Health Care, Manufacturing, and Small Business & Startups

Competitive advantage fuels medical packager

Packaging Compliance Labs co-founders use prior experience in field to serve current clients.

June 23, 2017
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Packaging Compliance Labs
The expanded space allows Packaging Compliance Labs to offer turnkey validation systems to clients and those studies are completed in a more timely manner. Courtesy Packaging Compliance Labs

It didn’t take Packaging Compliance Labs LLC long to grow out of the brand new, 5,000-square-foot space it took on last year.

The medical packaging startup moved into its new offices, 4334 Brockton Drive SE in Kentwood, which included a little more than 4,000 square feet for its testing processes, in May 2016. This past February, co-founders Matt Lapham and Ryan Erickson knocked down the walls and grew into the adjacent suite, and PCL now occupies about 10,000 square feet of the building.

“From a capacity standpoint, we’re now able to process studies faster than we were before and at a higher volume,” said Lapham, who also is the CEO. “But we’ve also been adding additional services, like our turnkey validation systems — which we didn’t really have a ton of space to be able to perform those types of activities — and last week, we ran two sealer validations in-house. Having the extra space has been critically important.”

Packaging Compliance Labs was born in early 2014 as a reaction to the rapidly growing medical market in West Michigan. As an independent packaging engineer, the company offers sterile packaging solutions for the region’s vast and growing number of medical device and pharmaceutical makers.

In just three years, the company has grown from co-working and incubator spaces into its own facility, amassed a portfolio of 45 clients and grown to 10 employees, with plans to add several more by the end of the year.

Packaging Compliance Labs also has added several new pieces of equipment, including an additional vibration table, more environmental testing chambers and accelerated aging processing equipment. Lapham said because the company is so intertwined with the needs of its clients — the core PCL team has extensive background working in the medical device industry — they are more receptive and aggressive when it comes to adding more capabilities on client recommendations.

Currently, the startup is operating at about 60 to 70 percent capacity, Lapham said, which allows the company to be flexible and accommodate future growth while not sacrificing potential capital.

“The nature of this business is that it ebbs and flows, and it’s pretty common that we might get dumped on and need to throttle up to handle additional capacity,” he said. “We’ve been pretty cautious with how we’re growing the business, because to us, meeting our commitments is more important than bringing on new ones. But as our team has now grown, we have an increased opportunity to be able to get out and sell more and expand that client base.”

In addition to clients in major medical markets like Grand Rapids, Boston, Minneapolis and California, PCL has grown its clientele to include products in Europe and South America, as well.

One of the fledgling company’s early struggles has been demonstrating a need for sterilized and properly vetted packaging solutions. Lapham said it isn’t uncommon to engage with a potential client only to find out they haven’t fully thought through how delicate the shipping procedure can be.

“Packaging often is an afterthought,” Lapham said. “A lot of small- to medium-sized companies are really focused on their device and getting it perfected, and then packaging comes in like, ‘Oh, just throw it in a pouch and it’s good to go.’ But it’s a heavily regulated and very specialized industry, so we know we’re operating in a niche environment.

“Part of what we’ve been doing in the past year is really educating our clients, especially those that might not be as familiar with sterile packaging, to have them bring our component into the development lifecycle a little earlier.”

Lapham added that Packaging Compliance’s advantages over its competitors is that because he and Erickson have sat on the other side of the table, they can better partner with clients to offer their expertise at an earlier stage.

“We realized that there was a big gap to being able to speak the same language and also knowing what medical packaging engineers were looking for,” he said. “As we’ve grown and evolved, the engineering piece of our business has grown with us, and we can roll up our sleeves and partner with our clients even more so than your typical transactional type lab might.”

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