Monday, June 04, 2007

Hi, I’m from Medtronic. My name is …

In a wide-ranging keynote interview with colleague David Cassak at our ongoing In3 Medical Device Summit, Robert S. White, Medtronic’s chief development officer and vice president of corporate development, admitted his company’s reputation among those is the start-up world hasn’t been the best.

"That has been an area where we really have tried to improve,” White says. “Medtronic’s reputation has been mixed in terms of how friendly we’ve been to small companies. One of the things I’m trying to change is to make ourselves much more efficient and much less demanding.”

Over the past six to eight months, White says Medtronic’s corporate development group has closed several pure equity investments in companies without any rights tied to the investment. Medtronic is trying to decide on investments more quickly. In some cases, the company can do a deal in two to three months, he says. But often the time between initial contact and closing of a deal may take much longer.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. David asked White about the best way a start-up can pitch Medtronic. White says the best way might be to not pitch at all. First, he advises people to gain an audience the old fashioned way—through connections. “If you know people, reach out to them.” But if you don’t, try the direct route. Got to the corporate and business development offices and set up a meeting.

But leave the term sheet at home. “We really try to spend our time evolving our knowledge base around different types of companies and businesses out there,” he says. “So approach this as an education session, not as a pitch or a sales job. We find the best relationships develop over time.”

Interestingly, Medtronic sounds willing to invest more far a field than other companies in its strata--and it has some interesting pursuits. White says Medtronic has invested in roughly 70 companies, but only one half of them fit snugly into Medtronic’s current business; the other half falls in the so-called “White Space” areas where Medtronic sees potential but doesn’t yet have a focus.

Corporate investors like Boston Scientific, which still is digesting Guidant, and Johnson & Johnson Development Corp. seem less likely to invest in companies with technologies that don't have a clear cut fit into the parent corporation as we outlined in an IN VIVO article a few month back (Boston Scientific here, JJDC, here.) To be fair, however, classifying something as "white space" is purely subjective. If you try hard enough you can almost always find a business connection if you need to.

Anyway, will blog more from the Grand Hyatt in SF. If you're already here please say hello. If you're not stop on by.

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