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No Boundaries

Steffen Magnell, CLA alumnus and entrepreneur
December 12, 2014
The company:
VeinOPlus

The mission:
Improving and expanding
the use of new technology

Maybe life is like a box of chocolates for some people, but that analogy doesn’t work for Steffen Magnell. He is more like a human version of the Internet. Although he has an assortment of interests and he might not know what he will uncover next, his real passion is in connecting—a problem to a possibility; an old friend to a new idea; a product to a new application.

He claims he is now semi-retired, but after a 40-year career of running and launching businesses of various stripes, he really cannot corral the instinctual curiosity and passion for engagement that made him a successful entrepreneur in the first place.

“When you get right down to it, most
business is about people,” Magnell
says. “You have to understand
other people’s cultures and be
sensitive to them. The keys are
focus and curiosity.”

Right now, for example, he’s working on at least two disparate projects whose success has depended largely on his penchant for asking, “What would happen if we put this together with this?”

One is a product called VeinOPlus, a device that looks something like a computer mouse but is actually the world’s first non-invasive product to control blood flow. Based on the research of biomedical engineer Jozef Cywinski who patented the technology, it can be attached to a leg muscle to trigger deep contractions that in turn improve blood circulation. Consequently, it can prevent life-threatening problems like blood clots and deep-vein thrombosis. Although he was neither an engineer nor a medical expert when he met Cysinski, Magnell figured that since he knew something about air compressors and hydraulics, he might be of help in bringing the product to market.

“Jozef opened my eyes to the fact that the cardiovascular system is not that much different from hydraulic—or even plumbing—systems,” Magnell says. “He had a lifesaving device; my role has been to put the people together to make it happen. I just try to organize it for them and look at ways to develop the product to make it better. A lot of times the original thought is there, but everything else is strategic and practical. That’s where I come in.”

Then there is DynaPulse, Magnell’s start-up company whose genesis was a friendship with David Jiles, a world-renowned biomedical engineer doing research in electromagnetic pulse technology. DynaPulse technology is still less product than vision, but to Magnell, the possibilities seem endless. What might happen if magnetic pulses could be used to alter the properties of metals? Could we increase the efficiency of our electrical grid and make electric cars more efficient? Could we reduce residual stress in lithium batteries so they would last longer?

Magnell, Jiles and another colleague, who have filed a patent application on the technology, believe that the possibilities are not only endless but far-reaching.

“Electric cars, for example, are not affordable or reliable for most people,” he says. “Our electrical grid system is overtaxed and if you’re really going to have electric cars, you need utilities to power them. It might be possible, say, to use diesel fuel to turn a generator that in turn could power the motor for electric cars.

“We incubate the concept and and we look for applications that make sense,” he says. “We start out with one application and then we find more. When you find the best people you can get, you develop the technology, and that leads to something else. It just keeps going.”

A native of Sweden who emigrated to the U.S. when he was five, Magnell graduated from the University’s College of Liberal Arts with majors in history and economics. With an inherent knack for business, he might well have been a business major, but—although he did go on to get his MBA—a successful entrepreneur may need people skills even more than business skills.

“When you get right down to it, most business is about people,” he says. “We’re still a society where social interchange is important. I’ve gotten extraordinary results by just working with people in a nice way.”

“This is the most exciting time ever to live. At one time, people thought there were limits. Today, there are none.”

What he says:

“My concept is to generate technology that can be applied from basic to applied research, and then to a prototype,” he says. “After that, I’ll turn it over to somebody else. You have to know your limitations. It’s not what you know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you don’t know that you don’t know.”

“I don’t know my job description. We all work as a team; we each have skills and abilities. We try to organize products or basic technology. It’s really a matter of organizing technology or making the technology for a new application.”

“A lot of people go to business school and they don’t have a sense of humor. It’s amazing how boring some people can be.”

“When I get together with a colleague, we spend 10 percent of our time talking about business, and 90 percent talking about something else. There is so much value in that. It creates a ‘how can we solve this?’ kind of thinking.”