Mariel Bolhouse, a member of the Ferolyn Fellowship class of 2023, is the new CEO of Taurus Endoscopy, a seed stage gastrointestinal company she co-founded while a fellow at Sante Ventures. The company is based in France and is working in the endoluminal surgical closure space. For Mariel, a figure skater turned ice hockey player and motorcycle enthusiast, there are no detours in life, only opportunities to learn. As she says, “no learning is wasted, everything builds.” We caught up with her to learn more about her leadership journey.
Q: Was engineering and healthcare always your destiny?
A. I believe that we make our own destiny, but when it comes to being an engineer, I think I was born that way. My mom, dad and both sisters are also engineers, so I guess it’s in the genes! My family is a mix of electrical and mechanical engineers, but I fell in love with biology and at one point considered going to medical school. I’ve always gotten great joy from helping people and from fixing things, and in one sense a doctor’s role is to fix people.
During my sophomore year at the University of Texas, I had the opportunity to co-op at a local medtech startup in Austin called Apollo Endosurgery. I fell in love again, this time with the idea of building something that could change the practice of medicine and have an impact on many patients at once. I realized that I could bring together my desire to improve lives with my love of building and that was it.
There’s a Japanese concept called “ikigai,” which is about purpose and discovering your “reason for being.” It’s the intersection of what the world needs, what you love, what you’re good at and what you can get paid for. I think med device is my ikigai.
Q: You worked in a large company prior to getting into startups. Did that feel like a detour to you?
A. At first it did. But one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that there are no detours—only experiences to learn from. They are all valuable and if you let your preconceived notions get in the way of learning, then you’re doing yourself a disservice.
I had known since my first experience at a startup in college that I wanted to start a medtech company. I learned about Stanford’s Biodesign Fellowship and had the perfect plan: I would work with a start up for a few years and then apply to Biodesign. Of course, best laid plans are just meant to be upended. I couldn’t break into the startup community right away, but I did get a great position at Stryker Neurovascular. I thought I’d do a couple years at Stryker and move on. Seven years later, I had held three different roles at the company as an R&D engineer, project manager and R&D manager. It was a fantastic learning opportunity that I may never have experienced if life had gone according to my original plan.
Q. From there was it a direct leap to becoming the CEO of Taurus?
A. Of course not! I knew I still wanted to go through the Stanford Biodesign Innovation Fellowship, and since I had a little more work experience under my belt, I felt I was ready to go for it. The program was definitely pivotal, and it opened up the full startup world me. By that I mean, not just the engineering side of it, but also the process of how a company is envisioned, created and built. Post fellowship I was drawn to company creation and spent a year as a Sante Venture Fellow absorbing everything I could about the venture capital world.
After Sante, I joined Inventure Group, a medical device incubator. While there, we grew the portfolio from one to three companies, and I learned so much about company creation and team building. It was also a fantastic opportunity to work alongside very experienced and talented operators and get that experiential learning of running a startup.
I recently made the leap to become CEO of Taurus Endoscopy, which I had co-founded during my time at Sante. I feel like everything I’ve learned so far has led me to this role. We are a lean and tight-knit team and I’m very excited to see what we can build together and how we can help make GI interventions more minimally invasive.
Q. What’s an insight you’ve had about leadership and how are you currently exploring it in the Ferolyn Fellowship?
A. When I think about the leaders I admire, the trait they all have in common is courage — particularly the courage to be vulnerable. That vulnerability manifests in multiple ways, from expressing the most “you” version of you; allowing yourself to care deeply about something and letting the world know it; and dropping the ego and asking for help. All of those things take enormous strength and I find it so inspirational when I see people living courageously. In the Ferolyn Fellowship we recently did an exercise, led by my mentor Angela Macfarlane where we put words to our values and I tried to capture that concept in the phrase “wear no armor.” It’s become a mantra to remind me to approach every situation with my authentic self.
Q. Could you share something about yourself that might surprise people?
A. I play ice hockey now, but I started out as a figure skater. In Michigan, where I grew up, I began figure skating when I was six years old – which is actually quite late by that sport’s standards. I was an athletic skater and loved jumping and the more technical aspects of the sport, but the performance side of it was not my jam. I also missed being on the ice but missed being on a team. So, at age 13, I hung up the figure skates and put on a pair of hockey skates, which again is late by ice hockey standards. At first, I was frustrated I hadn’t started sooner, especially at my first hockey camp where the six year old kids were skating circles around me. But now as an adult player, I realize that the figure skating made me very comfortable skating backwards at high speeds – a critical skill for a defensive player. No learning is wasted…everything builds!