Educating the Medtech Ecosystem

by | Feb 5, 2024 | Education, Fogarty Innovation

Education is a foundational part of Fogarty Innovation’s core mission. “As a nonprofit, we seek to elevate the entire medtech ecosystem because we believe that if patients benefit from new medical technologies – no matter who invented them – we all win,” said Marga Ortigas-Wedekind, FI chief commercialization officer and the head of the FI’s educational programming. To accomplish this ambitious goal, FI produces a broad range of educational offerings that help stakeholders across the ecosystem build expertise, work together more effectively, and deliver valuable solutions into patient care. This post is the first in a series that explores those programs. 

Educating Innovators

It is often said that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. However, if you’re in medtech and within shouting distance of Fogarty Innovation’s Mountain View campus, there may be one, especially if you’re interested in a helping of industry expertise along with your sandwich and chips. The organization has rebuilt and expanded its in-person educational programming post-COVID and last year delivered 26 educational events for medtech innovators on topics from fundraising to quality management to commercialization. The programs, which are growing in popularity, are free, with in-person attendance limited only by the size of Fogarty’s educational space on its El Camino Health campus. 

Learning Rooted in Practical Experience

This humming cadence of educational events includes both Lunch & Learns – 90-minute programs in which learners gather at FI for lunch and a focused talk given by 1-2 speakers – and half-day workshops, which delve into more complex topics and feature multiple speakers and panels. Workshops are designed around “…core topics we believe that all participants in the ecosystem would benefit from understanding at a deeper level,” said Ortigas-Wedekind.

While some talks cover business fundamentals that appeal mostly to first-time entrepreneurs, others explore subjects like reimbursement that stymie even the most experienced innovators. “We also dig into multifaceted subjects like leadership,” said Ortigas-Wedekind. “You’re never too old or experienced to learn more about how to become a better leader, whether you are leading a company, a team, a project or a family.”

Importantly, all the presentations share an emphasis on practical experience. “There’s as much to learn from anecdotes and war stories as there is from theoretical constructs,” said Ortigas-Wedekind. “Our talks are largely biased towards the practical side because medtech innovators tend to live in the moment. So our emphasis is on experiential learning – learning by doing and from others who have gone down a similar path.” 

A Complex Landscape

For medtech entrepreneurs, the need for ongoing education is driven by the unique complexity of health technology innovation. “In most industries, the ultimate user of the product is the same person who decides they want the product and pays for it,” said Ortigas-Wedekind.  In medtech, however, the end-user, decision-maker and payor are often three different stakeholders, along with multiple others in an intricate and intertwined landscape. “Because of this, most of our curriculum is specific to navigating the gauntlet you have to go through to bring a product to a patient successfully,” said Ortigas-Wedekind.

Despite this long, often challenging road, the journey is also uniquely rewarding, given that successful innovations can improve care for millions of patients. “But to get there, innovators need to keep a long-term view, and have a lot of resilience. And to that end, it helps to meet your fellow entrepreneurs along the way and learn together and from each other,” she said.  

Building the Curriculum

To develop the curriculum, Ortigas-Wedekind combines two approaches. “The first is based on our own experiences – what do we wish we had known when we were earlier in our careers,” she said. This includes knowledge basics around operating a medtech business as well as essential general business skills like negotiations, storytelling, and presentation design. To this core list, she adds trending topics like digital health innovation and AI, a focus on wellness and self-care, and any spur-of-the-moment opportunities to hear from interesting leaders or industry notables. 

The second approach centers on audience feedback. “Over the course of the year, we send out a handful of surveys to see how we are doing and elicit suggestions for speakers we should contact and topics we should cover,” said Ortigas-Wedekind. “We’ve gotten the ideas for some of our most popular programs through attendee feedback.”  

Interaction & Community

While nearly all the events are hybrid in order to serve FI’s non-local audiences, there’s no question that the in-person experience is richer.  “There’s just some magic that happens when people sit together in a room and interact with a speaker,” said Ortigas-Wedekind. “It creates a sense of community – that we’re all in this and learning together.”  

Building and strengthening that community is another focus for FI, with the goal of facilitating personal connections and understanding that pave the way for successful innovation. To this end there is always time after events for members of the audience to come up and chat with speakers in person. And while people generally head back to work after the lunchtime programs, the half-day workshops wrap up in the late afternoon and are followed by a social hour with drinks, and, if CEO Andrew Cleeland gets his way, an Aussie-style sausage sizzle. 

Education for Multiple Audiences

Innovators are not the only audience for FI’s educational outreach. The nonprofit also develops bespoke educational programming for its Lefteroff summer interns, for the entrepreneurs in its incubation and acceleration programs, for underrepresented groups through its diversity affiliate, Diversity by Doing HealthTech (DxD), and for numerous ecosystem affiliates including the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the Cardiovascular Research Foundation (CRF), and the Singaporean government, among others. We will explore these endeavors in upcoming articles.

Fogarty’s experienced internal team leads most of these efforts. “Our veteran staff have all been in the industry for more than 30 years and deep C-suite expertise across functional areas,” said Ortigas-Wedekind. “So we have huge in-house capability to teach a range of subjects at multiple tiers of sophistication.” FI supplements that knowledge base by drawing on an external bench of more than 300 industry experts plus an extended network of contacts and friends. The result is a comprehensive resource of medtech innovation expertise that can be customized to help nearly any group within the medtech ecosystem.

To learn more about Fogarty Innovation’s educational programming or be added to the mailing list, email fogarty-education@fogartyinnovation.org.

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