JNJ’s First-Ever Center for Device Innovation Opens at Houston’s TMC

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Center and J&J announced the formation of the new device center a year ago, about six months after JNJ opened its JLabs Houston operation in March 2016. Since then, Cohn says he’s visited J&J device companies such as Ethicon, DePuy Synthetics, and others trying to suss out their needs in order to get an idea of the sorts of projects the CDI could work on.

Today, around 70 J&J executives from around the US (and a contingent from Ireland) have come to Houston to officially open the center and participate in panel discussions before a networking reception expected to be attended by around 200 people.

“We will find something very productive and useful for J&J,” Cohn says. “Innovators persist. That’s what they do.”

For Cohn, the CDI is an uber garage workshop, the stuff of any tinkerer’s dreams. From his own ad hoc garage workshop in his Houston home, Cohn has managed to rack up 90 US patents (granted or pending) and 60 international patents; he’s founded or co-founded six medical device companies. He rubs his hands in sheer glee at being able to be let loose in this space.

The CDI has Cohn’s DNA all over it. Walls in the enclosed telephone rooms are painted with lyrics from a White Stripes song called “Little Room” that Cohn, a musician with regular gigs at Houston’s jazz and blues clubs, says reflects the creative process.

Bruce Rosengard (left), J&J’s chief medical, science, and technology officer, and Billy Cohn, director of J&J’s Center for Device Innovation. (Photo courtesy: J&J)

Exposed HVAC ducts are inscribed with the names of scientists and inventors who have inspired him, such as Werner Forssman, a German physician and Nobel laureate who developed the procedure for cardiac catheterization. (Next time you see Cohn, ask him to tell you Forssman’s full biography, complete with German accents. It’s a one-man play.) Another is Lt. Thomas Selfridge, who was the first person to die in an airplane crash during a demonstration flight in which Orville Wright was injured but survived. (Lesson: The path to innovation does not follow a straight line. Obstacles abound. Try anyway.)

And then, this past week, as the finishing touches were done to ready the center for its debut, Cohn says he realized a name was missing: Michel Mirowski, a Holocaust survivor and cardiologist who invented the implantable defibrillator. (Mirowski also happens to be the father-in-law of Bruce Rosengard, the chief medical, science, and technology officer at J&J.)

After finding out that adding another set of custom-cut blue vinyl letters would cost an additional $2,600, Cohn says he stenciled and cut the letters himself, and used some leftover blue paint in an effort to match Mirowski to the other names. With the help of a forklift that he was not supposed to be using without adult supervision—he ended up bringing his wife, Mishaun—Cohn added Mirowski’s name to the constellation.

“It had to be done,” he says.


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