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FDA Veteran Outlines Bold Plans to Increase Diversity in Medtech Industry

TAGS: Webinars
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A Q&A with MedTech Color founder Kwame Ulmer.

What is MedTech Color?

MedTech Color is a non-profit organization focused on ensuring people of color enter, remain, and flourish in the medtech industry. There is immense untapped potential from people of color, and we’re committed to providing and promoting opportunities for them to make a meaningful contribution to the industry.

What is MedTech Color doing to achieve its goals?  

We’re building a community of African Americans, Latinx people, and others who sponsor and mentor people of color who are thinking of entering or leaving the industry. We also aim to foster thought leadership and increase visibility around issues that are particularly relevant to people of color in the medtech industry. Because underrepresentation goes far beyond professional inclusion at medtech companies, we are also working to increase diversity in clinical trial enrollment to help ensure medtech innovation benefits all people. We believe that together, we can shine light on this underrepresentation, we can start mending the problems that contribute to it, and we can advance the representation of people of color in our industry.

What has been your experience as a person of color within the medtech industry?

I spent 12 years at the FDA and participated in countless meetings with MedTech C-Suite executives across the nation. Over the years I’ve met with over 1,000 leaders, and only one was an African American. I joined a $3 billion medical device business and as part of a meeting of the 100 top leaders, I was the sole African American. I’ve religiously attended the world’s largest industry conference each year, where it’s been made apparent our industry lacks the insights of people of color. As a former student at Lincoln University, the oldest of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), I knew there wasn’t a pipeline problem. The accumulation of over a decade of experiences like these, paired with encouragement from a mentor, motivated me to start MedTech Color.

What was the spark that led to the founding of the organization?

The concept of MedTech Color was born during a conversation between myself and Michelle McMurry-Heath, CEO of BIO, at the AdvaMed Conference in 2016. We discussed my experience of observing few leaders of color in the industry and brainstormed if there was a meaningful way we could build a community that would foster a change in this underrepresentation.

That conversation led to a dinner, sponsored by Danaher Corporation, of 15 African-American leaders from across the ecosystem. Each individual shared deeply personal stories of challenges they overcame to reach success in their careers. The impactful conversations shared that night validated the opportunity to bring overlooked decision-makers to the table. In 2018 the organization was created with seven founding members, and we will soon convene the largest-ever gathering of leaders of color in medtech at our breakfast on Wednesday, October 7. We now have a network of nearly 1,000 stakeholders who support our mission to advance the representation of people of color in the medtech industry.

What can medtech businesses be doing to make a real difference?

Companies need to commit to programs and industry-wide efforts of significant scope and scale over years. that directly support the next generation of diverse company founders and executives. As MedTech Color continues to grow, our hope is that intelligent and impactful people of color can mentor and encourage others to assume executive positions in the medtech industry, and we hope that organizations continue to accept and include diverse perspectives. That means hiring, supporting and promoting people of color.

What are MedTech Color’s goals for the future?

We want to be known as an organization that elevates, guides and encourages people of color to enter and remain in the medtech industry, because this industry is where life-saving decisions are made, and people of color need to be making more of those decisions. We aim to build community, drive thought leadership and increase the number of people of color in the ecosystem. We support this goal through our marquee event: The Networking Breakfast in partnership with AdvaMed, our long-time supporter. This event is created for, as one hypothetical example, the high-potential biomedical engineer who we hope to connect with a mentor from another company for industry collaboration. More specifically, we are focused on African-American and Latinx leaders in the immediate term, because that’s where we see the greatest opportunity for impact. We advance thought leadership by sponsoring panels like the “Increasing Diversity in Clinical Trials”, led by MedTech Color founding Nada Hanafi, who brings more than 15 years of experience advising on clinical trials and other regulatory matters to her role at the Experien Group. We also work alongside our sponsors seeking to diversify candidate pools and share hard-to-fill roles across our network of nearly 1,000 MedTech professionals.

 What does success look like for MedTech Color, and how does that impact the industry of medical devices as a whole?

We plan to provide quantifiable support to 100 black and brown founders by 2030. Our first step is to award $100,000 in non-dilutive capital and in-kind services to ten companies who have diverse founders in early 2021. Our intent is to increase the overall number of successful MedTech companies by providing monetary support that can be used for an accelerated product launch, scale, or eventual acquisition. By funding and supporting the success of black and brown CEOs, we can encourage more diverse MedTech investors, corporate board members, and executives. From a short-term perspective, we want to grow the Networking Breakfast to over 400 registrants this year to increase engagement among participants.

How have the events of 2020 shaped your perspective and sense of urgency?

For all of us at MTC, we view the year as an opportunity to increase awareness and engagement in a movement that will improve the $173 billion medical device industry. With the proper lens, most people can see the common problems that result in healthcare disparities and police brutality. We want to focus on how our industry can move with earnestness now and in the future to positively advance the representation of people of color in the industry and ultimately impact more patients in a positive way. 

African Americans represent roughly 13% of the U.S. population and have a 21% COVID-19 mortality rate. This statistic encourages us to work with companies working to address this disproportionate rate. We’re focused on supporting efforts such as the McDermott RISE Project, which aims to help bridge the gap for Black founders and founders of color through providing a set of free legal and business services to 20 Black founders and other entrepreneurs of color, to help them launch and scale their endeavors. This work is led by MedTech Color Founding Member Vernessa Pollard, partner at McDermott Will & Emery. We’re here to work shoulder to shoulder in support of these efforts. The time is now.

How can people become a part of the community you’re building, and support its mission?
Strategic partners and individuals can become a sponsor or volunteer by visiting our website, www.medtechcolor.org or contacting us through LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/medtechcolor/. Register for the 2020 MedTech Color Virtual Breakfast at http://ow.ly/UdhG50BA4pL.

 

Kwame Ulmer is a venture partner at Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health - the leading Southern-California based, early-stage venture capital firm (Seed and Series A) focused on the healthcare industry. He participates in all aspects of fund management (e.g. deal sourcing, diligence, negotiation and advising portfolio company management teams). Kwame brings nearly 20 years of experience evaluating medical technologies in the government and private sector, and serving in senior operating roles at medical device companies. He has personally evaluated more than 1,000 medical technologies in his career. Kwame spent 12 years at FDA in progressive leadership roles, including Deputy Director and Branch Chief. He also served as Vice President, Regulatory Affairs and Quality Assurance at Implant Direct, a Danaher Corporation operating company. He is a member of the Executive Committee of Tech Coast Angels (LA), the world’s largest angel investing network. Kwame earned his B.S. in Physics from Lincoln University, and has two Masters degrees from the University of Virginia, in Materials Engineering and Business Administration.

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