Many paths, a single purpose: a career focused on medical innovation comes full circle

Mar 23, 2021

I have dedicated my life to the development of new technologies to advance patient care. When I walked into NEA’s Baltimore office as an Entrepreneur in Residence in the summer of 1995, I felt like I had finally been offered a chance to play in the big leagues. I would be working under the guidance and oversight of now-retired General Partner John Nehra, who welcomed me and showed me to my desk in the basement next to fellow newbie, Suzanne King. Scott Sandell would join shortly thereafter. The evolution of NEA, our mutual careers and the industry as a whole since that time have been astounding, and I feel fortunate to have been a small part of that story.

I had been introduced to John by Valleylab founder Bob Anderson, and the two men would be my mentors for many years to come. Together we started the ExploraMed incubator based on an innovation process I had first developed at Pfizer almost six years prior. The process was simple, but required rigorous discipline: first one must focus on ‘clinical needs’ without bias to a solution or a technology; then, by creating a clean “need specification,” one would have the best chance of inventing the most optimal solution to the problem. Several years of iteration had made this a proven, repeatable process at Pfizer, but the complexities of a large pharmaceutical company made it very difficult to advance early stage inventions. This drove me to become an entrepreneur with a mission to pioneer these new technologies and procedures to solve important clinical needs in a free market, away from the confines of conservative corporate decision-making.

The innovation process we developed proved to be very successful for ExploraMed and NEA. After creating two new companies with one already acquired, I sat down to breakfast one morning with famed cardiologist, inventor and Professor Paul Yock at Stanford. Paul wanted Stanford to be the leading institution for medical device education and training and he was looking for a hook. When I shared my early achievements with the innovation process, we both realized it could be adapted to a curriculum which might be a great asset to Stanford. Shortly thereafter I signed on part-time as Consulting Professor of Medicine at Stanford, and Paul and I began developing the “Stanford Biodesign Innovation Program.” Fortunately, I was able to continue working with ExploraMed and NEA on my next series of companies, which allowed me to continue to be a practitioner of the process while teaching it to students and fellows. For me, this was a chance to give back and help mentor the next generation of innovators. I wanted to give others the opportunity to succeed as NEA, Bob and John had for me.

What began 20 years ago as a small four-person innovation fellowship and a corresponding two-semester class has blossomed into a large footprint at Stanford as well as numerous spin-off Biodesign programs. Under Paul’s brilliant leadership, universities around the world have adopted our process and the textbook we developed to advance patient care and spurred the creation of companies, technologies and treatments that have impacted millions of lives. I served as the Fellowship Director for the first five years while continuing to work with my colleagues at ExploraMed and NEA to spin out and build new companies like Acclarent, NeoTract, Moximed and Vybrint.

As the numerous startups we created began to demand more and more of my time, I stepped back from my role at Biodesign to focus on my work with ExploraMed and NEA. Thankfully, I was able to maintain an active involvement at Stanford, mentoring students and fellows, teaching a few classes, co-leading executive education and serving as an advisor to the program. Focusing the majority of my time on company building allowed me to advance the global commercialization of companies like Acclarent and NeoTract and found several companies focused on women’s health including Nuelle, Willow and NC8.

About six years ago I assumed the role of General Partner and leadership of NEA’s medical device practice, bringing yet another dimension to my career-long focus on medical innovation. Working with such a brilliant and talented group of partners at NEA is truly inspiring. I’m proud of the team we have built, the many great companies we’ve invested in, and the liquidity we have generated for our limited partners. Most importantly, the companies we have created and invested in have impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

When I learned last year that Paul was retiring and Stanford had initiated a search for the new director of Biodesign, the pendulum began to shift yet again. As co-founder of the program, I cared deeply about who would be appointed to lead after Paul. When it was suggested that I might step into the role, there was no denying that the opportunity to shape the future of the program I helped create was incredibly compelling. I have always felt that co-founding Biodesign with Paul was the hallmark of my career—after all, the process at the heart of the program is the same process that enabled me to create well over a dozen companies over the years.

Once again, it would be my great fortune to have the best of two worlds. NEA readily supported my desire to take on this new role at Stanford and accelerate med tech innovation and company formation at the earliest stages. We agreed that I would transition to a Special Partner role at NEA at that time, continuing to support NEA's medical device practice as we process new and existing companies. My appointment to an endowed full professorship at the Stanford University School of Medicine was announced yesterday and will commence on Aug. 1, at which time I will assume the role of Director of the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign.

This move takes me full circle back to the Biodesign process and the roots of my entire career. The opportunity ahead is immense: heightened awareness of the importance of medical innovation in the wake of COVID-19 underscores the critical need to develop the next generation of innovators and technologies to meet the challenges of the future. I am thrilled to take this on at Stanford, and to be able continue working alongside my colleagues at NEA and Exploramed to bring new products and treatments to patients. I’m grateful to my friends and colleagues at NEA, ExploraMed and Biodesign as well as my co-founders, co-investors, and fellow board members across the many companies I’ve helped create, for the tremendous support they have all shown me and my work over the years. It is an honor to work alongside them to serve patients, and I look forward to many more productive years together, changing the world for the better.