At the recent EuroMedtech 2013 in Dusseldorf, I was invited to put together and moderate a panel of medtech CEOs. The panel title was “From the trenches: Entrepreneur war stories” and the focus was on what it takes to start and build a medtech company.
Here’s a description of the panel on EMT’s website:
Join a group of serial medtech entrepreneurs as they discuss the challenges, failures, successes and rewards of creating companies around innovations in a variety of medtech sectors. Learn key lessons from the medtech trenches from panelists who have negotiated the twists and turns successfully.
The panel took the form of a 1 hour Q&A with three seasoned and successful medtech entrepreneurs. The CEOs were:
- Bill Allan – Vascular Flow
- Sameer Kothari – Zilico
- Chris Jones – Glysure
You can watch the whole discussion on video to get the full insights. Here’s a quick summary of the main discussion points:
Why the entrepreneurial path? Each of the CEOs came from a big corporate background. Of course, this isn’t a requisite to become an entrepreneur, but the driving motivation for each of them included feeling more connected to the work they were doing and have a clear focused vision where they felt they could make a difference (escaping the “cog in a wheel” syndrome was mentioned). Leaving the relative safety of such a corporate environment, or a professional career, was even cited by one as a pathology common to most entrepreneurs. (I describe the same trait as compulsion - see what drove this billionaire medtech entrepreneur).
Mission of the companies – each was asked to articulate what the mission of the company meant to them, away from the corporate speak. This included the specific patient benefits potentially offered by each company’s product, but also the journey. They pointed to situations where overcoming obstacles and achieving a series of small victories along the way was a core part of what engages them.
Biggest challenges – any cliff edge moments? – these were not uncommon. No-one had sailed smoothly overcoming one hurdle and the next. Many of the cliff-edges were also related to financing issues. Interestingly, as entrepreneurs, each of them relayed the importance of staying calm in such situations, and not showing the rest of the team or staff what might be worrying you.
Who do entrepreneurs lean on? – Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely path. Your team look up to you for leadership and answers. Your investors expect you to jump through hoops on a regular basis. The entrepreneurs here cited several sources for support – these included close family, a supportive board, previous colleagues and other CEOs who had already been through similar situations (often as part of an investor board members portfolio).
Biggest victories? Each of the entrepreneurs had previously been involved in several ventures and trade sales. I assumed this would be one of the main things mentioned, but interestingly it wasn’t. A more common feature was that the satisfaction comes from building together with your team and overcoming a series of small hurdles every day (and some big ones), rather than the oft-publicized big score. It’s the long effort and diligence that pays off.
Any failures? When asked by the audience, each of the entrepreneurs happily accepted that failures are part and parcel of being an entrepreneur. But the key difference was: do you just give up (a true failure); or do you use each set-back as a learning experience to move forward with new-found insights? Interestingly, there was also a difference noted between failure in the US (celebrated, and seen as necessary stepping stones to success) and Europe (everyone has failures, but they’re not openly acknowledged).
What keeps you up at night? Children! They are all family men and two have young children (I can relate to this). Surprisingly, they weren’t that bothered by the usual suspects – financing, regulatory, product launch, etc. These are just things they deal with every day and know that there is a process in place to get things done with good people at bat.
Entrepreneurs – born or made? This was a combination of nature versus nurture. An entrepreneurial gene (or pathology, if you like) was requisite, as well as not being stressed by things like running out of money – entrepreneurs just seem to have a higher threshold. But so was finding good mentors and learning experiences in previous situations.
The biggest take away for me was that these guys just seemed to be having a whole bunch of fun as entrepreneurs. Sure, it is hard work, but do you have the gene?
Thanks to EBD for inviting me, and to each of the CEOs for their time and insights.