Fearless Ferolyn: Lessons Learned

Recently, good friend and fellow alum Dorothea Koh (’07-’08) shared an interesting New York Times article titled “Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley”. The piece described the hurdles that still exist for women in (and striving for) successful positions in the tech sector. According to the article, women own 40 percent of the private businesses in the United States, but they make up only 6 percent of the chief executives of the top 100 tech companies. The disparity seems huge when it comes to technology-based entrepreneurship: women create only 8 percent of the venture-backed tech start-ups and make up only 14 percent of venture capitalists. Similarly, a separate Harvard Business School study has shown that only 5 percent of venture-backed biotech companies have a female CEO. Interestingly, research cited in the New York Times article has found that venture-backed start-ups run by women achieve comparable early-year revenues using an average of 40 percent less capital than those run by their male counterparts, are more likely to survive the transition from raw start-up to established company, and are increasingly involved in successful IPOs.

So what gives?

According to the article, it all comes down to role models. Anu Shukla, the founder of three successful start-ups, was quoted as saying, “There aren’t enough women entrepreneurs because they don’t see enough women entrepreneurs ahead of them and successful.” Likewise, Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo, noted, “As you look around the entry-level management positions, even just the ranks of engineers or product people, there just aren’t many women, so therefore, mathematically, it tells you it’s impossible for them to move up and run something.”

Luckily for us, we are surrounded by positive role models in the medical device industry. Even luckier, they sometimes agree to have dinner with us.

A few weeks ago, 7 Biodesign women had the unique opportunity to sit down with Ferolyn Powell, CEO of Evalve. Ferolyn has successfully taken Evalve from concept to product and through four rounds of venture financing to final acquisition by Abbott. Throughout the night, there were a number of insights that really seemed to resonate with the group:

  • Confidence is King (or should we say, “Queen”): When I asked the group to submit their thoughts on the evening, the words that were used to describe Ferolyn were things like “tenacious” and “powerhouse”. Her confidence in her abilities is palpable (in the most positive, refreshing way). It has led her to be honest with herself in her development areas and accept positions where she knew her hard work, intelligence, and dynamic management style would prove herself worthy of rapid upward movement.
  • Know what you want: While she admits that “CEO” was not in her vocabulary growing up in small-town Ohio, Ferolyn has demonstrated the importance of knowing what it was that she wanted to get out of each opportunity along the way. From new positions to the selling of Evalve, she always had the end-goal in mind.
  • … and then go get it! When it came to negotiating what she wanted, she never backed down. Many attendees commented on how impressed they were with her stories of negotiating the acquisition by Abbott. One wrote that the best take-home message from that narrative was, “know what you are worth, and don’t doubt it. Fight for what you believe in and what you deserve, the right deal will come.”
  • Don’t forget why you’re here: Ferolyn commented that during TCT last year, while everyone was buzzing about the acquisition, she was most focused and excited about Evalve’s EVEREST trial results that were being presented. This was a great reminder to take stock and remember why we are doing what we’re doing in the first place. While there is so much exhilaration that comes with the entrepreneurial aspect of medical device innovation, it is the original motivation of working toward patient benefit that will bring the true thrill. Without that motivation, those other things that make this industry so stimulating will never be realized.
  • Create your company culture: Ferolyn spoke to what she looked for in new hires and the people she chooses to surround herself with. Like her, she looks for positive, hard-working, “get the job done” attitudes. She made the important point that “you’re going to be spending a lot of time with these people,”  so having a good fit within the company culture is paramount to a successful work environment. Up until very recently, Ferolyn personally interviewed the final candidates for every position. E-v-e-r-y position. This spoke to how important each employee is in executing the core values and making the company culture a living reality. Now that she is unable to interview everyone, she has people that she trusts as good judges of character and who deeply understand the company values interview the candidates in order to continue building a strong team.
  • A final golden nugget: “You need to create a record of success.” No matter how small or large the task, whether professional or personal, this seems like a pretty good one to live by.

Thanks to the 7 other fantastic and fearless women who made the evening a huge success and for their contributions to this post, and most importantly, thanks to Ferolyn for her inspiration!

Link to NY Times Article:  “Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley”

One response to Fearless Ferolyn: Lessons Learned

  1. Fearless Ferolyn, Remembered | Biodesign Alumni

    […] In honor of Ferolyn, and to keep her strong spirit of mentorship alive, we decided to revisit this blog post from 2010 [reprinted in full below]. Back then, little did I know that what we wrote would still be one of […]


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