The Fogarty Institute continues to build its bench strength with the recent hire of seasoned medtech leader Marga Ortigas-Wedekind as chief commercial strategy officer. With 30 years of experience in medical and health technology companies at a variety of stages of development, her expertise will make her an asset to the entire team, most notably to our entrepreneurs, as a mentor.
A chance interview for a business school project leads to a career
Born and raised in the Philippines, Marga first came to the U.S. to earn her B.A. in political economy from Wellesley College. She returned to the Philippines to work for a couple of years, then came back to the U.S. to pursue an MBA from Stanford.
It was at Stanford that she got her first taste for healthcare, in part because of her now husband whom she met while at the University; as a certified clinical perfusionist, he shared his passion for the industry. It was further fueled during an interview she conducted for an ethics and business class, where she was writing a paper on leaders who face ethical dilemmas. She selected Ron Dollens who at the time was CEO of Advanced Cardiovascular Systems (ACS), as she assumed that healthcare company leaders face innumerable ethical situations every day.
“This fascinating interview inspired me so much, that it eventually changed the path of my career,” she said. While Marga didn’t go directly into healthcare out of business school, she remembered her interview, and two years later joined ACS, which eventually became a part of Guidant Corporation. All thanks to that interview, she spent 10 years in various roles in global marketing, strategic planning and international sales and marketing, staying with them while they spun off from Eli Lilly and eventually went public.
“It was inspiring to be part of this culture and company that was one of the pioneers of the healthcare industry in Silicon Valley,” she says, noting that there was consistently a balance between being innovative and making sure there were financial rewards for everyone concerned, always while putting the patient first. “You must always bear in mind that you are holding a life in your hands. Ron always had the North Star — the patient — front and center, and that’s what drove the culture of the company. Even when we get together after so many years, Guidant alum have a nickname for that time in our history. We call it ‘Camelot.’”
Different types of companies yield diverse experiences
Living in Silicon Valley, Marga was eventually “bit” by the startup fever in the early 2000s and joined a 20-person company, ProDuct Health, which was focused on the early detection of breast cancer. When the company was quickly acquired by Cytyc Corp (Hologic), she turned to consulting, and after two years, joined one of her clients, Xoft, as the SVP of marketing, development and clinical affairs, which combined her experience in breast cancer and radiation therapy.
“I immediately fell in love with their technology, a micro-miniature x-ray tube small enough to be inserted into the body to deliver a safer dose of radiation therapy, which spared a lot of the healthy breast tissue. It was really revolutionary that you could do radiation therapy inside the body right after you took out a tumor without having to use radioactive isotopes.”
While the company was eventually acquired by iCAD (ICAD:NASDAQ), the device took a lot longer to commercialize than the company had originally expected; yet during those years she had the opportunity to wear many hats and reaped the benefits of the learning experience.
From there she joined Omnicell, Inc. (OMCL:NASDAQ), a developer of automated medication dispensing systems and analytics, as EVP of global marketing and product development. In her first role as an executive in a public company, she headed marketing, international sales and operations and engineering. “It was a big honor to be asked to lead engineering despite my lack of technical background and I was tasked with spearheading the creation of a more market-focused product development process. It was incredibly rewarding to be able to accomplish as much as we did and grow both the international and domestic businesses.”
She later joined iRhythm Technologies (IRTC:NASDAQ), a digital healthcare provider of cardiac monitoring services, as EVP of marketing and payor relations, helping them manage the complex journey from traditional startup to commercial ramp-up and successful IPO.
Joining the Fogarty Institute
After participating in one of the Fogarty Institute’s educational seminars on commercialization, Marga says she felt a vibe that was very similar to what she had felt during her Guidant days. “The energy in the room, the curiosity to learn, the great questions and the engagement all contributed to such a positive experience.” And, she adds, the opportunity to join was also at a time when she was ready to give back to the community and help young entrepreneurs.
“It was a pivotal moment for me and an experience I kept going back to,” she says. “I am really looking forward to giving back after 30 years of being fortunate to have helped a number of small companies grow and some eventually become public. I am thrilled to join the Fogarty Institute, help strengthen our brand and share my expertise with the entrepreneurs to help them succeed.”
When not working, Marga cherishes spending time with her two adult children. She also loves to spend time outside exercising, and enjoys skiing with her husband as well as sharing an interest in Bay Area sports teams, wine and music. “We sing together in a choir, which is a fun activity that we both really enjoy.”