Greg Lambrecht: The Innovation Interview

Greg Lambrecht, Inventor, Founder and Board Member of Coravin, LLC shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and the wine industry.

Coravin, LLC, a consumer product company bringing to market a transformational product used to access wine without removing the cork. Mr. Lambrecht is also Founder and Executive Director of Intrinsic Therapeutics, Inc, a venture-backed medical device company focused on addressing the needs of patients with spinal disorders. In addition Mr. Lambrecht is the founder and board member of Viacor, Inc., a start-up medical device company in the Boston area.

Prior to this, Mr. Lambrecht was Vice President of Product Development & Marketing at Stryker, a global orthopedic implant company where he directed the development and launch of numerous successful orthopedic implants. Mr. Lambrecht also held various management positions in product development, marketing, and business development within Pfizer’s Medical Technology Group. The core of his career at Pfizer was directed at implementing a process for inventing and developing technologies that best met the needs of Pfizer’s physician customers worldwide. Mr. Lambrecht holds a Masters of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds numerous patents in the fields of gynecology, general surgery, cardiology, and orthopedics.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is the creation of useful solutions that address unmet needs. For me, true product innovations meaningfully improve people’s lives while also producing a profit stream that keeps the company afloat. It has been the core of my career and become a way of expressing my creative side and entrepreneurial interests.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

The medical industry, from the med tech world in which I work, to healthcare delivery, to how we insure patients while paying for and regulating innovation, is in dire need of change. We have the highest healthcare costs on the planet, and very few benefits from the extra money we spend relative to countries like Germany, Japan, and many many others. Some of this is driven by poor application of product regulation, others by the structure of state by state private insurance. We are an extremely innovative nation, so I have high hopes that solutions will be forthcoming, but I also hope we as a people are willing to take the inherent risks that will be linked to the required innovation.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

My Grandfather spent his career developing weapons systems in Europe and then the US. When I was 12 he pulled me aside and said, “We have enough weapons. You should work in energy or medicine; we will never have enough of either.” He was very right and shaped my career. By the way, I consider wine medicinal, so Coravin still follows his advice.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

I measure my success by the number of people who’s lives I have positively affected. My greatest achievements are the medical products that are being used around the globe to treat patient pain and loss of function. I recently had the odd experience of watching my very first medical product, a simple catheter, being used on my own son. I will never forget that.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital! I travel constantly. Having one object that carries all of the books I’m reading, news, my pictures, music, etc. is a life saver. I’ve got to imagine the printed versions will be gone soon enough.

How has your education and experience from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology impacted your career?

MIT gave me the tools to express my creativity through product innovation, as well as the opportunities early in my career that put me in a position to take advantage of those tools. MIT has a great brand respected worldwide. Graduating from MIT got me into positions right out of school that dramatically accelerated my career. I don’t think I would have even been aware of those formative early jobs had I not gone to the Institute.

Enjoying wine without ever pulling the cork is a great idea. What was the inspiration behind the invention and how long did it take you to execute this idea?

I came up with the idea out of necessity. My wife Lee became pregnant with out second child and stopped drinking wine with me. I wanted a great glass of wine with dinner, but didn’t want to commit to the whole bottle. I briefly tried preservation systems, but they didn’t deliver what I was looking for – a way of drinking the glasses of wine I wanted when I wanted without having to worry about the remaining wine in the bottle going bad. I realized the problem was removing the cork. Cork does a great job preserving wine and preventing oxidation. I thought if I could just get the wine out without removing the cork, my problem would be solved. I’d developed some needle based products early in my career, and used that experience to develop the first Coravin prototype. My son is now 14, so it was a while in development. Most of this time was spent experimenting with different needles, gasses, and pressures to get the system to the point where I couldn’t tell the difference between glasses from bottles previously accessed years ago and un-accessed bottles. It was all a fun hobby until I founded the company in 2011. So, it was 12 years as a hobby and 2 years from founding to launch.

With the Coravin™ technology allowing wine owners to pour a glass of wine without opening the cork, how do you ensure that counterfeiters do not reverse engineer the technology to produce counterfeit wine?

I get this question a lot. Coravin only goes one way – it can pour wine from the bottle but can’t put it back. Interestingly, Coravin is now being used for the opposite of counterfeiting – fraud detection. A new company was formed by Master of Wine, Charles Curtis, to authenticate wines using Coravin. There was counterfeiting before Coravin, and there will be counterfeiting after. At least now there is a way to check without having to open the bottle.

Have you run any test pilots with restaurants? If so, what has the reaction been of sommeliers and customers who have tried Coravin™?

We ran tests with both consumers and the trade before we launched. There were three restaurants in New York, one in Boston, one in San Francisco, as well as a wine store and wine bar in San Francisco. Coravin allowed the restaurants and bar to dramatically increase their wine by the glass offerings, and offer finer wines that they wouldn’t otherwise have put at risk. The wine store started a very innovative and successful personalized tasting program pouring 10 wines per region from 15 different wine growing regions, essentially allowing their customers to try before they bought. The consumers in our pilot program were also very positive, telling us that they increased both the quality and variety of wines they drank during the week, even doing wine parings at home. The pilot program was an essential learning experience for Coravin and confirmed the broad interest in the solution we were offering. The restaurants also broke many of the first prototypes, highlighting the need for some critical refinements that now benefit all of our customers.

Are winemakers and the wine industry embracing the Coravin™ System? What has their reaction been to this new invention?

We spent a lot of time meeting with wine makers in California. Our goal was to make sure Coravin integrated into the marvelous culture that surrounds the production, service and consumption of wine. I’ve been really pleased with the very positive reception we have received. Many of the finest wineries in Napa and Sonoma are now using Coravin in their tasting rooms to offer their better wines, and so called library wines, to their visitors. Wine importers, distributors and their sales forces have also been very receptive as it allows them to extend the value of their sample budgets by being able to pour from the same bottles over weeks or longer. We hope to repeat this success abroad when we launch internationally next year.