Why You Should Join a Medical Device Startup

Start Me UpI recently co-founded a medical device startup, and I’m loving every minute.

Two years ago, as COO of Candela (one of Massachusetts’ largest medical device companies), I had one of best jobs in the industry. When we merged with Syneron, I was in a great position to move to a senior role at another big company. Instead, I was determined to join a startup. I know lots of big company execs who can’t envision joining a startup, and lots of big company engineers who feel the same way. The medical device industry doesn’t have the same sexy startup culture as the software industry, where two or three coders can get together and start the next cloud-based phone service, social network, mobile photo-sharing app , or cloud-based note-taking tool. In Massachusetts, only a handful of new medical device startups get VC funded each year (see prior post).

Yet I was determined to go early-stage. Very early stage. Not only is a startup absolutely the right path for me, it’s probably the right path for you. I can’t believe that everyone doesn’t want to work in a startup. Here’s why.

For me, founding a startup offers three great opportunities that I just couldn’t get at a bigger company.

  • An opportunity to drive significant improvements in patient care. Among many other innovations, medical device startups have given the world transcatheter heart valves, renal denervation for hypertension, bronchial thermoplasty for asthma, balloon sinuplasty for chronic sinusitis, endometrial ablation for abnormal bleeding, and catheter-based treatments for stroke. Big companies buy startups and iterate products, but rarely innovate. They just can’t.
  • An opportunity to to build a great team, company and culture. It takes a great team to overcome the many obstacles to bringing a new medical device to market – technical, clinical, regulatory, reimbursement, and market. Only a team with a real passion for the mission will put in the late hours and weekends that it takes to succeed. It’s a lot harder to change a culture than it is to create the right culture from scratch.
  • An opportunity to participate in significant value creation. You can create a lot of value in a startup, and you can own a meaningful share of that value. Startups may pay a little less, but startup options/shares simply have a lot more potential than big company shares. While startup options may also have more risk, for me it’s a risk that is mitigated by the confidence I have in myself, my co-founder, and the team we are building.

If you are an engineer, taking a job at a startup means an opportunity to share in these same opportunities. But wait, there’s more.

  • You’ll get the chance to see how all parts of the company work. Startups provide unparalleled interaction with the senior team and board. If you ever think you might want to start your own company, working in a startup is a great way to learn the ropes.
  • You’ll get to do lots of different things. At a prior startup I had design engineers babysitting clinical sites and working tradeshow booths. I had clinical research associates running validation bench tests.
  • You’ll make more of an impact. In a big company you’d represent far less than 1% of the headcount. In a startup, every person counts.
  • You’ll move ahead faster in your career. Between the visibility and varied tasks, the experience you’ll gain in a few years at a startup will far outweigh the experience you might get in a larger company.

If you’ve read this far, you should also read these four posts on joining a tech or software startup:

Simeon Simeonov
10 Killer Reasons to Join A Startup (And Debunking 3 Myths on Why You Shouldn’t)

Ben Yoskovitz
Top 10 Reasons to Join a Startup

Eric Stromberg
5 Reasons to Join a Startup After Graduating

Update 14 Feb 2013:

Chris Dixon  The credentials trap

These posts nail the startup experience. There’s really nothing better.

6 responses to “Why You Should Join a Medical Device Startup

  1. All well put, Jay. All of those are on my list, as well, plus one more: A start-up presents a means to challenge yourself as well as your trust in the team on a daily basis. By explanation: Any person with an art background can critique a work of art, going so far as to state what they would have done differently had they had the opportunity. It is a true artist that can create that work of art from a blank canvas. This is essentially what a start-up represents to the team that jumps in initially. You walk into a start-up with only your experience, skill sets, and trust in your own abilities as well as those on your team. In the beginning, you are building a product, a company, and sometimes even a new market. In most cases, building from scratch. It is this constant state of challenge in my abilities and those in the team I work with that keeps me coming back.

  2. Working in a start-up is one of the most exciting thing to do because you are working with a group of really smart and very talented people. The biggest challenge is to find one in the early stages.

  3. Daniel E McNulty

    Nice Jay – I forwarded it to my son, Keith. He’s not in the medical field but most of the reasons why apply.

  4. Great post! I really like and agree with the emphasis on impact and career acceleration of a startup.

    As entrepreneurs and stakeholders we really need to keep working to bring down the barrier to create biotech startups. IT has given us some hints of how this can be done. We need to take these concepts (lean methods, cutting out infrastructure costs, etc.) and apply them to our own industry.

  5. Pingback: Reference Checking Your Prospective New Boss | Jay Caplan on Medical Devices

  6. Pingback: Medical Device Startups: Extraordinary Outcomes, Extraordinary Effort | Jay Caplan on Medical Devices

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