Five Questions For … Surgeon, Inventor, Musician William Cohn

Xconomy Texas — 

Houston—Innovators tend to be polymaths, standouts at a lot of different activities.

Houston heart surgeon William “Billy” Cohn exceeds even that broad definition. By day, Cohn is a Texas Medical Center fixture, caring for patients or tinkering on his never-ending list of medical device ideas. He has more than 90 U.S. patents granted or pending for heart care devices he invented, and he has also worked with renowned heart surgeon Bud Frazier on developing the first continuous flow total artificial heart.

By night, Cohn (pictured above, playing trombone) is a frequent mentoring presence at a variety of biotech and life sciences organizations, a musician with regular gigs at Houston’s jazz and blues clubs, and a skilled magician. (If you meet him, ask him to turn $20 into $100 … and then run away fast!)

Among the companies that Cohn has founded or co-founded are Viacor in Wilmington, MA, SentreHeart in Redwood City, CA; Apaxis Medical in Houston; Anaxiom in Irvine, CA; Houston Medical Robotics in Houston; and TVA Medical in Austin.

At a meeting of the Houston chapter of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs a few years ago, I remember Cohn’s advice to those who wanted to follow his entrepreneurial path. No matter what you do, he said, passion is important: “Drive it like you stole it.”

Here is an edited version of our recent conversation.

Xconomy: What is your advice to a young surgeon interested in being more entrepreneurial?

William Cohn: It’s easier to do than when I was starting off. And it’s getting easier and easier; there are ecosystems now like JLabs and TMCx—those types of institutions to help you now exist. I think the main thing you need to do is vote with your feet and immerse yourself in that environment. Hang out with those people and get involved with them in any way. Be around people with that DNA. Then you’ll start to see some of the opportunities and you can find a place to put your intellect and passion into.

I would have to say that a lot of the stuff it takes to get an idea to turn into a project, those steps are much more regimented than I would have ever imagined. Looking backwards, I can see the same series of stops that I now try to stick with that script going forward. I didn’t realize there was a script, a series of steps that I could do so things would keep moving.

X: How is doing magic similar to being an inventor?

WC: Magic is sort of like being an inventor in that you have to … Next Page »

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