PHOTO COURTESY DICK SASS
Dick Sass has 45 years’ experience starting companies, creating jobs and running businesses. One thing he’s never tried is launching a venture capital fund — until now.
Sass, 67, recently partnered with medical devices expert Brian Brandell and longtime Portland investors Wayne Embree and Brock Metcalf to launch the Biomed Innovation Fund. His goal is to raise $20 million to help young companies that have developed “extraordinary technologies.”
Turning extraordinary technologies into jobs has been a consistent theme throughout Sass’ career. After moving to Oregon from Chicago in 1975 he launched Precision Interconnect in Wilsonville. Precision took cable technology developed by previous generations of engineers (including Sass’ father and grandfather) and vastly modernized it for use in ultrasound machines. Sass built Precision from a few dozen employees in the 1980s to 500 in 1991, when he sold the company.
Following that sale Sass founded two companies focused on wiring cable into a whole new arena: the human body. iSense, launched in 1995, develops continuous glucose monitors for people with diabetes. MicroHelix, launched in 1997 and sold to St. Jude in 2003, creates cable systems for medical devices that are implanted inside the body, such as pacemakers.
Between taking MicroHelix public and developing a $17 million partnership between iSense and an unnamed pharmaceutical giant, Sass has learned some lessons. He also knows about roadblocks. His plan with iSense was to get a product to market within five years; it’s been 15 years and counting.
Now he hopes to put both good and bad experiences to work, mentoring entrepreneurs supported by his new fund.
“A lot of venture funds are run by young guys with MBAs who are book smart but have no operational experience,” he says. “I’ve got a PhD in running companies and satisfying customer needs.”
Sass has already begun reaching out to promising young companies hungry for capital, as well as established pharmaceutical and medical device giants in need of new products to feed their pipelines. He plans for the $20 million fund to be the “first of several.”