Spotlight: Gayle Kuokka, Fogarty Institute CFO

The Fogarty Institute prides itself on hiring staff members who are as innovative and impressive as its companies-in-residence. That means that not only must they have the skill sets for the specific job, but they also come with a well-rounded background and passion for the industry and the startup environment, thus allowing them to inspire our colleagues and mentor our entrepreneurs.

Gayle Kuokka stood out on all counts, coming to the Institute with more than 25 years of experience in a variety of senior management roles in disciplines that include finance, accounting, human resources, manufacturing and operations.

Embracing the startup culture

Gayle has a long history of working with startups, launching her career as manager of finance and accounting for Pittsburgh-based Transarc Corporation right after receiving her MBA from Carnegie Mellon University. She was later recruited by another startup, Multipoint Networks in California, where she served as director of finance and administration.

Her initial introduction to life sciences companies came during her stint at David Powell, an executive search firm, where she was a financial consultant serving industries that included high tech and medical devices.

But it wasn’t until she joined IsoStent as vice president of finance and operations that she truly fell in love with the life sciences industry. The startup, which developed a radioactive stent to treat restenosis, later merged with Cordis, a Johnston & Johnson company.

“It was here that I really saw the meaningful impact that life sciences companies can have,” Gayle says. “It was incredibly rewarding to realize we were helping cardiac patients and saving lives.”

As the company was in a very early stage at the time, she had the opportunity to broaden her expertise and wear many hats, including overseeing finance, administration, and manufacturing engineering. It also provided her initial view into the power of clinical trials in the medical device industry.

While there, she was personally impacted by a colleague fighting melanoma and working closely with him to accommodate his treatment schedule showed her first-hand the importance of being your own advocate. It also reinforced her passion for the healthcare industry and the satisfaction of helping patients.

Gayle later moved on to her next opportunity as CFO and vice president of finance and administration at Radiant Medical, a startup leading the development of endovascular temperature therapy systems for the treatment of acute myocardial infarction. Here she had the opportunity to work with Andrew Cleeland and deepen her experience in the field, while cementing her interest in helping oversee clinical trials for therapies that could potentially improve patient care and quality of life.

Ultimately that focus led Gayle to remain in the life sciences sector, eventually moving to a CFO consulting role for a number of startup companies at various stages. She helped them develop financial plans, fundraise and set up corporate infrastructures, among other functions. As the owner of her own consulting firm, she was responsible for helping raise more than $100 million in venture funding.

While working as a consulting CFO at 3-V Biosciences, Gayle faced a health challenge of her own, when she was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. This stands out as a defining moment as she encountered the healthcare industry from a patient’s perspective.

Already a strong proponent of clinical trials to advance the medical field, she consulted her life sciences network and joined a trial at Stanford Clinical Cancer Center for an experimental drug to shrink the malignant tumor. The process was extremely rewarding as she had the opportunity to connect with other patients on a meaningful level. Even though the trial yielded positive results for her, it ultimately failed; and yet it was an incredible learning experience as she saw the positive outcomes from the patient’s side.

Applying her skills at the Fogarty Institute

When Gayle was approached with the opportunity to join the Institute this summer, she joined eagerly, realizing that it provided an opportunity to further advance the medtech industry, work with Andrew and a talented team of executives and share her expertise by mentoring the entrepreneurs.

“What attracted me to the life sciences industry is an environment that can’t be matched – you are surrounded by other professionals who are focused on making a difference and you get to see firsthand the impact you can make on patients, and that’s exactly the situation I see reflected at the Fogarty Institute,” said Gayle.

“I look forward to applying my experience working with early-stage companies and building highly productive business infrastructures. In particular, I look forward to working with the entrepreneurs as they make their companies more efficient to allow their devices to reach the market faster, and ultimately helping them seek VC funding.”

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