Fogarty Innovation’s Secret Sauce: Full Contact Coaching

by | Dec 19, 2023 | Education, Fogarty Innovation, Mentoring

Whether you are a novice entrepreneur with a high-impact idea, an experienced medtech executive stepping in to a first CEO role, or a veteran company leader with a small team and big needs, Fogarty Innovation’s incubation and acceleration programs are a force multiplier for success. One key reason: FI’s renowned “full contact coaching,” a term coined by Stanford Biodesign founder Paul Yock to describe the deep involvement of FI’s veteran staff in all aspects of the growth and development of its resident entrepreneurs and companies. 

“Full contact coaching is basically putting yourself in the shoes of the person taking this innovation journey,” said FI chief innovation officer Mike Regan. “It’s a kind of family approach to saying, ‘How can we help this person bring their product or idea forward?’” 

The “family” is the FI senior team, a group of seasoned medtech executives who have an aggregate 450 years of leadership experience working in 80+ companies that have returned over $8 billion to investors. “We’ve been involved in some pretty amazing projects, both successes and failures, and we leverage all of that experience to help other innovators find their way,” Regan said. 

In the trenches 

For the startup companies in FI’s six-month Company Accelerator Program (CAP) or longer-term Company-in-Residence (CIR) program, full contact coaching means that their Fogarty mentors are “…right there in the trenches with them when needed,” said Regan. “We help them challenge and hone their value propositions and business strategy.  We have been part of funding pitches, both developing the decks and participating in the meetings. We debate regulatory, clinical, and reimbursement pathways, help vet potential employees, and are in the room when they have to lay people off or make other tough decisions,” he said.

As one example, Regan described traveling with the leaders of a Fogarty CIR to meet with a contract manufacturer. “The company founders were two scientists who had never established this kind of formal, external partnering relationship before,” he said. “We helped them go through the due diligence – meeting the contract team, seeing the facilities, and negotiating the contractual framework. But more importantly, we helped assess the strengths and capabilities of both teams in order to outline accountability and responsibilities, figure out where they still had gaps and how to fill them, and develop a communications structure. So, it was really about figuring out how to make the arrangement work for sides. Because at the end of the day, both teams have to win for the partnership to be successful.”

John Morriss, who directs FI’s Invention Accelerator Program (IAP), an early-stage program that helps physicians and academics develop and pressure test the marketability of their ideas, describes full contact coaching as functioning like part of the entrepreneurial team. “It means that instead of getting an update on meetings with physician groups and prospective patients, we are in the room during these conversations so that we can be attuned to the nuances. Was there a hesitation before that answer? Was there a tone of skepticism? There’s always going to be resistance to new ideas and the sooner we can understand where it’s coming from, the better we can plan our development strategy.” 

Building Trust

Acting as part of the team requires building trust between the FI staff and its resident innovators and entrepreneurs. This can be a delicate process, especially in the IAP where ideas are new and fragile. “We feel protective of our ideas and having someone rain on them is hard,” said Morriss. “But there are so many ways in which an idea that seems really strong on the surface can have some fundamental weaknesses. Being part of the team means that when we uncover these issues, we can present them as supporters working to make the idea stronger.” 

Expanding the pool of inputs

Full contact coaching at FI goes even beyond the capabilities of the staff. “The beautiful thing is that we provide expertise from a variety of different vectors,” said Regan. “Our staff brings a comprehensive set of capabilities, skills and tools. Then we have our bench strength, which is a group of more than 300 people that we draw on from time to time, like highly skilled IP attorneys and outside reimbursement consultants.”  A third vector is the on-site community of other entrepreneurs and CEOs that make FI a “living laboratory” for health technology innovation. 

“FI companies are selected to be non-competitive to each other,” said Regan. “They’re in different stages but they’re going through similar experiences and are able to share resources and help each other.”  He continued, “Bringing a new medical device to patients is a complex, emotional and taxing process in the best of times. Leaders need moral support and the ability to share experiences – and that’s what our community provides.” 

“It’s a lonely job being the CEO of a company,” added Morriss. “Most of the people that you turn to for advice or counseling have their own motivations, and CEOs are often limited in what they can share with them. But the community at FI allows leaders to be candid, and to get a mature, unbiased perspective in return.”

For experienced CEOs

While the benefits of this deep involvement are clear for fledgling ideas and new CEOs, the approach is just as valuable for experienced CEOs. “Small startups can’t afford to hire a full complement of senior staff,” said Regan. “Experienced CEOs know what they don’t know. They incubate their startups at FI because they benefit from collaboration with board-level experts across functional areas.” 

Regan points out that this value is twofold – not only does the FI staff provide strategic and tactical expertise based on their experience, but they also offer a critical external perspective that helps the CEO stay focused on the bigger picture and keep the end in mind.

Leadership development

All of the leaders in FI’s programs also benefit from leadership training. “So much of being successful in the people business is being able to communicate, being able to motivate, and being able to develop others,” said Regan. “We put a lot of time into helping the CEOs and the team members understand this. New company leaders know that they have technical, scientific, and business capabilities. But they need to be equally as strong in people and leadership skills. team members need context – they need to understand what they are a part of, where they are going, and why decisions are made. Understanding and providing that is just not always intuitive early in one’s career.”

For seasoned leaders, this kind of development takes the form of executive coaching. “We can always do things better,” said Regan. “No matter how many times you have done this, there is always more to learn.” 

Ebb and flow 

Just like anything in life, a team’s involvement with FI’s senior staff ebbs and flows during their time at FI.  “There are times that we are with them 24/7, and there are times where we have a much lighter touch. We help people see the pathway but then we walk behind them on it – it’s their journey,” said Regan. 

That said, all companies and entrepreneurs who have been through FI’s programs are considered part of the Fogarty Family and continue to participate in educational events and have access to FI staff and resources. “We love to hear from our alums,” said Morriss. “We are always happy to offer advice, provide an assessment through our Fogarty Physical process, or make connections on their behalf. Our goal is to help great ideas reach patients.”

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