Joe Eichinger, Top Medical Device Entrepreneur and UW Volunteer, Dies From Cancer

Xconomy Seattle — 

Joe Eichinger, one of the Northwest’s best-known medical device entrepreneurs of the past three decades, died yesterday at his home in Everett, WA, from complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 65.

Eichinger was in his prime as a businessman, and was fired up about his latest startup, Redmond, WA-based CoAptus Medical, when he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in late November.

“It hit him hard and fast,” says his wife, Mary Eichinger.

Few people have made such an impact on the local medical device industry. Eichinger was born and raised in the Chicago area, and got his degree in electrical engineering in 1967 at what was then called the General Motors Institute, now Kettering University. He came to the Northwest as a young engineer at Honeywell, and settled on a career in medical devices as an early employee at ATL Ultrasound, the pioneering ultrasound company in Bothell that’s now part of Royal Philips Electronics. He later worked as a stock analyst for Cable, Howse & Ragen and as a venture capitalist with Trinus. But Eichinger is best known in the medical device community as the co-founder of a number of notable Seattle-area device startups, including Ekos, Therus, AcousTx, NeoPath, and CoAptus Medical.

“He radiated the entrepreneurial spirit and instilled it in others,” says Doug Hansmann, a co-founder of Bothell, WA-based Ekos. “He was also kind, helpful, and selfless. He was our role model.”

Joe and Mary Eichinger

Joe and Mary Eichinger

One vintage Eichinger story stood out in particular for Hansmann. When Ekos was getting started in the mid-90s, Hansmann recalled, he and Eichinger had complementary strengths on the technical and business sides of the company. One time, Hansmann says, he struggled to remember the name of someone from Boston Scientific whom they had met, and Eichinger instantly remembered the guy’s name, his role at the company, and how they met four years prior at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting. “Joe had an incredible memory for events and people. He was great at pulling people together and visualizing how they would work together,” Hansmann says.

David Auth, another prominent medical device entrepreneur who worked closely with Eichinger at his last company, CoAptus, added: “He was a person with high moral character. He was always friendly, and very energetic in fleshing out new ideas. He couldn’t keep his hands off a good idea that needed some organization around it.”

Eichinger’s companies pursued a wide variety of diseases and medical technology challenges. Some were more successful than others. The common denominator, Eichinger once said, was that they turned on his engineer’s passion for how stuff works.

“For all the reasons I was fascinated with the interrelationships of locomotive systems, I was fascinated with the body,” Eichinger said in a 1997 interview with GMI Magazine, an alumni publication for his alma mater. “I have no reason to be interested in the medical field. It just caught my interest. The reason I do this is the fascination with what I don’t know.”

While his companies consumed much of his energy, Eichinger volunteered huge amounts of his time at the University of Washington. He was such an active mentor for young entrepreneurs on campus that engineering dean Matt O’Donnell joked at an award ceremony in January that he wasn’t sure how Eichinger had enough time to run businesses. Eichinger’s impact was strong enough that he was given the first volunteer award from the UW’s bioengineering department in January. When news spread of his diagnosis, a friend established a website at, which now has more than 500 comments from friends and family.

Outside of work, Eichinger spent much of his time with the Boy Scouts and school activities of his two sons—Joey, 18, and Luke, 17. Eichinger made sure to attend the competitive rowing events of his older son and basketball games of his younger son at Archbishop Murphy High School in Everett, his wife says. His oldest son had been planning to attend Dartmouth University and join the rowing team there, until a few days later, he learned of his Dad’s cancer diagnosis, Mary Eichinger says. The decision was made that he’d stay closer to home to be near his father while time was short, and to attend the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.

“It changed our lives. Joey wanted to stay closer to home,” she says.

I interviewed Eichinger at least a half-dozen times over the years for The Seattle Times and Xconomy, but a lot of readers certainly knew him better than I did. So if you have any memories of Joe that you’d like to share with the Seattle innovation community, please feel free to add a comment at the bottom of this story or send me a note directly at [email protected] and I’ll add it as an update.

Eichinger’s funeral will be held at 1:30 pm on Saturday, March 13, at Immaculate Conception church in Everett.

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16 responses to “Joe Eichinger, Top Medical Device Entrepreneur and UW Volunteer, Dies From Cancer”

  1. Robert Barry says:

    We lost a valuable member of the Seattle medical device community, but most importantly we lost a great man, husband and father. I worked closely with Joe at CoAptus Medical, and admired his dedication and enthusiasm for developing and bringing medical technologies to people in need. As much as Joe was energetic about what he did, and as much as he contributed to helping others, he really lit up when he talked about his family.

  2. Joe Eichinger is probably the most self-less and giving business man I have ever known. I called Joe once fairly new to Seattle to ask about an ultrasound technology I was seeking background on. He said he’d like to meet me and discuss face to face. From then on I could call and ask him for any help or advice and he never expected anything in return. That extended these past 16 months when I was at the UW running LaunchPad as part of Tech Transfer. He was on our advisory board and always came to the meetings, always had a lot to offer, would meet with any faculty or grad student I thought was worthy of his time. Never once did he expect anything–I hope I thanked him enough! I guess one of our great bonds was we both grew up in Chicago and “got” midwesterners and we both were of eastern European descent!
    I can only imagine how lucky his fellow company members were to work with him day to day or his family was to have him around as a guiding light. He will indeed be dearly missed on all fronts.

  3. Bill Bryant says:

    I am deeply saddened by the news of Joe’s untimely passing. I wish that I had known that he was ill, as I would very much have liked to have said my personal good byes and expressed to him that he was one of the individuals who I thought of as a true pillar of the Seattle entrepreneurial ecosystem. Although we never worked on a project together – Joe was a medical device expert, while I was focused on software – we met off and on over the past 25 years (starting with his days at Cable Howse and Trinus), talking about what entrepreneurship was all about and our visions for the Seattle technology community. He was a gracious, vibrant, intelligent human being, who was always willing to help move a project forward. His passing will leave a large gap in our world. I will miss you, Joe, but I will not forget you.

  4. Seattle lost an important member of its business and entrepreneurial community yesterday. When I was first looking for a job in Seattle, I met with Joe Eichinger, and no one was more helpful to me or more inspiring. I never forgot how generous he was with his time and have often thought of Joe as I tried to live up to his example. He left his mark on many of us and will be missed.

  5. Mark Brentnall says:

    I had the good fortune to work with Joe at Therus, AcousTx, and CoAptus. These represented my first jobs out of school, and few people, if any, were as instrumental in my early career as Joe. If I had even a simple question to ask him, he would invite me in to his office, pull out a notepad, and before I knew it I was being given a lesson on the topic, complete with diagrams and tables! But even more than as a mentor in the medical device field, for me Joe served as a role model for a devoted father and husband and for his selfless contributions to the Seattle-area community. It is fitting that his passing serves as a final inspiration to the medical device community to continue to develop innovative diagnostic and therapeutic tools to combat disease. He will be dearly missed.

  6. Pgroth says:

    Joe’s spirit and commitment to others is one of many greatest contributions. He worked to develop a young mans character and potential. He lived by “Do a good deed daily, Be Prepared and the Scouts law “Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thirty, Brave, Clean and Reverent. You will always be part of us – Troop 19, Everett.

  7. Aaron Coe says:

    May Joe’s generosity and spirit towards mentorship live on in all of us. One of Joe’s great lessons was that of persistence. Getting companies going and making progress, meant being open minded to the notion that there are several ways to climb the mountain. My condolences to Joe’s family. I will guard a warm memory of one of our community’s great ones.

  8. Paul Budak says:

    I learned of Joe’s condition just a couple of weeks ago and reading the news this morning in the paper was still shocking. Like everyone who has been lucky enough to know Joe, I am deeply saddened. Joe and I first met during the creation of NeoPath just over 20 years ago. He has always been someone who I admired and looked up to. We stayed in touch, on and off, for most of the last 20 years and spent time together working in conjunction with the University of Washington on entrepreneurial programs. I always expected that I would someday work with Joe on a new company idea, a startup, or one of his ventures. I will do my best to continue relating his experiences and common-sense approach to business to young entrepreneurs that I have the opportunity to work with as a legacy to Joe. My sincere condolences and thoughts go out to his family.

  9. Luke—thanks everybody for these great comments, which I’m sure the family appreciates. Here’s another comment from one of Joe’s former colleagues, Alex de Soto, who wrote to me:

    “I was fortunate to have first met Joe back in his Trinus days and actually got to work side by side with him at Therus, AcousTx and Coaptus. There are so many stories I could share, but when I first saw the social networking program, LinkedIn, in its early days, I thought of Joe. Joe was a human LinkedIn – when you talked with Joe you felt you were just one person removed away from anyone you were looking for. That story of him you published remembering an old BSC name is the perfect example of what I mean.

    Our local technology community and his family have lost a great person far too soon.”

  10. Ken Walters says:

    For several years I was studying companies that spun out of UW research in order to measure and assess the larger economic impacts of UW. In his role as CEO of several of these enterprises, I had many conversations with Joe relating to my project. He was always enthusiastic and most helpful to me–honest, forthcoming, and detailed in his knowledge.

    It was clear that he thrived on complex and persistent managerial challenges — even when these proved daunting. I loved his optimism, his creative approaches to problem-solving and his experience with so many startups.

    Joe truly played an important role in the diversification of the Seattle economy through his contribution to so many enterprises and his impact on so many lives. Joe, your special gifts are rare and you are missed.

  11. Here’s another obituary on Joe by Sonia Krishnan of The Seattle Times.

  12. Robert NelsenBob Nelsen says:

    I had the pleasure of meeting Joe in his early days at Trinus as he was one of the first real venture capitalists in Seattle, and was lucky to work with him on several start-ups. Knowing folks like him existed in Seattle gave me confidence to set up shop here. He embodied the entrepreneurial spirit. He never gave up, always had a great attitude, and was an inspiration to others. Most importantly, he could see businesses where there were none, he could invision technologies morphing into to products. He could project something from nothing. The world is short one classy and amazing builder without him, but I know he inspired many future Joe’s who will continue his legacy and make positive impacts on this world.

  13. Mark Ungs says:

    The prior posts are fitting tributes to Joe. The acculades are no exageration. This man was truely a good person and a thrill to work with. I don’t think I ever experienced a bad day with him. I’ll miss him dearly.

  14. Cindy Skinner says:

    Joe ~ what a wonderful person. A sailor and pilot. As his assistant at Cable, House, I was very blessed with a top notch person to work with on very level. I will truly miss him so many good memories. Cindy Skinner Hugs to you J.