Jeff Elkins, a seasoned medtech executive with experience in both startups and larger companies, was recently hired as chief operating officer of InterVene, a Fogarty Institute graduate that has developed a minimally invasive device for the treatment of venous disease in the legs.
Most recently serving as president and CEO of Veniti, a venous stent company that was acquired by Boston Scientific, Jeff has held a number of C-suite and executive roles at a series of companies that had successful exits, including Aptus EndoSystems, acquired by Medtronic; FlowMedica, acquired by AngioDynamics; and World Medical Corp, also acquired by Medtronic. He also held the role of vice president and business unit manager for the Endovascular Division of Medtronic. Not surprisingly, Jeff also has deep roots with Dr. Fogarty and the Fogarty Institute — just another example of how intertwined our industry is.
We had the privilege of catching up with Jeff, who shared highlights in his career, including more about his relationship with Dr. Fogarty and the Institute, as well as industry trends and tips for early-stage entrepreneurs.
Q. How did you first get involved in medtech and with Dr. Fogarty and the Fogarty Institute?
A. My career has really come full circle, which has been very rewarding. My first job out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I earned a mechanical engineering degree, was with Cordis, an endovascular healthcare company based on the East Coast. At the time coronary interventions were brand new, and I had the opportunity to work with the first coronary balloons for percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA), which was a very exciting and growing field at a time when coronary stents were still only a concept.
After the company was acquired by Johnson & Johnson, I joined World Medical Manufacturing, which developed an early-generation aortic endograft. It was around this time at a clinical trial at Stanford that I met Dr. Fogarty, who was then working on a “competing” device, the AneuRx stent graft, one of his many inventions. Both companies were acquired by Medtronic, which led me to move to the Bay Area to integrate and “scale-up” this highly successful product. This expanded my relationship with Dr. Fogarty and the Fogarty Institute, where I was involved early on in helping lay out and set up the lab when the space was just being built.
Dr. Fogarty gave me two valuable pieces of advice about 10 years ago: to focus on the still emerging venous space and to work on either a venous stent or a venous valve to address the large problem of chronic venous disease. I now have checked both items off the list – first by heading Veniti and now working at InterVene.
Q. You have worked with several startups that have been acquired. What is the “secret” behind this success, and what tips would you share with early-stage entrepreneurs to help them prepare for an eventual exit?
A. First, aside from an obvious need for hard work and dedication, if you build a culture of focusing on the patient, the business success will follow. Also, a culture built around integrity is critical; you and the team earn a reputation that goes before you, and then you no longer need references to appeal to investors or acquirers.
Second, you need to completely immerse yourself in whatever field and clinical problem you are solving. Visit the physicians in your space; watch the procedures; read the scientific literature; understand the clinical data; and know and have respect for the pioneers. This will have an outstanding pay-off when you are answering tough questions while meeting with investors and making a pitch. If you go in and only know a cursory level, you won’t even get to the second meeting. Presentation and communications skills make a difference there, too.
Third, surround yourself with people you like working with; I find that good chemistry and a solid company culture of excellence is everything. When you work so closely together, often 24/7, it is imperative to be with people you like and who are willing to work at a high standard.
Fourth, make sure you understand all aspects of the business. If you are an engineer, you need to understand how the business side operates and vice versa. I also spend a lot of time working to prevent potential problems, avoiding assumptions and thinking through the consequences if a decision is wrong. Bad mistakes can not only impact patients, but also cost time and thus precious cash burn.
Fifth, if you are hiring, focus on multi-position players, especially in the early days of a startup. While it is nice to have experts, it is advantageous to have someone on the team who is willing to roll up his or her sleeves and take on different facets of the business.
Lastly, there is no substitute for passion, tempered, of course, by a realistic view of the challenges you face. But passion is infectious and builds confidence in the investors and your whole team.
Q. What are some of the trends you are seeing in the industry?
A. Interest in the venous space is definitely growing. About 30 or so years ago, everything was about the heart. Today, I am very happy to see that the investors and strategics have identified venous disease and chronic venous insufficiency as another massive problem that needs to be solved. Consequently, we have seen a lot of investments and acquisitions in our space.
We are also seeing venture money coming back. The climate feels positive again with a high-quality investor community, which is a nice relief from the lull we saw as late as about three years ago.
Another interesting trend we’re keeping tabs on is how the European Medical Device Regulation (MDR), a stringent new set of rules for medical device companies, will impact startups’ strategy. This may lead to many more companies entering the U.S. market first.
At the same time, over recent years, the FDA has been partnering with industry and medical societies in a favorable way and seems to be streamlining processes to facilitate innovation while aiming to maintain the highest level of safety for patients.
Lastly, we are seeing many of the larger companies, like Medtronic, Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson, continue to expand into fields outside of the cardiovascular space, like women’s health, ENT, oncology, GI and diabetes, which should bring some interesting developments in the near future.
Q. What excites you the most about joining InterVene?
A. I am delighted to have the opportunity to stay in this field, which is both fascinating and rapidly growing. We are addressing some really tough problems, but have the opportunity to make a tremendous impact on a large number of patients. I also really enjoy the team and the culture; there’s just a great vibe. The CEO, Fletcher Wilson, hired a small, but accomplished team, which is reflected in the refined, elegant design of the BlueLeaf device. And lastly, it helps me close that loop with Dr. Fogarty as I stay in the venous space and connected with him and the Fogarty Institute team.