Want to Be a Medical Device Entrepreneur?

By Scott Phillips

Shift the odds in your favor.

There are certainly some iconic and prolific medtech entrepreneurs with Ph.D.’s. Examples include John Simpson of Foxhollow Technologies, David Fischell of Neuralieve, and Thomas Davison of UltraCision. However, there seem to be just as many entrepreneurs with masters degrees. Prominent examples include Alfred Mann of MiniMed, Inc. and the Alfred Mann Foundation (not to mention his four honorary doctorates); Mir Imran, who has founded 20 medical device companies including ,Vidamed, PercuSurge, and Zonare Medical Systems; and Tom Clement of Pathway Medical Technologies.

Once again, the data from our initial set is quite dramatic (see Figure 3).

Highest Level Tech Degree. Source Starfish Medical
Figure 3. Highest Level Technical Degree Achieved. Source Starfish Medical

It turns out that having a bachelor’s degree as a highest academic achievement is about twice as common among medical device entrepreneurs as either a master’s degree or a Ph.D. However, the ratio of bachelor’s degrees granted relative to Ph.D.’s is much higher. An advanced degree would certainly seem to be an advantage, but by no means is it a requirement.

One interesting and characteristic example is Amr Salahieh, currently the founder, president and CEO of Shifamed. He received bachelor’s degrees at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland in both biomedical and electronical engineering. From there he got a job and worked in increasingly senior roles at a few cardiovascular device companies, including Advanced Cardiovascular Systems and Cardiothoracic Systems. Once he met his mentor and partner Fred Khosravi (when Khosravi’s company Embolic Protection, Inc, acquired Sobek Medical), Salahieh helped the company exit to Boston Scientific and stayed on for a couple of years. Since then he and Khosravi have collaborated on a stunning series of successful cardiovascular innovations including heart valve company Sadra Medical (exited to Boston Scientific for $450 million in 2011), Maya Medical (Exited to Covidien), Apama Medical and Kalila Medical.

My main conclusion is that a background in engineering or science is the most common educational starting point for a medical device entrepreneurial career. It appears that an advanced degree confers an advantage, but there are in fact more serial medical device entrepreneurs with a technical bachelor’s degree than with an advanced degree.

My next article will focus on career starts and on the relative merits of starting a company immediately versus first acquiring some experience.

One final note: If you know a serial medical device entrepreneur, or if you are one, I’d appreciate an introduction to be able to include them in the data set, which I will then write about as more conclusions emerge.


  1. Anca Roxana Varlan

    Thank you for this article!
    ..and yes. In know of Imants Lauks, a scientist/engineer, founder of both, i-stat and epocal (also scientist and engineer!) Manufacturing point of Care devices.

  2. Binseng Wang

    Just out of curiosity, how many of the engineers were trained as biomedical engineers versus the traditional engineering disciplines (mechanical, electrical, etc.)? Some medical device companies have allegedly reduced their recruitment of biomedical engineers in favor of the traditional engineering disciplines, so this information may be useful. Thanks!

  3. William Landgraf

    This article is right on.
    My groups have made successful NDA submissions for devices and drugs.
    My background is in chemistry,(PhD) with engineering courses and an MBA. Its important to have diverse skill sets. My grandson has a M.S. in bio engineering(Cal) and has completed his 1st digital medical device ,It was written up in Time Mag. ,as one of the best devices in 2015 It is FDA approved and for sale. He was student body Pres. at Cal.,(diverse skills) which helped him relate to others outside of his technical group and obtain desired outside financing.

  4. Nathan Kamell

    Great points – thanks for sharing! I agree the Engineering mindset would be valuable as an entrepreneur. Starting with their curiosity of the “how” something is implemented, furthering with their ongoing natural collaborative learning, balancing their strengths in pattern recognition and challenging common assumptions finds some innovative solutions.

  5. John Ashley

    This is a good article and an interesting topic. I am going to make one critical comment. Most of the people you list in Table 1 are well known and very well respected. There is a notable exception, Michael Baker. Mr. Baker is not an entrepreneur in the most traditional sense of the work. He worked at Medtronics (not a start-up ;-), was CEO of ArthoCare, which he did not found but took over and made successful many years after it started, and he was a CEO at Pulmonx for a short while, which he also did not found but came in many years after it started. As such, he is a business man, but not an entrepreneur. I see no reason for him to be one this list of accomplished ? Are you referring to a different Michael Baker?

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