This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Howard Leonhardt is the co-inventor of the TALENT stent acquired by Medtronic and used to treat over 200,000 patients. With boundless optimism, 20 patents issued and more pending, he has launched Leonhardt Ventures to form and incubate dozens of companies intended to collectively extend human life expectancy by 30 years. [While I have no business relationship with Leonhardt at present, he has invited me to join his advisory board.]
Most of the technologies in the portfolio are at the intersection of electrical stimulation and stem cells. Jeremy Koff, an entrepreneur with a deep background in medical devices himself has signed on as an advisor to Leonhardt’s California Stock Exchange, an early stage effort at creating a stock market for socially conscious companies.
Koff calls Leonhardt’s work “pioneering.” The two became acquainted over the music scene Koff helped to create, but bonded over medical devices when Koff learned that Leonhardt was inspired for the former’s uncle Alfred Mann, a giant in the medical device industry.
Koff notes that Leonhardt is “combining two approaches that haven’t been combined before.” He adds, “Using electrical stimulation with stem cells is quite a novel approach.”
When I asked what Leonhard would ultimately need to do to be successful, Koff harked back to his uncle, explaining that Mann needed twenty years and $100 million to develop Second Sight, which won approval for the first artificial retina in 2013. In other words, Leonhardt needs time and money to bring his advanced technologies to market.
Leonhardt’s business model is to build small companies until they are commercially viable and then to sell them to strategic buyers. He’s hoping to reprise his success with the TALENT Stent over and over again, each time retaining a small piece of future revenues.
Leonhardt says the business is profitable with an 88 percent gross margin. It isn’t clear how much of that is realized in cash, however, as much seems to be tied to increasing the valuations of portfolio companies. He claims to have grown the value of his companies from $3 million in 2013 to $224 million this year.
Asked what makes him a social entrepreneur, he responded, “Both what we do and how we do it. We potentially are on a path to save more lives than any other firm before. We have a goal to extend life by 30 years for all people and to reduce aging by 30 years, making 80 the new 50.”
Additionally, he says, “We treat our employees, communities, suppliers, customers and investors with respect and genuine care.”
With his enterprises, Leonhardt is hoping to solve or at least address three independent problems.
First, he’s working to help people live longer, healthier lives. He notes, “Drugs and current devices are often toxic. Our products regenerate organs and whole bodies with natural stem cells driven by bioelectric energy signals.”
He sees problems with the current stock market, failing to “support the good investment potential of firms that have a sense of purpose in their work and that treat their communities well.”
Leonhardt describes the core technology underlying his medtech ventures. “We have invented the first programmable bioelectric regeneration stimulator and stem cell micro pump. Our stimulator causes cells and tissues to release 10 key regeneration promoting proteins including SDF-1 a stem cell homing signal.”
The applications of the technology are as wide ranging as his optimism, including heart, pancreas and kidney regeneration, along with eye and ear regeneration. He’s also working on brain regeneration technologies to treat stroke, concussion, Parkinson’s and Alzheimers, among other brain injuries and illnesses. There are also cosmetic applications in the portfolio.
While Leonhardt has set aggressive time goals for moving the technologies toward commercialization, he agrees with Koff’s assessment that he needs capital. That is top on his list of challenges he faces. He adds “managing team members spread across the globe,” “getting our message heard,” and “convincing people to believe in totally new, innovative concepts” as top challenges for the medtech side of the business. For his socially conscious stock market, he worries about the “daunting financial SEC regulations.”
Leonhardt admits that the combination of the ”10 regeneration proteins” stimulated by the regeneration stimulator and the ”15 component regeneration compositions to be delivered by our micro infusion pump are untested in combination.” He sees this as a next step for the development of the technologies.
Leonhardt created a portfolio of socially responsible companies to serve as a model for the California Stock Exchange. Results were not what he’d hoped. “The Cal-X 30 Social Good Impact fund is performing slightly under the Dow 30 due to a heavy weight on biotech. We need to correct this.”
With his optimism in full bloom, Leonhard says the success of his work can lead to extending the life of “most humans by 30 years and will reverse aging 30 years. We will save 5 billion lives.”
Of his efforts with the stock market, he says, it “may lead the way in making ‘doing well by doing good’ the norm rather than the exception.”
On Thursday, August 11, 2016 at 4:00 Eastern, Leonhard will join me here for a live discussion about his work to extend and improve life even as he works to create a market for companies with a conscience. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.