Startup proves medical packaging is more than just a box and a bag

All it took was someone to fill the void, and West Michigan’s booming medical and pharmaceutical industries responded.

That’s the secret Packaging Compliance Labs LLC tapped into when it started its business in Grand Rapids two years ago. The young startup, which serves as a packaging validation company for the medical industry, designs, develops and validates any packaging system for the medical and pharmaceutical industries.

And although still in its early stages, it’s already been growing exponentially right along with the two big industries it services.

Packaging Compliance Labs was created by Matt Lapham, president and co-founder, and Ryan Erickson, vice president of packaging engineering and co-founder. The two entrepreneurs launched the company in January 2014 in the GR Current space, 234 N. Division Ave. They spent the year raising capital before moving into the incubator space in the Grand Valley State University Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences.

Last May, Lapham and Erickson moved the budding startup into its current 5,000-square-foot space at 4334 Brockton Drive SE in Kentwood. Less than 1,000 square feet is for office work; the rest is lab space to develop and test the packaging projects.

“Our mission is to help companies accelerate the process of getting a new product to market by breaking down the barriers to packaging. Mid-size companies struggle to get past those barriers. We’re here to be a resource to them,” Lapham said.

“It’s important to understand that, when it comes to packaging, it’s more than a box and a bag. We’re making sure devices are clean and sterile (and) haven’t been exposed to micro-organisms,” Erickson added.

The startup is finding its stride by filling the need for this kind of service along the Medical Mile. Until Packaging Compliance Labs arrived, many medical and pharmaceutical manufacturers were working with packaging businesses from out of state, Erickson said. By law, medical and pharmaceutical companies have to demonstrate their devices can be manufactured, sterilized and shipped to stores in a timely fashion, and manufacturers had to pay hefty prices to bring that packaging process in from some of the more leveraged areas outside of the state, such as Minneapolis, Massachusetts and California, he said.

“We’re able to keep that money in-state now. It’s allowed greater access to manufacturers. Before, they were working out of state. Now, they can just drive up the street,” Erickson said.

“I think we really began to see (the boom of West Michigan’s medical industry) after the decline of the auto industries in the late 2000s. The Medical Mile really filled that vacuum. West Michigan has become a hub for medical device manufacturing. It’s really great for West Michigan.”

Based on the feedback Packaging Compliance Labs has received from its growing client list, West Michigan’s manufacturers have been frustrated when it comes to critical product launches, for which the packaging process did nothing but create a lot of headaches and frustration.

“Their ability to collaborate with a client is very limited. A reason for that is many of our competitors were born out of other industries, like the furniture and automotive industry, and adapted these capabilities, but it’s really not their expertise,” Erickson said. “We were born out of the medical industry.”

Part of Packaging Compliance Labs’ plan to solve West Michigan’s need for this kind of packaging service is to have an operating metric that allows it to get a product into testing within 24 hours. This has led to tripling the number of environmental chambers in the start-up’s lab. The chambers are used for accelerated testing on shelf life and the impact of temperature and humidity. The lab also has a transportation simulator, simulating the effects of drops, handling and vibration.

The startup also adheres to FDA regulations, even though it technically isn’t FDA registered. It is, however, accredited to ISO 17025, an FDA-recognized standard for the competence of testing laboratories.

“Once we received our ISO 17025 accreditation, we talked to several medical device manufacturers to judge the interest level,” Lapham said. “We have an environmentally controlled lab that controls the atmosphere and materials.”

Packaging Compliance Labs is at a point where it’s ready for major growth, the co-founders said. It currently has six full-time employees and is looking to double that number by next year. Lapham also said the company is “expecting to triple our sales for 2016 over 2015, and expect that growth rate to continue with a two-times return each year after that.”

The lab’s geographical footprint is going to get bigger, too.

“We’ve been doing a lot of business and testing and engineering work for outside of West Michigan, for companies in Costa Rica, Canada, some work in Europe, as well. We’ve been bringing projects into the area, as well,” Erickson said. “From a growth standpoint, we’re looking to increase our facility to either double or triple our space. (We’ll) either expand in that space or get a new, larger space.”

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