We Are the 51 Percent: Surveying Women Medtech Leaders


The organization called Medtech Women just held its second annual Medtech Vision Conference last week and it was another sold-out event. (You can see my story on the first year of the Medtech Vision conference here.) With a focus on the era of the “empowered patient” and how that is changing medicine, 200 women business leaders, physicians, policymakers, and investors gathered at the Rosewood Hotel in Menlo Park, CA to discuss the changing healthcare environment and how it is affecting their livelihoods.

What is notable about this conference, aside from the fact that it has solely female speakers and attendees, is the impact this makeup has on content. This is not because men and women are so different, though they can be, but because most medical technology conferences suffer from what I will call “Usual Suspects Syndrome.” The vast majority of speakers at these events are men and often the same men year after year. They are the many, the proud, and the successful in medtech, but they are who they are and their voice can be heard fairly frequently as one travels from one medtech event to the next.

In contrast, Medtech Vision features somewhat unusual suspects, women executives who have also succeeded in their fields despite somewhat daunting odds. What they have to say has nothing to do with the fact that they are women (there was not a single “women’s” topic), but because they are different people, their messages are fresh and their voices new to the discussion more often than not.

Having women’s voices in the mix could not be more important for a healthcare industry undergoing massive transformation. Amy Belt, a Medtech Women founder who is also a Director at Covidien Ventures, referring to the fact that a majority of earth’s inhabitants are women, said it well in her opening remarks, “We are the 51 percent.” In truth, when it comes to making healthcare decisions for the family, we are more like the 80 percent. If the medtech field, which has had its share of woes lately, is to thrive in the new world order, it must heed that old adage about listening to the customer.

While the content of the MedTech Vision 2012 conference was outstanding and different, particularly since I have yet to attend a conference that focused so directly on the dynamics between the healthcare patient and healthcare system, I am going to reserve that topic for a second post. Instead I want to focus here on a survey conducted among the conference attendees about women in the medical technology field.

First, some context: in the past few years venture capital funding for new medical technology companies has plummeted. The reasons are many and complex, but they include the following:

* A national economic downturn that has put intense pressure on venture funding for medical technology as well as other fields.

* A more assertive FDA and more complex FDA approval process that increases cost and time to market for new medical technologies.

* Reimbursement pressures from payers limiting new technology adoption.

* Savvy providers and payers demanding better value for what they spend on medical technologies, particularly those that haven’t demonstrated clinical improvements despite higher costs.

*Concerns about how the impending PPACA-created 2.3 percent medtech tax  will impact the field and increase the cost of operating within it. Already several large companies have begun laying off employees, citing this tax as the cause.

In other words, it seems to be getting harder and harder to bring new companies to the fore in the medical technology field and funding and job opportunities are contracting. To get a sense of how these challenges to the field are impacting women aspiring to medtech executive roles, I undertook to survey the participants at the MedTech Vision conference.  Each of the 200 attendees received a survey inquiring about her views about opportunities for women in medtech and 100 responses were received.  What I discovered was this: Despite the increasing pressure on the industry from internal and external sources, 53 percent of the 100 respondents believe that it is easier for women to succeed at executive levels in the medtech business than it was 10 years ago, when medtech funding was booming. Only 6 percent of respondents felt that it has become harder for women to succeed in the medtech field as compared to 10 years ago and 40 percent felt it was “about the same.” Similarly, … Next Page »

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Lisa Suennen is a managing director with GE Ventures and former managing member of the Psilos Group, as well as the co-author of Tech Tonics: Can Passionate Entrepreneurs Heal Healthcare With Technology? and author of the blog Venture Valkyrie. Follow @venturevalkyrie

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