An Interview with Dragon Co-Founder Claire Llewellyn Williams: Taking Outsourced Services to a New Level of Expertise

Claire, please tell me how you came to found Dragon Consulting Group?

Having spent most of my career in the large corporate medical device development environment, I came to see the vulnerability of development projects where internal strategic needs could change and projects could lose funding from year to year.  Such funding diversion did not always take into account novel or new ideas but could be driven by cost or time to market considerations.  Quite simply, some projects could lose their internal “project champion” and founder in favor of less expensive or faster to market needs.  In my role as a VP of clinical affairs in one of the biggest manufacturers, I would meet physician inventors who would approach large medical device companies looking for a development partner. More commonly than not, they would not be able to attract development dollars, and a good idea, conceived at grassroots would die on the vine.  I had many occasions to see this happen and think about how such an invention could not go ahead and see the light of day.  Any sole inventor would have no choice other than to file Intellectual Property (IP), start a company, and commence the long, hard road to obtaining investment dollars. Not only would this challenge be outside the expertise of these inventors, but almost invariably they would be in a full-time clinical role without the considerable time resources needed to establish their own startup.  While there have been some who have been able to build a startup, they are vastly outnumbered by those who have not.  As a scientist, seeing good ideas unable to reach fruition was frustrating and, quite frankly, doing a disservice to the goal of creating better patient care.  The need for an independent development house, that was not a single product startup, or a large corporate developer became clear to me as I researched to find such a company for a project I was interested in developing.  It is a simple idea but seems to be unique.

From that simple concept, the idea of Dragon Consulting Group was born, with the ability to provide full development services at the lowest possible cost.  We thought a lot about how this could be done and looked at other industries, such as telecommunications businesses for models that would allow us to offer highly focused, experienced teams and keep the overhead costs as low as possible.

When you use the term Independent Development House, what exactly do you mean?

An Independent Development House is just that, a wholly independent company capable of offering a full line of services needed to take a new device concept from the first steps, such as IP evaluation and filing all the way through to regulatory approval in US and the EU. Of course, there are a number of companies out there that are successfully offering elements of what Dragon offers, such as OEM companies, CRO’s and Quality Management System teams, but at Dragon we offer all of those services under one roof.  We function as an effective “one stop shop” wholly set up to serve the small inventor who may not have the time, expertise or financial resources to see their concept come to the finish line.

How is this different than traditionally outsourced services?

As mentioned above, most traditional outsourced services will be able to provide elements of all of those needed to completely develop a new medical device. Of course, medical device development can be done by independent suppliers in this way, but would need some level of project management to ensure co-ordination between all of the independent service providers to preserve the integrity of the development plan and timelines.  Dragon offers the full service line for development and leverages its extensive network of experts with many years of experience.  This allows us to build a very focused unique development team that is tailored to the device and the project.  Our ability to do that ensures that we can keep overheads to a minimum and wholly focus on the project, time line, and valuation inflection points.  The model we have built is proving to be highly successful, meets our clients’ needs and is very attractive to the capital investment community.

Do you specialize in a certain market?

As part of our strategic plan, Dragon is focused on cardiovascular, neurology and general surgical development projects.  This allows us to continue to leverage our domain expertise.  Both co-founders have extensive years of experience in the cardiovascular and surgical spaces which has helped us create our network of affiliates to contract with on a project by project basis.

Who is Dragon’s ideal client?

Unlike many other development service suppliers, our ideal client is one with a very early stage concept.  We even take clients that have not completed any IP review or filing.  We have found that it is easier and faster to work with a client with a blank development page than take into account previous development work that has been done.  All too often, development projects can have false starts and stops, driven by lack of adequate or long term funding.  These false starts can include a lack of, or inadequate documentation of critical design select variables.  It is harder to go back and repair poor documentation than starting from a clean slate.

 What do you feel differentiates Dragon from other medical device consulting groups?

Dragon is different on a number of levels.  We will accept very early stage concept development projects and work with our clients to create a uniquely tailored project team.  With the combined experience and expertise, our teams are capable of delivering the critical milestones needed for both funding and regulatory approvals.  Our unique structure allows us to keep development costs lower than most other development groups and offer a “one-stop-shop” to meet our clients’ needs and timelines.

Where do you see Dragon going in the next 1-3 years?

As we continue to see high levels of mergers and acquisitions in the medical device industry, we also see an inevitable slowing of R&D as merging companies focus on re-structuring and company culture issues.  An independent development house like Dragon is able to step into the vacuum and continue to develop new concepts in a time and cost effective way.  I see Dragon continuing to grow as we meet the needs for high quality development.