A patent attorney and inventor who also has extensive experience successfully founding companies, Earl ”Eb” Bright has been an invaluable player in advancing the medical technology industry.
In addition to his role as president and general counsel of ExploraMed, he has served on the executive team of many of its startup companies, including Acclarent, Neotract, Vibrynt, Moximed, Nuelle and Willow. The co-founder of the Alliance for U.S. Startups & Inventors for Jobs, he continues to serve as an advisory committee member.
Previously, he was director of Intellectual Property for the West Coast Operations at Guidant Corporation, where he led the strategic development of over 1,300 patent and trademark applications related to the Vascular Intervention, Cardiac Surgery and Endovascular Solutions divisions, as well as handling legal issues for Guidant Japan and the Compass Group, the unit responsible for Guidant’s venture capital and merger and acquisition activities.
In addition to his impressive track record, Eb is an active contributor and participant with organizations that foster healthcare innovation, including the Fogarty Institute, where he has lent his expertise during several of our educational seminars.
We had the privilege of catching up with Eb to learn more about his career, tips for entrepreneurs and insight on trends in our industry.
Q. Tell us about your career, how you first got involved in the medtech industry and some of your most rewarding moments.
A. Right after law school, I focused my search on the Bay Area to practice patent law and was hired by a firm in Menlo Park where I worked for diverse companies such as Specialized Bicycles and Chevron. Over time, my practice gravitated toward medical device clients, and I realized how fascinating I found the industry. As I was debating whether to pursue a partner track at the law firm or a career concentrated in medtech, I was approached by a headhunter who was hiring for Guidant Corporation, which was starting a new division in Menlo Park, and I eventually became their first in-house patent attorney.
At Guidant I had the opportunity to wear many hats outside of patent law, including working with the equity investment, M&A and operations groups, which really expanded my career. As I was getting my MBA at Berkeley, I met Josh Makower, who had just restarted ExploraMed and was beginning to work on what would eventually become Acclarent. I thought my background as a mechanical engineer, MBA and attorney would be a nice complement to his as a mechanical engineer, MBA and doctor. I joined ExploraMed and haven’t looked back since.
Regarding my most rewarding moments, there are so many of them, which is exactly why I am in medical devices. But first and foremost is the benefit of being in a field where you are helping patients – seeing a success story with a patient who improved due to one of the medical devices you helped develop and get to market, or providing support in the procedure room where you realize you are playing a very valuable role in helping doctors provide the best care.
Q. What are some of the trends you are seeing in the industry?
A. One of the exciting trends we are seeing is the consumerization of healthcare. Consumers today are much more knowledgeable about their treatment options and companies are designing products that fit their needs and wants – and can potentially even be purchased by the consumer directly.
This is also a time of record-breaking fundraising and investment, and yet it is also a low point for early-round financing, including Series A and B. Most of the investment dollars are going into later-stage deals, which makes it harder for newer innovations to get to market. While there are early investments occurring in digital health products and health information records management, there are so many other unmet needs that are not getting the same attention.
With that said, I see an opportunity for young inventors and entrepreneurs to become very disciplined and capital efficient – using those seed and Series A dollars very wisely. If they leverage their resources, zero in on the most important parts of development and are deliberate in their approach, they will be rewarded. This helps startups better execute and also forces brain storming sessions to become more creative and effective as they focus on the most efficient solution.
Q. As we mention above, you have a lengthy and illustrious background in the industry. What are your top tips for early-stage entrepreneurs?
A. Always highly prioritize the patient experience and what they need for the best outcome. Of course, you definitely need to address other areas, like the physician, regulatory, reimbursement, financial and VC needs; but if you create a product that the patient wants, everything else starts to fall into place.
You do this by discovering a patient’s needs – what do they dislike the most and what are the most troubling aspects for them regarding existing treatments and products. For example, for the Willow® breast pump, the team focused on solving moms’ two biggest issues: mobility and discretion. As the first all-in-one wearable breast pump that is quiet, ditches the dangling bottles and fits easily inside a bra, Willow addresses both needs, which is why it has been a successful and well-received product.
Q. What has been the best part about being part of the ExploraMed team?
A. I really like working with early-stage teams and people who are very passionate about achieving an objective for a patient. While working in startups has its challenges, I always fall back on feeling so fortunate to have a sense of team and purpose that is rewarding every day – we have the opportunity to play a role in advancing healthcare and bringing products to market that improve people’s lives.