Why haven’t we heard about Zavation?

By Steve Wilson
July 17, 2019

Tucked quietly in a non-descript beige building in Flowood is one of Mississippi’s best-kept secrets.

Zavation is a company that specializes in design, engineering and manufacturing of spinal hardware and other medical equipment that allows for minimally invasive surgery.

The company was started in 2010 by a pair of University of Mississippi graduates and made its first sale in 2012 despite not receiving any state or local tax incentives. The company released 10 new products in 2018 and recorded its first international sale this year.

Now, Zavation has moved to its third building as its business continues to expand and it employs 60 in its 30,000 square foot facility. Its products are being distributed in 40 states by more than 150 distributors.

Zavation is vertically integrated, meaning that design and manufacturing are all in house. Zavation is also in the process of adding a clean room to its Flowood facility, which will enable it to expand its business to new areas.

Dee Hillhouse, the company’s national sales manager, says vertical integration allows the company to have full quality control and not have to wait on suppliers to ship needed components.

Many of Zavation’s engineers once worked in the aerospace industry, which gives them a unique perspective. The company is able to prototype their new designs in house, as they have their own milling machine reserved solely for prototypes. Using computer-assisted design software, they can feed the specifications to the milling machine so they can start testing and quickly deal with any problems.

The approval process by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can vary on new products, but a simple product can take up to a year, with a couple of years needed for more complex devices. In June, Zavation received approval to market its new pedicle screw system to immobilize and stabilize spines in patients as part of fusion surgery.

Once the FDA allows Zavation to sell new products, the company uses highly automated milling machines to produce both plastic and metal components for the new product. The Flowood facility has a costly laser etching machine to put serial and lot numbers on every component for quality control purposes and the in-house anodizing machine ensures that the metal is more wear and corrosion resistant.

After automated quality control checks, the components are assembled by workers and boxed for shipping to surgeons nationwide. 

Zavation recently acquired a Tampa-based company, Pan Medical U.S. The new combined company will be able to bring a larger range of surgical products to market. The most important of these is the Curveplus kyphoplasty system for spinal procedures. 

In a kyphoplasty, a surgeon injects bone cement into fractured vertebra to relieve back pain. Pan Medical has developed the Curveplus that allows both the balloon and cement to be sent through a curved needle, which decreases the number of steps and the overall procedure time.

Never heard of Zavation? That’s because no political photo ops, ribbon-cutting, or silver shovel events were held to celebrate the company’s start-up. Instead, the founders, investors, and early employees went to work to create unique and valuable products to serve a market of need. Rather than rely on government subsidies, contracts, or tax incentives in the name of job creation, Zavation created jobs as a result of creative disruption, innovation, marketing, and sales. 

After touring the impressive facility, it’s clear the company is well-run with a strong focus on process management. In short, Zavation is a great example of the kind of economic growth that can come from small, private companies and entrepreneurs. 

This is what happens in healthy economies. Entrepreneurs and capital find each other and a small company grows into a big one, without the direct aid of government. We need more examples like Zavation in Mississippi. 

If we want long term, sustainable economic growth in Mississippi, we need the private sector to blossom and government’s role should be to create an environment that allows the free market to function at maximum capacity.  We don’t need our government to pick our winners and losers for us. They are not equipped to outperform the market, no matter how noble their intentions.


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