Five Questions For: Melinda Richter, Global Head at JLabs

Xconomy National — 

Healthcare innovation is very personal for Melinda Richter.

She was an ambitious 26-year-old, posted by a global telecom company to Beijing as part of its fast-track leadership program. “I had the express intent of being president one day,” she says. “I thought I had the world by the tail.”

But during a walk in the woods, Richter was bitten by a bug, a seemingly inconsequential event that would later threaten her life. “The doctor came into my room and said, ‘Sorry, there’s nothing more’ he could do for me,” she recalls. “That kicked off a two-month journey. Every night I’d go to sleep not knowing whether I’d wake up the next day.”

“Something about that changes a person,” Richter adds.

The experience—she did recover from the bite’s complications—inspired her to focus on the healthcare market. “You can’t take a blood test and figure out what I have?” she remembers asking her doctors.

In 2004, she founded Prescience, a firm that specializes in helping to commercialize healthcare-related discoveries and works with research institutes, incubators, and other related groups. Nine years later, Richter became the global head of San Francisco-based JLabs, an organization housed within Johnson & Johnson’s innovation division that’s likewise focused on helping young healthcare companies reach the market. “I had to be about advancing innovation in healthcare,” she says, “to try and make it sexy and be where the best talent and investors want to get into.”

In our latest “Five Questions for … ,” Richter speaks about how curiosity and perseverance are a lodestar for her life, and why it’s important to do the right thing.

Xconomy: What do you wish your 25-year-old self knew (or was told?)

Melinda Richter: You are good enough. You’re strong enough. You’re capable enough. I think as a woman, and given the background that I came from, I was always somewhat conscious of the fact that I didn’t have the same platform that other people had. I actually didn’t realize how poor we were until I went to college, and realized just how different my life was compared to other people. I didn’t talk about it for years because I thought it made me different … and that I would be judged for it. Now I know differently. It’s not that it’s better or worse, it just is, and I would have … Next Page »

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