The Origins of MedtechWomen

medtechwomenMedtechWomen ( is an organization bringing talented women together and highlighting female medtech leaders. On February 13th 2013, fifteen Biodesign fellows and alumni had the chance to meet with three of the organization’s leaders — Amy Belt, MBA (Director, Covidien Ventures), Deb Kilpatrick, PhD (Chief Commercial Officer, CardioDx) and Bridget Hurley, MS (Director of R&D, Abbott). This is a summary highlighting the discussion.

Why do women rarely headline medtech conferences? Amy Belt pondered this question in the spring of 2009, looking out to a sea of navy blue blazers and calculating only 4% of the podium speakers at her three previous conferences were women. She was bothered that “it gave a visual that the experts were not women. That simply wasn’t true.”

Amy, Deb and Bridget are great examples of just how untrue that visual was. Before joining Covidien Ventures, where she is a Director, Amy worked at ATV, at Guidant and in management consulting. Deborah Kilpatrick joined CardioDx, where she is now the Chief Commercial Officer, from a career at Guidant after designing F22 raptors in the Air Force. Bridget Hurley is the R&D Director for Abbott Vascular Structural Heart and previously, also worked at Guidant.

Amy happened to be sitting next to a fellow female venture capitalist who asked, “What are you going to do about it?” Amy followed up with Deb, a colleague from Guidant and close friend, who agreed that there was “a dialogue that wasn’t happening – not because it couldn’t, but because it hadn’t.” Typical to their action-oriented bias, their response was to put on a conference that put women on the podium. And to have those women discuss industry content, not work-life balance. Putting women on the podium would break the “Facebook effect” cycle of predominantly male speaker lists leading future conference organizers to select predominantly male speakers. This was the genesis of the MedtechVision annual conferences at the Rosewood on Sand Hill Road that many of us have been so fortunate to attend.

And they didn’t stop at a conference, having built out to a series of Fireside Chats and mentoring events (including this Biodesign dinner). If you are a woman looking to make an impact through a career in medtech, here is your “to-do” list:

  1. Work at Guidant… 10 years ago. You probably picked out the common thread between Amy, Deb and Bridget’s experience: Guidant. What was Guidant’s “special sauce” for building the successful careers of so many women in medtech? When Amy asked this of Ginger Graham (the Group Chairman, Office of the President), she learned that it wasn’t a focus on women specifically, it was a focus on talent. As Guidant spun out from Lilly, the team recruited talent without filters like gender. This approach succeeded spectacularly both for Guidant and Silicon Valley leaders whose careers it kick-started.
  2. Invent a time machine. Then return to #1. But if that doesn’t work out, take extra notice of today’s companies with female leadership in selecting where to work. Guidant was unique in that half the management team in Santa Clara were women, as were 60% of employees. LinkedIn recently took the top spot in the tech sector, with 4 women in the 11-person executive team. Don’t expect any special treatment, but a company without a glass ceiling will be more likely give you a fair shot.
  3. Be fearless. Take a page from Bridget’s playbook, who cold-called the VP of R&D at Guidant to ask for a job. Similarly, when a venture capitalist talked to Deb about heading commercial operations at CardioDx, she told him it was “the worst idea ever” because she had never done sales or marketing. He asked if she knew these markets, and she said, “Absolutely. I have lived them.” That was enough, and she dove into an exciting next-step in her career. Deb knew that something that didn’t challenge her wasn’t going to be interesting; she wasn’t looking for something she had already done. Being fearless also means not being afraid to ask for what you want. Start by reading “Women don’t ask” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, recognize that the other 50% are already asking, and ask your boss for what you want. Deb explained that, as a manager, “My job is (1) to develop you and (2) to get out of your way. If you don’t tell me what you need, I’ll ask you to do just what the business needs.” This could be a missed opportunity both for you and the company.
  4. Find your niche. Amy’s strategy is to draw of Venn diagram of what you like, what you’re good at and where there’s opportunity. Then put yourself in the center. Have patience as this will take some trial-and-error.
  5. Start a quarterly dinner club. Hold on to the people you trust and love to work with. The 15 of us joining these women for dinner were certainly thankful their dinner club led to the founding of Medtech Women!

And your final “to-do” is to be sure to sign up early for the MedtechVision conference 2013. It’s likely to sell out again! You are sure to be exposed to a lot of content, discuss real-world solutions to the most challenging issues facing our industry today… and perhaps learn a little about women, too.

Kate Rosenbluth, PhD is the 2012-2013 CTSA Stanford Biodesign Innovation Fellow. She holds a PhD in bioengineering from UCSF and UC Berkeley, with a focus on neuro-imaging and medical device design.

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