Spotlight: Gordon Saul, Executive Director at Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign

When healthcare innovation drives you, the possibilities are endless. Like many successful healthtech entrepreneurs, Gordon Saul has worn many hats throughout his career, experiencing the industry from many different angles. Today, he is an integral part of an incredibly talented team as executive director at Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign, an organization that we are honored to have been partnering and collaborating with for many years.

Gordon’s path into healthcare wasn’t direct. He considered other industries after graduating from college, first serving as an associate at Boston Consulting Group, then working in finance, and then working overseas in Japan, where he also had the opportunity to learn Japanese. While these were interesting endeavors, Gordon eventually realized he wanted his career to be focused on something more meaningful, where he could make a deeper impact on the world.

That’s when he decided that healthcare was just such an area – and one where he could leverage his undergraduate training in engineering and chemistry. After earning an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, he joined Advanced Cardiovascular Systems (ACS), which has been the “mecca” and starting point for many in the medtech industry. While running business development at this innovative health technology company, he met a number of inspirational individuals who became important mentors in his career, including interventional cardiologist and inventor Paul Yock.

After a three-year stint at ACS, Gordon decided to expand his career outside of pure medical devices and took the role as director of business development at ALZA Corporation (Johnson & Johnson), a research-based pharmaceutical company that was a leader in drug delivery technologies. In this job, he evaluated new technologies the company might be interested in acquiring.

This opened the door to the next opportunity in his career, when he joined the founding team at Oxford UK-based PowderJect Pharmaceuticals, a company he had recommended as an acquisition to ALZA. This ended up being a “home run” for Gordon, as he and his colleagues took the novel drug delivery company through its first venture financing round to a public offering on the London Stock Exchange, eventually growing the start-up to 1,000 people strong.

After this success, he was invited to join the healthcare team of venture capital firm InterWest Partners. Gordon spent 12 years as an executive-in-residence at the firm, taking CEO or senior management roles with the innovative new technology companies the firm was funding and/or launching. The role exposed him to a wide range of therapeutic areas and allowed him to observe different business models and identify the key differentiators in successful vs. faltering companies.

Biodesign offers opportunity to blend his skillsets

When the firm started to go in a different direction, he began to consider other avenues to apply his passion for working with early-stage companies and learned of an opportunity at Stanford Biodesign, a health technology innovation training program founded and directed by Yock. “They were looking for someone who had both operational experience with young companies as well as solid exposure to the venture and early-stage financing world,” Gordon said. “It was the perfect fit for where I was in my career and a great opportunity to share the expertise I had developed over the years with young innovators.”

Gordon has been at Stanford Biodesign for eight years now, working with a broad range of programs. The Biodesign team, while relatively small, is extremely nimble and productive. Part of Gordon’s role is to teach the implementation part of the curriculum alongside Uday Kumar, a former Biodesign Innovation Fellow and founder of iRhythm Technologies. He also has a faculty role in Stanford’s graduate-level innovation course and is involved in other educational offerings.

Gordon also manages three different grant programs that support translational projects within Stanford; these are typically projects that have a high probability of moving outside of the university into commercial development to ultimately reach patients. “We look across the university, primarily at projects at the intersection of engineering and medicine (our sweet spot within Stanford Biodesign) and support the project teams with grants and mentorship to help them make meaningful progress in their journey,” he explained.

Gordon is also heavily involved in fundraising for Stanford Biodesign, expressing appreciation for the strong support provided by Brook Byers and his family over the years, as well as the generosity of corporate, venture and community partners.  Gordon also spearheads efforts to develop innovation training programs overseas. “Since 2006, we have helped create successful Biodesign-like programs in India, Singapore, and Japan, as well as a close relationship with the Bioinnovate program at the National University of Ireland, Galway,” he described. “We are constantly evaluating new opportunities that would allow us to take the Biodesign training process and apply it in a different country’s healthcare system to address important unmet local health needs.”

He continued, “It’s been incredibly rewarding to be part of Stanford Biodesign. The program continually strives to improve, keeping our eye on our ultimate mission which is to provide our students, fellows and faculty with the right perspective and tools to enable them to become future leaders in health technology innovation. Our legacy is our alumni, many of whom have pursued careers in both large and small companies, or joined the Fogarty Institute’s incubator program to bring their innovative ideas from concept to commercialization. Their efforts are generating new technologies that are helping patients every day.”

In his spare time, Gordon spends time with his wife (and when he can, with his three kids, the youngest of whom just left for college), skiing, golf, scuba diving, and traveling to novel places. In addition, he and his wife enjoy the plethora of cultural activities offered at Stanford University, both on the music and theater side.

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