Finding Opportunity Even in Times of Adversity

by | Dec 2, 2020 | Thought Leadership

The medtech industry is built by entrepreneurs who are adept at identifying needs and adapting to meet them. That ability has been never been more important than during the pandemic. Harnessing that “can-do” spirit was the focus of the “Weathering the Storm, The State Of Innovation in a COVID World” presentation, part of the MedTech Strategist Virtual Summit co-organized by Fogarty Innovation. The sessions are now available on the Fogarty website.

Moderated by Fogarty Innovation’s director of strategic initiatives Greg Bakan, the panel featured Harith Rajagopalan, MD, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of Fractyl Laboratories; Gabriel Sanchez, CEO and co-founder of Enspectra Health; and Leslie Trigg, CEO of Outset Medical. 

As Greg shared, everyone working in the medical device industry is used to dealing with uncertainty and hurdles, from changing competitive landscapes to new regulations, reimbursement challenges and disruptive technologies. Actually, it’s these factors that make the field such an interesting and exciting space. But obviously, 2020 has been a year of unprecedented levels of change, including a complex and compounded set of economic, social, political and even environmental factors, the most far-reaching of which has been the COVID pandemic. 

Shifting priorities to meet immediate needs

The public health policies necessary to manage this pandemic have dramatically impacted medtech businesses and their ability to interact with patients and customers. But, as the panelists recounted, such challenges have also created new opportunities.

“Within the span of just a few days in mid-March, our execution plan was turned upside down.” said Leslie. “Challenges centered around moving teams that relied on collaboration to a remote work environment, interrupted distribution and supply chain logistics that spanned continents, and most importantly, ensuring we could meet rapidly increasing demand for our Tablo dialysis technology.”

However, as Harith added, one of the silver linings is that the pandemic essentially created a forced experiment that led companies to think through other ways of accomplishing goals, such as a new training model for physicians that ended up being more scalable, effective and efficient. 

Enspectra Health, an early-stage company, developed an innovative process that encouraged team members to work on tasks solo, then reconvene only for important pivot points.

In addition, Gabriel pointed to the acceleration of the public embrace of telehealth and digital diagnostics. Whereas a year ago he would have predicted it might take five years for the field to adopt these types of augmented diagnostic tools, there’s been a new appreciation and acceptance for them, which is leading to an emerging digital future.

Nurturing team dynamics

Of course, strong leadership is the key to any organizational success, but the pandemic turned up the volume and the pressure, creating a new focus on rallying corporate team members and keeping them all working in the same direction, while also prioritizing health and safety.

Leaders noted it was vital to remember that people at medtech companies tend to be mission-driven and committed to the company, yet they were suddenly being faced with juggling new complexities in their personal lives such as child or elder care. 

One solution to ensuring employees had the time they needed to address such needs was to formally block-out time on calendars that workers could choose to allocate to family matters without needing to split their attention. The aim was to empower people with autonomy and individual responsibility, allowing them to feel less conflicted when dealing with personal matters. 

In another approach, Fractyl Laboratories created a “virtual coffee break” program, where the team would create virtual spontaneous interactions by randomly grouping a set of individuals to give them a chance to get to know coworkers in a way that they likely wouldn’t have otherwise. 

“Such interactions were happening organically when everyone was working in the same facility and are an important part of building company culture and teamwork,” said Harith. “Rather than lose this shared experience due to the remote working environment, we took a proactive approach and found a way to preserve these informal communication channels.”

The path forward

Naturally the question on everyone’s mind is what the future will look like, but of course, no one knows. Panelists stressed that they will continue to emphasize frequent, transparent communication and seek to protect culture, especially when companies are bringing in new hires and onboarding remotely. 

The panelists also agreed that while the exceptional events of 2020 created significant hardships, the dramatic changes in the landscape will drive new sets of needs and therefore new opportunities for entrepreneurs. As the old saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention,” therefore the opportunity for innovation in our industry has never been greater.

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