After losing job, Mebane man creates company and wins business award

vbridges@newsobserver.comMay 12, 2014 

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— Freddy Cannady isn’t one to turn away from a challenge.

So when he lost his job at Weck, a global industry leader in manufacturing clips and related medical devices where he had worked for 29 years, he started to build Vesocclude Medical to compete with his former company.

Cannady’s goal was to marry technology and made-in-the-U.S. craftsmanship to create ligation systems and products that can be used to seal the body’s small internal pathways, such as blood vessels, during surgery. A key challenge centered on Cannady and his team’s ability to orchestrate marketing, completion of applications to sell medical devices in foreign countries and cash flow strategies.

In April, the U.S. Small Business Administration gave Cannady a nod for those efforts by naming him N.C. Exporter of Year for 2014.

Cannady was nominated by Alex Viva, an international business development counselor at the N.C. Small Business & Technology Development Center in Raleigh, for multiple reasons that include the company’s initial exporting strategy and related success, Viva said.

The company’s gone from about $680,000 in international sales a couple of years ago to more than $2 million. Its products are now sold in about 40 countries.

“It wasn’t, ‘Let’s go to 40 countries all at once and get as many distributors as possible,’ ” Viva said. “It was, ‘Let’s chose the market that we want to go into … that we can get in quicker and start getting cash flow.’ 

Meanwhile, the company has also moved forward with applications to sell its products in countries, such as Mexico, where it could take up to three years to get approval. All the while, the Vesocclude team has nourished the domestic market and taken advantage of economies of scale that come with increasing production and distribution, Viva said.

Other factors behind the nomination included Cannady’s willingness to work with interns and students from local universities, along with mentoring owners of smaller companies that are getting started, Viva said.

From new skills to innovation

Cannady, 57, of Mebane, started working in the machine shop at Weck in the Research Triangle Park after graduating from Durham’s Southern High School in 1977.

“I was just entry level learning how to make instruments,” Cannady said.

Weck, which has had an RTP presence since the late 1970s, is now a division of Teleflex Medical, a global provider of specialty medical devices.

While working for Weck during the day, Cannady took manufacturing technology classes at Alamance Community College at night and later took business classes at N.C. Wesleyan College.

Cannady had worked his way to vice president of operations when in 2005 he and others lost their jobs at Weck as some of the company’s production was moved offshore.

“You had been around so long,” he said. “It felt like a family-based company.”

By 2006, Cannady had founded Vesocclude Medical, reached out to local resources, such as the SBTDC and the Council for Entrepreneurial Development and had written a business plan, all while doing some temporary consulting with a Wisconsin-based medical device company.

In late 2006, Cannady started working with medical product startup CSA Medical and continued to work there through 2009.

In 2006, Cannady asked former Weck engineer David Kimbro to help him implement manufacturing and quality systems for CSA Medical. The pair also worked nights and weekends on designs for Vesocclude, said Kimbro, who is now the company’s technical development engineer.

Cannady also raised money and established other strategic partnerships to help him build Vesocclude. He and his team created and sought a patent on a line of ligation products that won clearance from the Food and Drug Administration in late 2009 to market and sell their products.

The company was young, but the team, which included former Weck employees, had more than 150 years of experience in the industry. Now, the company employs five core people and up to 24 others that help manufacture the product in the state.

Vesocclude has used its flexibility as a small company and its experience to improve established products with extras such as clips with heart-shaped, grooved-wires that ensure a nonslip grip on blood vessels, like a sneaker that prevents a runner from slipping on loose ground.

“I understood the weaknesses of all my competitors because I have just been around that market for 30 years,” Cannady said.

‘I sweep the floors a lot’

The company does some of its core manufacturing, such as creating instruments surgeons use to install the clips, at its Raleigh site, but for the most part Vesocclude is a virtual company that outsources production to manufacturers and partners that are mainly based along the East Coast.

In the first six months of 2010, the company had its first customer in the U.S. and one in Peru.

Cannady worked with the SBTDC, the N.C. Department of Commerce and other organizations to create regulatory and marketing strategies that balanced applications into new countries, production capacity and cash flow.

It took six months to get into Europe, 18 months to get into Japan, and three years to get into Mexico.

“When you look at your marketing strategy, it has to be tied in very tightly with your regulatory strategy,” Cannady said.

Cannady has become comfortable doing lots of jobs at Vesocclude as he continues to build the company. He gets his hands dirty changing the milling machine’s engine. He trained the Canadian sales force. He even sweeps the floors.

“I sweep the floors a lot,” he said. “It is important for everyone to see that you are involved in the company on multiple levels.”

Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges

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