to meet our client demands while following FDA guidance. We had to initiate all our processes and part numbers from scratch, qualify all our equipment, set up our quality system, and create and develop standard work procedures. To complete this we needed to bring in strong team members that we knew we could trust and get the job done.

Can you share any notable successes or milestones your company has achieved so far?

So far, we’ve worked with many clients on R&D and manufacturing projects. We’ve helped our customers set up a base design for their product through prototype work and we’ve also manufactured subassembly components going into pre-commercial clinical trials with successful outcomes. 

In just one year, we have grown our team to 14 full-time staff (and growing). We have significantly increased our internal capabilities which includes braiders (16, 32, and 48 carriers), coiling machines, reflow towers, RF tipping, 3D printing, extrusion (thermo and fluoro/FEP lines), and much more.

How have you been able to attract and retain customers in a competitive market?

Speed without quality compromise is the name of the game! We’re able to achieve this through hiring high performing experts in our field who strive to problem solve alongside our customers. New customers learn early on that we like to operate as an extension of their team and it’s a big reason we have recurring work/projects with existing customers. Existing connections, networking events (Medical Alley, trade shows, LinkedIn) and word of mouth have been key drivers in connecting with new individuals and companies within our space.

What are your future goals and plans for the growth and expansion of LightningCath?

We will continue growing our extrusion and catheter manufacturing capabilities along with capacity as we take on more projects. Our FEP tubing line is already online and we’re in the process of setting up an expander to start producing heat shrink. Having thermoplastic and FEP heat shrink extrusion capabilities under one roof helps us further expedite timelines for our customers and allows us to support a greater number of projects. A great way to stay in the loop on our latest developments is to follow our LinkedIn page!

Can you share any lessons or insights you have gained as an entrepreneur that might be valuable to others in Medical Alley?

Starting a medical device company takes a lot of work and patience. You need to understand that you cannot be the best at everything, but if you can find the right people to balance the skills and knowledge you can be very successful. You will have to become close with the people you work with and be willing to share your knowledge to help them learn and grow as well. Finding individuals that are self-motivated is key! If your team shares the same passion as you, for example, helping people solve problems, then you will do great. 

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

I enjoy cycling through the Minneapolis/St. Paul’s great bike trail network and spending time on the lakes in the warm months. In the winter month, I try to snowboard at the local resorts once in a while.

What do you enjoy most about the Medical Alley community?

I like knowing that there are people that share the same passion as me who are associated with Medical Alley and that they are focused in Minnesota. Minnesota is my home state and I don’t think I could live anywhere else long term. I will continue to support Medical Alley even if I am forced to transition into another industry.

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