Giving Effects New Life is Lisa Chamberlain’s Model

Friday, December 1, 2006
By Helen Graves/Feature

Lisa Chamberlain can tell you that when one door closes and another one opens, the new perspective can be much greater than ever imagined.

That’s how it is with The Chamberlain Group, a leading supplier of medical models that are anatomically correct – down to the feel of the tissue.

Chamberlain founded the company with her husband Eric. She’s the managing partner, taking care of the business side. He’s president, heading up the design development team.
The models, which range from a patented beating heart to a colonoscopy trainer, are used by medical device companies, teaching hospitals and general hospital residencies.

They’re excellent for demonstrating new medical devices, sending out with the sales force that trained on them, developing new medical device products, and teaching physicians and residents new procedures.
Formally started in 1999 and based in Great Barrington, The Chamberlain Group’s models today are used worldwide in more than 49 countries. The company employs a highly specialized team of 15. Revenues have consistently grown in double digits year after year.

Boston Scientific, Medtronic, NASA, Intuitive Surgical and Edwards Lifesciences are just a very few of the clients that rely on expertly fashioned features in cardiothoracic, vascular, pulmonary, gastrointestinal, orthopedic, urological and reproductive and other surgical specialties.
Hospitals and universities include Lahey Clinic, Memorial Sloan-Kettering and German Heart Center Munich, as well as Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins and UCLA Medical Center.

The scene was set for the new door and the broader opportunity when the visual effects company Chamberlain and her husband were working for was bought out and relocated to California. They didn’t want to go, so close that door.

A medical device marketer, who saw opportunity in surgical training for the quality of work they were concocting for movies like The Matrix and Eraser, called to see if they’d be interested in making models for him. So the new door opens a bit – they worked for him for a year and a half, in the background filling out the orders he took.

The door swung wide open when the marketer returned to his former work and the Chamberlains started The Chamberlain Group with two others on board. Although it didn’t quite feel so full of possibility at that time.

“We hadn’t been doing any front-of-house, to use a theater term, so we had no presence as a company in the market and we had no knowledge of the medical device market whatsoever,” Chamberlain says.
“We thought we would combine some of our movie and TV work and do some of this medical work, but we were very intrigued by this medical work and had an idea that it could be developed into a real business.”

Calls coming in on the 800 phone number, which the marketer left them, asking for models for an upcoming cardiothoracic medical meeting intrigued them further. They scoped out the meeting for competition and found that, basically, there was none.

“There were more of our models that had been sold previously than anyone else’s,” Chamberlain says. “We looked around and said, ‘Boy, is there opportunity here.’”

Chamberlain had never done sales or run her own company. Her closest brush with entrepreneurship was licking the envelopes on the outgoing bills for her father’s business.

A theater management major at Yale Drama School, Chamberlain interned and then stayed on at visual effects house R/Greenberg Associates in New York City. She happened to meet Eric there, but after six years went on to a post-production video house, eventually becoming a VP and general manager overseeing 85 people.

After 13 years in New York, Chamberlain moved to Lenox to work on feature films with many of the people she new from R/Greenberg, Eric included. “We had known each other for 24 years. We got together as a couple about 10 years ago, working for the effects company.”

To write the business plan, the Chamberlains took advantage of the UMass MBA program and worked with a student who made their plan her independent project – a plan that would win the five-college area competition.

Meanwhile, Chamberlain attended the university’s series of entrepreneurship classes that were open to the public. She also used the Massachusetts Small Business Center’s expertise and resources extensively.

“So now we had a business plan, an idea of the potential market, at least in the cardiothoracic area, and a few products, and we just started doggedly pursuing it.”

Chamberlain began calling some of the names on the business cards collected at the medical meeting, and with each contact grew the business. Then word of mouth took over and work came in on its own.

“It really was a ‘necessity being the mother of invention’ situation,” she says. “We were desperate for work and the market was desperate for products.”

Since there were models on the market for the more straight-forward kinds of demonstrations, The Chamberlain Group focused on the more complicated medical interventions, replacing the chicken breasts used in cardiothoracic demos, for example.

They take special orders to devise models for specific interventions, and they also supply customers with existing models. Parts are reusable: Blood vessels can be taken out and new ones sewn in for bypass graft practice; “skin” can be sutured, stapled and opened again. And each of the body parts is exactingly correct.

“Fatty tissue doesn’t feel the same as muscular tissue, “Chamberlain says. “We call ourselves an art and technology company because both contribute significantly to the excellence of our products.”
What Chamberlain has drawn from her past management experience is running projects like a producer, thinking about how much things should cost and how to make a profit on them, looking at the bigger picture and planning for the long-term.

Her biggest challenge, she says, has been finding the right people, so she’s drawn on the smart but somewhat quirky colleagues out of her past to take on roles that require an unusual combination of skills.

Chamberlain laughs when asked if the company was bootstrapped – “painful bootstrap,” she replies, “but I don’t think there’s any other kind.” The constant anxiety over the company’s continued success goes with the entrepreneurship territory, she believes, and it’s what gives this entrepreneur her edge.

Although she still attends medical meetings and tradeshows, Chamberlain has never hired a sales force or done any marketing other than direct contact. She is, however, about to embark on an awareness campaign to reach higher up the decision ladder within the companies The Chamberlain Group already contacts.

“We want to pop up one more level in our client base to the people who have more global decision-making ability for their companies. For example, we’re working for a Johnson & Johnson surgical division now and clearly not all who work for J&J know about us. If they did” – and here is where the new door’s grander view again comes into play – “what we’ve found out is, they’d use us.”

Original Article from:

Springfield: Chamberlains Earn Hall of Fame Honor

Business briefs 10/5/06

Eric and Lisa Chamberlain, owners of The Chamberlain Group in Great Barrington, will be honored tonight by the Western Massachusetts Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame. Established in 2000, the Hall of Fame is located at the Andrew M. Scibelli Enterprise Center at Springfield Technical Community College.

The Chamberlain Group will receive the County Achievement Award for Berkshire County.

Most people have seen the medical models and mechanical special effects created by members of The Chamberlain Group in trailers and films including Superman, Ghostbusters, The Matrix, Starship Troopers, Gandhi, and many more. The Chamberlain Group’s focus now is custom models for medicine, used for training and research by companies and educational institutions such as Abbott Vascular, Boston Scientific and Carnegie Mellon University.

Jobs of the Future


by Jessica Willis

September 21, 2006

What do a venture capitalist, an artistic director of a theater company, a co-creator of an anatomical model design and a production company, and a president of a custom molder firm have in common?

They all know that in order to maintain a competitive edge in their fields, they must be visionaries and be able to understand, interpret and manifest the future of their business. Moreover, they all understand that the future of their industries demands not only flexibility, but the ability to offer both a breadth and depth of unparalleled ideas, products and services.

We recently sat down with four industry leaders to discover their projections for future Berkshire County job opportunities and what those will require in training and education. The leaders are:

Matt Harris, President and CEO of Village Ventures, a Williamstown venture capital firm focusing on finance and investments.

Julianne Boyd, Founder and Artistic Director of the Barrington Stage Company which recently relocated to Pittsfield.

Lisa Chamberlain, Managing Partner of The Chamberlain Group in Great Barrington, which designs and manufactures anatomical models used for training, sales, marketing and development of medical devices and procedures.

Don Rochelo, President of Apex Resource Technologies, a plastics manufacturing company located in Pittsfield.
Why have you chosen to locate or keep your business in Berkshire County?

Matt: I founded the firm along with a partner and both of us have homes in Williamstown, and both of us love the area. We just wanted to be in the Berkshires. The other reason is that it’s less expensive here than in Boston or New York which would be our logical market.

Julianne: The local residents are really supportive of the arts, I think they understand the importance of art, I think they understand the importance of tourism as a business, and that it rests primarily with the arts.

Lisa: It was primarily a lifestyle choice for Eric (Chamberlain, her husband and partner who runs the design development area) and me. So with the transportability, particularly ours, which is really international, and the growing flexibility of the Internet, we were pretty much able to locate wherever we wanted.

Don: This is an absolutely gorgeous area. I grew up in this area, and due to the economic downturn around 2000, even because of that, the plastics industry in Berkshire County, has been relatively stable. Some states have lost hundreds and hundreds of plastics companies as a result of the economic downturn, but in my opinion, businesses here have been able to stay fairly stable, and are growing.
What are the jobs of the future in your line of business?

Matt: You could see more firms in asset management in different places, as location becomes less and less important. You can run a hedge fund or an investment fund almost anywhere now, whereas in the past you had to be down on Wall St. That’s a real opportunity for the Berkshires.

Julianne: We’re going to be doing a lot more in educational outreach throughout the year. We have a very active program for youth at risk, as well as a drama program year round. We will be hiring more people in that area.

Lisa: We’re doing a lot of work with research and development departments of medical device companies who have engineers who need anatomical models to react to. We feel that there are opportunities beyond even the specific niche that we’re in now with anatomy development, across other kinds of industrial design work that we will definitely see more of in the future.

Don: We will need software engineers, mechanical engineers-these are the people who can build, expedite and troubleshoot automation. You’re bringing in a higher pay structure of employment, but the payoff is huge.
We’re doing more sales with less people and the general game plan is to continue that trend. The future jobs in this business are technical. Technical in every possible way that you can use the term. I’ve hired three engineers of various types in the last year. There’s more sophisticated equipment in the facility to automate, therefore, more sophisticated technical skills are required.

What qualifications will future potential job applicants need to be considered to work in your line of business?

Matt: Bookkeeping, CPAs or other kind of accounting qualifications, and paralegal. We struggle to find high level finance people. CFO types. We’ve had success recruiting people here.

Julianne: They have to have some understanding of arts and theater. Do they have to have done theater? No. Theater requires good quick decision making and the ability to move off of those decisions if they are not working. I think theater is a great training ground for people coming into the job market. You’re making decisions based on human and financial resources.

Lisa: We’re looking for people with a thorough understanding of what it means to be an employee and to come in every day, giving us the best that they’ve got.

Don: You need a knowledge of mechanical engineering and sophisticated management software. Everything we do in our business is of a technical nature. We use an enormous amount of computers. All of our mold makers have a computer at each station. Even the junior employees require a higher skill level; it’s better that they have an associate degree.

In your opinion, what are the primary skill sets that the workforce of the future will require to succeed?

Matt: I think we need folks with higher level financial skills on every level.

Julianne: It’s like being on fire: stop, drop and roll. Stop if there’s a problem, drop the decision if it isn’t working, and roll with the punches.

Lisa: A great attitude, first and foremost. People who are hungry for jobs and to do their best work are going to be the people who succeed. If we think that just showing up is enough, we’ve already seen why it isn’t. Opportunities will be provided to those with great attitudes and a great work ethic. That’s what we’re frankly finding the hardest to find. If somebody comes to us without those qualities, it’s the hardest to nurture. We can teach the skills that are needed to do a particular task, but a real willingness to jump in and be receptive to learning and thoroughness-Eric calls it “doing the last five percent”-that really makes a difference to us.

Don: The truth of the matter is, is that the so-called blue collar worker and how we use them in the future will be less and less. It’s a huge change. [Employees in the workforce of the future] need, at the very least, sophisticated computer skills.

The workforce of the future will be a place that rewards those who are flexible, educated, personable, and well-rounded, and who have specialized technical skills. Opportunities in arts, tourism, finance, management, healthcare and engineering (to name but a few) abound in the Berkshires; it is the responsibility of the employee of the future to be prepared for the almost limitless opportunities that are available.