“I been in the right place
But it must have been the wrong time
I’d of said the right thing
But I must have used the wrong line
I been in the right trip
But I must have used the wrong car
My head was in a bad place
And I’m wondering what it’s good for.”
— Dr. John, “Right Place, Wrong Time”
For young people wondering what career path to follow, there’s something to be said for being in the right place at the right time. But there’s a hint of irony in that quintessentially British advice. As the Dr. John lyrics above suggest, how are we to know whether we’re in the right place at the right time? What if it’s the right place but the wrong time? Or what if it turns out to be the right trip but the wrong car?
In economics, people who come up with better solutions are called innovators. The management canon consists of a collection of stories about successful innovation. Everybody wants to be an innovator. Only a rear-view mirror can tell us whether a solution was successful — and even then there may be dispute. The marketplace is a frontier with constantly shifting boundaries. How can one know whether one is in the right place at the right time?
Such things can be complicated. Remember the ridicule former Pentagon secretary Donald Rumsfeld was subjected to after his talk in 2012 about the known knowns and unknown knowns and the known and unknown unknowns in regard to weapons of mass destruction? Rummy, as he was sometimes called, provided some explained explanations, and left other explanations unexplained.
When Brent Chanin got his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology six years ago, he was 23 years old and wanted to live in New York. He worked for a New York City engineering firm for a couple of years. He worked on projects involving New York Presbyterian Hospital, Random House, the new World Trade Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Federal Reserve Bank. At first, Chanin wasn’t at all involved in the missions of these impressive organizations, however. He did office space design, boiler replacement, a steam pipe survey, air-conditioning coordination and other infrastructure work.
He moved on to another engineering firm, where he did mechanical design consultation of utility infrastructure. Then he got managerial experience at a big Brooklyn sign company.
Through one of the technical people he had worked with on improving the use of radiological scans at NYU, he became fascinated with the possibilities of 3-D printing technology in providing better information to surgeons and other doctors. He decided he wanted to apply his base skills in mechanical engineering to the field of biomedical engineering. So the young man formed his own company, BC Engineering Design, and moved back to Orange County, where he was from (he went to high school at Monroe-Woodbury).
At about the same time, he also started contract work on a manufacturing project with Ceres Technologies in Saugerties. He liked the experience. “The quality of work at Ceres I haven’t seen anywhere else,” he says admiringly.
In 2013 Chanin launched a 3-D medical modeling company called Mediprint LLC and moved into a modest office space on Main Street in Goshen. He worked his contacts at NYU and Columbia Presbyterian and began collaborating with Rockland Community College and SUNY New Paltz. Using New Paltz’s 3-D machinery, he has produced plastic duplicates of organs for the New York Presbyterian Medical Center/Columbia Medical Center 3-D lab that were used in planning transplant surgeries.
What he produces aren’t models. “This is exactly what’s in the patient’s body,” he says, holding up a rubbery approximation of part of a heart. He also displays a hard plastic model of a lung, with one section showing a small spot in a different color. That was where the patient’s tumor was, he says. That was its exact location and dimensions.
A recent 15 minutes of fame came when his work was used for planning a complex surgery to correct a skull deformity. An article in The Journal of Neurosurgery gave him recognition.
This past week the company hired a contract employee, its first. She’s a certified radiologic technologist. Chanin’s business translates images from MRIs, CT scans and ultrasound data to accurate modeling on 3-D printers. His prices, generally from $500 to $2000, are for the medical trade very low. He expects that within a decade 3-D models will become a routine part of diagnostic medicine.
Two weeks ago Chanin visited Stratasys, the Minnesota-based manufacturer that has supplied all of New Paltz’s 3-D printers. He said Stratasys was eager to support what he and SUNY New Paltz were doing.
“We’re not MIT,” he says, paraphrasing a statement made by Daniel Freedman during his event at SUNY New Paltz, referring to his lab being the first to attain special designation by Stratasys, “but we’re the first in the world to do these things.”
Chanin’s opportunity parameters are deepening. He’s slowly evolving from producing 3-D gadgets used for surgical reference and practice — a remarkable first-level innovation — to working with others in developing tools for an ever-greater complexity of prosthetics and implants on the one hand and to exploring regenerative medicine via tissue integration on the other. Chanin understands well how to translate data in order to create 3-D objects. Now he must school himself in biological engineering as well.
Is Chanin in the right place at the right time? He could be. I wouldn’t bet against him. He’s a smart guy. He has a passion for quality. He asks the right questions. He knows how to find other pioneers; he seems adept at networking and collaborating with them. He displays other entrepreneurial qualities. Not unimportantly, he so far seems to have managed to retain both his intellectual and organizational independence.
His success is no sure thing, mind you. For any number of reasons, the wheels can suddenly fall off the vehicle. What if he takes the wrong road, says the wrong thing, using the wrong car?
That’s what risk is all about.