#communityovereverything: Meet Rob Rennaker

I don’t know about you, but I love learning new things about those around me. And its honestly one of my favorite parts about building and growing our CityCentral community. Everyone has a great story to tell. That’s also why I love our Community over Everything campaign. This time, I got to sit down with Rob Rennaker with Konan Medical USA. Rob has worn many different hats throughout his career, from five years in the Marine Corp, a college professor, to becoming the VP of engineering and innovation with Konan Medical USA. Rob and his colleague Nate work on Konan Medical USA’s research and development team. Their job is to develop new technologies that innovate ophthalmology equipment and automate detection of diseases associated with the eyes.  During our conversation, Rob gave us a little insight into how he got started with biomedical engineering, talked a little about the projects he’s working on and gave us some advice on how to succeed in the industry. 

Inspired by the Discovery Channel

Rob has had a long career and done a lot of different things over the years. He spent 5 years in the Marine Corps working on CH46 helicopters and when he got out, he started an electrical engineering program at the University of Central Florida. During his time at UCF, Rob was inspired by a show on the Discovery channel. Rob said, “While I was there, I saw a show on the Discovery channel called The Operation where they were doing hip implants and left ventricle assist devices to help with heart failure. That’s what I really wanted to do, so I switched from electrical engineering to biomedical engineering.” And the rest was history! (just kidding) Rob went from Florida to Arizona to continue his studies in biomedical engineering. While at Arizona State University, he received a Whitaker Fellowship for biomedical engineering, and worked on his PHD from 1999-2002. After finishing his PhD, Rob took a job at the University of Oklahoma where he taught mechanical engineering and was part of the biomedical engineering program for almost 7 years. In 2009, Rob moved to UT Dallas to work on Targeted Plasticity  which is a focus of one of his several start-up companies Xnerve Medical.  One of the technology he worked on at the same time was called the Neurotriage System, and it was designed to look at the eyes response to light to detect a concussion or brain impairments. And the idea was to be able to diagnose a football or soccer player right there on the side of the field based on how their eye were able to detect objects. This is project is what led Rob to working with Konan Medical USA, where he is currently working on commercializing three other systems.

Current systems are very subjective

You know when you go to the eye doctor and they have you stare into a dark abyss and click a button when you see a light? Those systems are incredibly subjective. You can think you’ve seen a light and not actually see one because they are testing at the limit of what you can see. Well, one of the projects that Rob is able to share with us is called, OFA-Objective Field Analyzer. This device uses pupillary response to detect whether or not your different parts of your eyes can see light properly. So instead of relying on someone being alert and pushing a button, the OFA device records the pupil’s response to light. Rob’s work with Konan Medical strives to get rid of these subjective measures and use objective measures. Rob said, “Everything we’re doing is trying to automate those measurements, so somebody isn’t guessing, we are measuring the brain’s response to light.” The OFA system will revolutionize this product market and make Konan Medical USA a leader in this area.  It will reduce a 30 minute test per eye to less than 9 minutes for both eyes and it will be much more reliable. 

Improving quality of life

One of my favorite questions to ask our members is “What is the most rewarding part of your job?” I love hearing why their work or business is their passion. Most of the time, that passion is for people, specifically helping people. Rob shared this with me, “The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that the work I do is going to help people. If I can create technologies that detect early onset glaucoma or a brain impairment and get them off the field before they really get hurt we can prevent injury, slow down disease and provide tools for proving new therapies work.  The goal is to use advanced engineering solutions to transform health care and improve the quality of life for people.” The driving force behind Rob’s whole life has been making choices that he thought were going to help other people.

It’s all about hard work

When starting a career or a business, there is always a learning curve. That learning curve provides opportunities for receiving advice from peers, mentors, and experts in the industry. Rob shared that hard work is at the center of his philosophy. Rob said, “You can be the smartest person in the room, you can be brilliant, but if you’re not strategic and hardworking, it doesn’t matter.” In his industry, working with technology and products, you have to work hard, but you also have to work smart. Rob spoke with me about Simon Sinek and his teaching about having an “infinite mindset”, and “what’s your why”. In business, you have to create trust and collaboration among a team, or you’re going to lose team members. Building trust ensures a strong bond between team members and creates a safe environment for innovation and collaboration. “Without trust you will have a revolving door of talent that drains everyone. “

We want to thank Rob for taking the time to speak with us. We love having the Konan Medical USA as part of our community and we can’t wait to see the incredible work that they continue to do

Katy Harrington
Katy Harrington
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