Kirby Cramer probably has the most diversified track record of success in life sciences entrepreneurship of anybody in the Northwest. Now he’s putting some of his time and money into strengthening Wings, the budding angel investing network for medical device startups.
“We are blessed in the Northwest to have hundreds of medical device entrepreneurs,” Cramer says. “All they need is some mentorship. A shot in the arm and a shot in the wallet.”
Cramer is now taking on responsibility, along with former Confirma CEO Wayne Wager, as co-chairs of Wings, the Seattle-based angel network we first profiled in February, and which gained further momentum at its kickoff event in April. The two veteran entrepreneurs are stepping into a leadership void after Stefan Kraemer, the co-founder of EndoGastric Solutions and one of the driving forces at Wings, decided to leave the area to take a new job as vice president of medical affairs for C.R. Bard (NYSE: BCR) on the East Coast.
Essentially, Wings is replacing one Kraemer with a Cramer and a Wager. Cramer, 73, has deep roots in the Northwest and a track record that is nationally known. He served as a director of the Northwest’s most successful biotech company (Immunex, sold to Amgen for $10 billion), and the most successful medical device maker (ATL Ultrasound, sold to Philips for $800 million). Earlier in his career, Cramer co-founded and led what became one of the nation’s most successful contract research firms (Hazleton Laboratories, now part of Covance). Cramer is the chairman of Bothell, WA-based SonoSite (NASDAQ: SONO), a position he has held since the company was founded in 1998.
Cramer is also known around the Northwest as a generous donor, having given $1 million in one notable gift to the Seattle School District in 2001, and for his consistent support for the University of Washington Foundation, and the Foster School of Business. “I’m a Husky,” he says.
But that doesn’t mean he’s a bleeding heart who gets involved in just any well-meaning endeavor. He first got exposed to Wings in October 2009 when he was one of the local power brokers invited by the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association to a meeting on boosting medical device entrepreneurship at the Woodmark Hotel in Kirkland. WBBA president Chris Rivera asked him to get involved, but Cramer initially resisted, saying he spends the winter months living at a second home in Palm Desert, CA, and probably wouldn’t have enough time.
Still, he was intrigued by the idea. When he saw over the intervening months that the idea had started to take shape into an organization, business plans started to roll in, and Wings had gotten its inaugural meeting going by April, the timing was right. Cramer liked the progress the organization had made, and he personally saw three business plans through the Wings network that he was interested in learning more about, and possibly investing his personal money into. When he heard that the organization needed new leadership with the departure of Kraemer, he suggested a dual chairmanship with Wager, to make sure everything would get done. And Cramer, who loves long-range planning, got motivated to organize Wings board meetings to coincide with his wintertime board meetings for SonoSite, so he wouldn’t have to do a lot of extra traveling.
“I was really surprised that they had gotten things going in such a short period of time,” Cramer says.
Plenty of work needs to be done. The angels convened by Wings haven’t yet made their first investment in a company, and that’s one of the first things on Cramer’s to-do list. “Getting deals done, getting money into the entrepreneurs’ hands,” Cramer says, is his first order of business.
Cramer clearly is in the elder statesman role where he feels a desire to give back to the community, and do it in a productive way. He said he envisions investing some of his own money, coordinating others to invest through Wings, and spending some of his time mentoring younger entrepreneurs. He sure sounds like he’s got a lot of enthusiasm for the task. He also seemed to get a kick out of quizzing me over the phone about Seattle biotech and medical device history, and telling stories about some of his best friends and business colleagues over the years.
Cramer has always been a great storyteller, particularly when I was just getting started as a reporter at The Seattle Times. His enthusiasm is infectious. Just talking to him prompted me to dig through my old Times archive for his comments about some grim period at Immunex, and for his insights on the character of talented business leaders from a younger generation, like Fenwick & West’s Stephen Graham, and ZymoGenetics CEO Doug Williams.
“As I reflect on my life and my career, I think a lot about the community,” Cramer says. “There are a lot of young people with good ideas, and all they need is a little money and a little coaching to get started.”
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