You’re Smart — Where are you going to use your talent?

In this two-part series, Gloria Kolb, shares lessons she’s learned from her vast experience at her own start-ups as well as larger companies. In this first installment, she explains the importance of choosing where to apply your skills.

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

The life science field can be so rewarding, especially in contrast to other things you could be doing with your skills. For example, I have had jobs where my technical education was used to analyze foreign missiles. Yes — missiles that killed people. Since I’ve transitioned into life science, much of that same technical education is still being used but for a very different purpose.

1. Consider the mission, consider your reward. One of my favorite parts of this field are the thank you emails we get from customers, saying that their quality of life has improved. More than just improved, some are radically changed. I love it, and we share these “thank-yous” with the team. This is a field I can labor in for the rest of my life, because I know my hard work is changing lives for the better. When I was younger, I had a job where all I did was analyze and watch for anomalies that never happened. I wasn’t contributing to the world. Later, I was thrilled to get a design job to produce a new product — a whatever gadget. Now I am blessed to be able to labor in producing a product that really helps people, and be in a small enough company to actually talk to the customers that benefit from the product I helped design. That is my reward. We have a choice in what we do.

2. Some medical fields are harder to innovate in. An awareness of the complexities of the life science field may also affect your choices. For example, doctors are smart, but their personalities, including their tolerance for risk lead them to certain disciplines. Heart transplant surgeons are different than podiatrists, right? Just the same, some products are riskier than others to develop or market. Innovating within medical specialties that are more conservative will be challenging, especially if it’s one where doctors are resistant to trying new techniques and products. What’s your penchant for risk and extra hurdles?

Speaking of potential hurdles, the economics of some medical fields will be a hurdle in itself. For example, in my first company, Fossa Medical, we developed an innovative expanding ureteral stent that dilated the ureter to allow kidney stones to pass easily. However, with reimbursement codes the way they are, a ureteral stent is a ureteral stent, regardless of the level of innovation, and after years of getting a product to market, it was difficult to get more than the price of the most basic stents on the market ($80) . In comparison, my husband designed metal plates for the neck. It may not have been much different than what was on the market, but each screw for the plate cost $350 and the plate itself was upwards of $8000. I also remember thinking kidney stones was such a big market with 2 million people. Ha! I laugh at that now, as we market to an incontinence market of 25M women in the US.

3. What’s hot in the market is always changing. Unfortunately, you can’t innovate solely based on what’s hot today, but you should always keep your funding or EXIT strategy in mind. For example, the biotech companies are “IPO”ing without clinical data, and some with only marginally promising animal data. Whereas MedTech, like the devices I work with, could have clinical data, be on the market with sales, have a larger market, and never be able to IPO or raise large amounts of capital. Just like how some fields are harder than others to innovate in, some are harder than others to raise the big funding. Ten years ago there were over 100 Medtech spine startups. Most are not operating now. This means you have to consider the actual reality of your own market when planning.

As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve learned a thing or two about deciding where I want to apply my knowledge. For me, working with missiles wasn’t it. I knew I wanted to be part of a company that helped people, and from there I just had to make sure that it could do that while also being profitable at the same time. My current company’s mission is to help women around the world. This includes using profits to donate to non-profit organizations that support women in ways beyond healthcare. By considering the mission, industry, weighing potential hurdles in advance, and planning for my specific industry ahead of time, I’ve been able to make sure that my latest start-up is not only successful, but also something that brings me joy.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “That sounds great, but once I decide where to apply my knowledge, how do I make sure the company is a success?”, then tune in next week for Part 2 from Gloria, where she discusses the importance of designing your product.

Gloria Kolb is the Co-Founder and CEO of Elidah, Inc, maker of ELITONE which is a non-invasive wearable treatment for the millions of women with incontinence. ELITONE was developed almost entirely on grant funding and launched in 2019 to win best New Product of the Year by the leading aesthetics industry. Ms. Kolb is an inventor with more than 20 patents, and an entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in product development and commercialization of medical devices. She has won prestigious awards including Boston’s “40 under 40”, MIT Technology Review’s “World’s Top Innovators under 35”, and Fortune Small Business’ 14 Hot Startups.

Ms. Kolb earned Mechanical Engineering degrees from MIT and Stanford University, and an MBA in Entrepreneurship from Babson College. While at Babson, she won or was a finalist in the Douglass, Carrot Capital, Moot Corp and MIT business plan competitions. Ms. Kolb also earned Kauffman Foundation and Babson fellowships, and is a proud Springboard alumna.

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