Earl Bakken, wearing his signature buggy outfit, at work at the original Medtronic.
Photo courtesy of Medtronic
Tthe invitation encouraged plaid attire—in honor of Medtronic founder Earl Bakken, who donned a tartan jacket for his company’s annual holiday program. I heard that in those early years, Bakken actually read Christmas stories to the employees.
As Medtronic has grown, so has its vacation program. I was one of the few journalists invited to the 64th annual event at Fridley’s headquarters in early December. The flying atrium was packed with researchers, staff and executives from around the world. The stage setup rivaled that of a news station, with multiple cameras, teleprompters and giant screens broadcasting live feeds from Medtronic offices around the globe. Chairman and CEO Geoff Martha, who joked that he rates each year based on how easily he can fit into his sport coat with a stroller, transitioned seamlessly into talk show mode. He interviewed people who have recovered from injury or illness with the help of a Medtronic product — a pacemaker, a sewing device, robot-assisted surgery. There were tears, there was fear. You can see the pride in the faces of the employees. Sure, this was a heavily produced infomercial, but it’s hard not to be inspired when you connect innovation with the people who benefit.
We need more of this, and not just in internal company meetings. Martha knows this, which is why he’s leading the charge to secure a federal “tech hub” designation for Minnesota that would bring dollars and national attention (read all about her “Minnesota Campaign to Promote Medtech”).
And this is why Twin Cities Business is doing something different this issue. Instead of bringing you the usual wide-ranging business news, we’ll delve into the business of one of the most important industries in the region: healthcare. We’ve delved into some of the questions that continue to surface in our editorial meetings—everything from hospital finances to health benefit costs to health care worker burnout. We leveraged the expertise of many talented individuals working on these and other critical health issues in our community. You will see some of their names on these pages; there are many others who were equally generous with their knowledge and connections behind the scenes, such as Jodi Hubler, Deb Hopp, Frank Jaskulke, April Prunty, and Eric Hoag. We are also privileged to receive a firsthand account of the work coming out of the Governor’s Task Force on Academic Health at the University of Minnesota from committee member (and TCB owner) Vance Opperman in his open letter.
Along with taking the pulse of Minnesota’s major healthcare organizations and talking to their leaders about their priorities and concerns, we’ve talked to many medtech entrepreneurs who see new opportunities and believe this is the state. to make it happen – get more support if you can.
“Minnesota’s ecosystem has an amazing mix of entrepreneurs, great strategies, great health plans, amazing health care systems. To have it all in one state is phenomenal,” says Morgan Evans, founder and serial medtech investor who is on our cover (“The Next Gen of Medtech”). “We need more early-stage funding and connections better, so we can drive great innovations to market faster.”
Dr. Johnathon Aho is a surgeon and founder of Pneumeric, maker of the Capnospot, a device to treat collapsed lungs with more precision than the current standard in ERs and ambulances. Product research and development may actually have been the easy part; Aho says it’s the fundraising, marketing, hiring and approval process that are putting him to the test. “It’s exhausting,” he confessed, speaking while on call at the Sanford Clinic in Luverne, Minn. I asked Aho what he would change if he were responsible for all aspects of the innovation process. He said he would create a consortium of Minnesota hospital systems to fund more ideas, with a focus on patient benefits rather than bigger profits. “Pneumeric will not be a billion dollar market cap, but we can be a $100 million company,” says Aho. “Smaller companies don’t offer huge benefits to VCs, but they’re often the safe bets that create sustainability.”
Brad Larmie echoed a similar concern. He is the new executive director at the Enterprise Labs of the University of St. In Minnesota, he says, “We’re really good at science. We are really good at growing large organizations. We need to create a stronger bridge between people who have done it well and those who are trying to figure it out.”
Read more from this issue
Here’s hoping this issue can serve as a bridge builder. We welcome your ideas.