A mere 10 years old, Rhythmlink International has already been listed on the Inc. 5000 List for five consecutive years, been named as one of South Carolina’s Best Places to Work, and for three years running been ranked on South Carolina Chamber of Commerce’s Top 25 Fastest Growing Companies list. The talent and energy behind this successful business are co-owners Michael O’Leary, COO and Shawn Regan, CEO. Their amalgamation of vision, products and management style has resulted in a dynamic medical device business that, while growing at lightning speed, is offering their employees a comfortable, friendly work environment envied by many.
Welcome to the world of intraoperative neurophysiologic monitoring, or just intraoperative monitoring (IOM). Rhythmlink, founded in 2002, manufactures medical devices for electroencephalography, polysomnography, nerve conduction studies and intensive care unit and ambulatory applications. “The purpose of IOM machines and the clinicians that monitor them is to gather data from patients during surgery to help physicians determine if the at-risk neural structures are functioning properly,” Shawn says. Simply, they allow patients to be monitored during surgery and alert the physicians if there are complications involving the nervous or neurological systems during procedures. “If there is a problem,” explains Shawn, “then the physician can intervene and hopefully prevent permanent neurological damage.”
Shawn grew up in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and is a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology, where he earned his degree in Movement Science. After graduation, Shawn headed west to take a position as a clinical director with Biotronic, which performs consulting services for hospitals and sends clinicians to hospitals to perform intraoperative neurophysiologic monitoring. As clinical director, he spent countless hours in hospitals in the operating rooms during surgeries.
“As my career with Biotronic progressed, I was sent to Chicago to open a new office for them. Then, an opportunity at another company opened that allowed me to actually sell the computers for IOM, which allowed me to use my previous clinical training as an enhancement to my sales calls.” Shawn was in sales for about two years, “got bored,” and returned to Biotronic in a new capacity.
As the new director of sales and marketing, Shawn used his sales and clinical operations experience to sell Biotronic’s services to hospital administrators and physicians. During this phase of his career, he and a former colleague discussed starting their own company and building their own machines. This was the birth of the idea for Rhythmlink.
Shawn crossed paths with Michael O’Leary as he researched the manufacturing and supply considerations needed to build IOM machines. Michael, a graduate of the University of South Carolina with a degree in Government and International Studies, worked as an economic development consultant at the South Carolina Export Consortium. He also was an adjunct professor at U.S.C. and Clemson, where he taught graduate level export marketing; a former student living in China helped them locate suppliers and manufacturers with whom to contract. “We received FDA clearance in December 2002 to manufacture and market our new product,” Shawn says.
Rhythmlink began manufacturing IOM medical devices in 2003, the same year that Michael and Shawn made Rhythmlink their full time careers. Their first sales were made in April 2003. The business was completely funded and bootstrapped by the partners. They resourced no outside capital; however, what they did have was competition.
“The initial products,” says Shawn, “had no patentable qualities. So in order to compete, we knew our products had to be of higher quality, provide better availability, be easier to use and have a lower cost.” All of these benefits had to be coupled with superior customer service if Rhythmlink’s products were going to sell.
And sell they did. Shawn and Michael’s business formula has been a crowning success and has been recognized both locally and nationally. In 2008, Michael and Shawn became sole owners of Rhythmlink International, and it was the first year their company was recognized on the Inc. 5000 List.
Shawn says the most meaningful of Rhythmlink’s achievements was being named one of the Best Places to Work in South Carolina for 2012. In 2011, the company was named as one of the top 10 medical device companies to work for in the nation by Medical Devices and Diagnostic Imaging magazine. “Both of these awards were professionally gratifying because they show that, even though Rhythmlink has grown so quickly, Michael and I have still been able to make it a place where people enjoy working.”
Jay Wilson, a 2012 summer intern who attends Duke University as a graduate student in Bioengineering, agrees with the deserved accolades. “Shawn and Michael are super nice to work for and the atmosphere of the entire office is so laid back and comfortable,” he says.
“I am pleased that Rhythmlink hit the 10 year mark this year,” Michael says. “It’s really quite an accomplishment in today’s environment, especially with a business model as complex as ours. While we continue to expand our current product lines, our new product development pipeline will carry us into 2014. We have a good team in place, so I think we are well positioned to hit the next 10 year milestone.”
Rhythmlink’s future appears to be on as dynamic a path as the supersonic one it has taken so far, and Shawn and Michael have proven to be a synergistic force whose business model and management style are a blueprint for success.