Last month, 44 college student interns from underrepresented groups in health technology visited Fogarty Innovation for the Diversity by Doing HealthTech (DxD) 2022 Summer Innovation and Exploration Series. Designed to help the students explore careers in medtech and build mentoring and professional development networks, the two-day event exceeded expectations as executives from across the ecosystem shared not only their professional expertise, but also their personal stories of growth, doubts and wrong turns, best career advice and more.
“In addition to discussing medical technology innovation and how the industry works, the speakers offered important life lessons – that career paths can meander, that networking can lead to unexpected opportunities and that some of the most valuable learnings come from overcoming failure,” said Ingrid Ellerbe, executive director of DxD. “They also conveyed their incredible passion for the work that they do. Every speaker noted that they chose this industry because they wanted to improve patient care, and that this is a constant motivator for them.” The candor and authenticity of the presentations resonated with the students, who clustered around the executives at breaks to ask questions and make connections.
The participating interns hailed from more than 30 different colleges and had internships at medtech companies across the country. The DxD Summer Series was supported by Fogarty Innovation and the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign – the two organizations that jointly formed DxD.
An all-star cast
Industry and academic speakers included Richard Rapoza, divisional vice president of Abbott; Leslie Trigg, CEO of Outset Medical; Tracy Dooley, partner at Avestria Ventures; Donna Collins, senior director at Stryker Neurovascular, Andrew Cleeland and Fogarty Innovation management team; and Josh Makower, MD, and members of the teaching faculty at Stanford Biodesign, among others. Other executives, including senior staff from the companies sponsoring the interns, participated as mentors in a DxD signature event – one-on-one speed mentoring, which took place in-person for the very first time.
Exploring the medtech landscape
On day one, the interns participated in a series of presentations moderated by event organizers Mike Regan, Marga Ortigas-Wedekind and Garrett Schwab, designed to walk them through the medtech innovation landscape. The students got an inside look at life in a startup from Gabriel Sanchez, CEO of Fogarty company-in-residence Enspectra Health, who grew up on a cattle farm in New Mexico, made his way to MIT to study mechanical engineering, and then invented the fundamental technology that his company is now using for non-invasive skin biopsies with the goal of earlier skin cancer detection.
“There’s no CEO university,” he said, reflecting on his journey. “Where you start and where you end up can be really different. You learn to take things one step at a time because each step leads to a clearer vision for the next step.”
Leslie Trigg, whose company Outset Medical is working to reduce the cost and complexity of hemodialysis, noted that she found her way to medtech without a technical, business or clinical background. Instead, her career decisions were guided by a desire to solve problems and help a vulnerable patient population. “Be guided by your personal instinct,” she advised. “Make friends and ask questions. A beginner’s mindset is your greatest superpower.”
Another panel featuring Fogarty CFO Gayle Kuokka addressed starting and funding a company, and another explored how venture capitalists and startup companies work together. The closing speaker for the day was Fogarty Innovation vice chairman of the board Fred St Goar, MD, who challenged the students to set even bigger goals than improving healthcare. “How can our industry help alleviate inequity?” he asked. “The biggest problem in medtech is figuring out how to get it to the people who need it most.”
The Biodesign Innovation Process
On day two, Stanford Biodesign leaders took the students on a deep dive into how new medical technologies are invented. Director Josh Makower shared an observation he made early in his career, that companies were most innovative when they were trying to solve a problem, and how he and Biodesign co-founder Paul Yock, MD, built that premise into the academic framework for needs-based innovation that is now known worldwide as the Biodesign Innovation Process.
Next, Janene Fuerch, MD, assistant director of the Biodesign Innovation Fellowship and a medtech innovator, led the interns through a high-level overview of the process, then divided the group into teams and paired them with Biodesign faculty coaches including Lyn Denend, Ravi Pamnani, Vic McCray, MD, and Ross Venook. Working in small groups, the interns practiced developing a need statement; a clear description of the core health problem being addressed, the group of people or patients being targeted for a solution and the outcome the innovator hopes to achieve by solving the problem. Once refined and vetted, a need statement guides the team’s decision-making throughout the innovation process.
According to Ravi, an instructor for undergraduate programs at Stanford Biodesign and the founder and CEO of Intact Therapeutics, the hands-on session was a great way to introduce the idea that innovation isn’t a black box and it isn’t magic – it’s a process that anyone can learn and follow. “Needs-driven innovation is a way of disciplined thinking that helps people break down problems and approach them step-by-step. It’s a mindset that can apply to a lot of things in life,” he said.
Career and personal development
The second part of the day was split between speed mentoring, where each intern had three one-on-one conversations with health technology executives, and career and personal development presentations. Ingrid discussed imposter syndrome, Kim Ennis, managing director at BioQuest, presented on the topic of charting a career path, and Frederick Moore, director of the MESA program at City College of San Francisco, spoke about finding one’s authentic voice. “Don’t let fear, lack of awareness, self-doubt and resistance get in your way,” said Frederick. “Spend time focusing on what you’re good at, because what you spend your energy on is what you amplify.”
A final career panel featuring young professionals at different stages in their career helped bring the event to a close. “Don’t be afraid and don’t worry about the title,” said panelist Shaili Sharma, director of business development at Stryker and a 2016-17 Biodesign Innovation Fellow. “Chasing a title should never be your job. Your job should be doing something that makes you excited to get out of bed every day.”
Feedback from the participants was hugely positive. “Every speaker was different and provided a new perspective and an important takeaway,” said Angel Ortiz, who participated in the program as a Lefteroff Intern at Fogarty Innovation. “I learned so much and it has made me want to go into the industry,” added Sara Gershfield, an intern at Imperative Care.
Going forward, Ingrid hopes to increase the program’s capacity, especially given the fact that the DxD had to turn away applicants this year. This was the second time DxD has organized the Summer Series, but the first time it has been held in person.
“Diversity in healthtech is necessary to improve care and outcomes for racially and culturally disparate groups,” said Ingrid. “The Summer Innovation and Exploration Series targets the early funnel of healthtech employees by encouraging companies to hire interns from underrepresented groups and giving those students tools that can help them succeed – a better understanding of opportunities, high level contacts, role models and mentors, and a supportive community of peers.”