In the course of her career, Maria Shepherd, president and founder of Medi-Vantage and co-founder of MedExecWomen, has served as Vice President of Marketing at Oridion Medical (now Covidien/Medtronic), Director of Marketing at Philips Medical and Group Marketing Manager at Boston Scientific. We spoke with Shepherd to learn more about her career, what led her to launch her own company and her advice for others seeking to move up the corporate ladder in MedTech,
What led you to a career in MedTech?
Shepherd: I started out in life sciences. My degree is in biology. A lot of the women in my family are nurses. We have a few doctors also, so I’ve always had a great interest in the medical field. When I started applying for positions, I was looking for something where I could use my background in biology. It is difficult to get into medical devices, but I was able to get an interview at Bard for a market research position. I hit it off with the hiring manager, and he offered me the job.
You’ve since founded your own company, Medi-Vantage. Why led you to go out on your own?
Shepherd: I started Medi-Vantage in 2007. I worked with Bard and Boston Scientific, then I went to work with a small startup company that was ultimately acquired by Medtronic. I then worked for Phillips. Moving from a very small startup company to a very large company was a different dynamic, and I realized it wasn’t the right place for me at that time.
When I starting interviewing and networking again, people were saying to me, ‘I already have a vice president of marketing, but I have this project I need to get done and you would be perfect for it.’ As I was working on these different projects, I realized that I could make a business out of this, and that’s how it started.
We do strategy research for medical device developers. Our role is to help MedTech companies get answers to their strategic questions, which helps them chart the course of their companies. A lot of these question are very difficult for companies: Which device do we come out with next? When is the best time to be acquired? What reimbursement strategy do we pursue? What is our product development strategy? We work on all those strategic questions in order to support the engineering team, the marketing team and the sales team to get the product to market and be as successful as possible.
In looking at your career thus far, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Shepherd: Starting my own business was a big challenge. I had to make a lot of decisions about my business model. Would I hire a large group of talented people? How would I manage the economics of my business? Ultimately, I knew I wanted to provide subject matter experts for my clients, but I couldn’t afford to hire a team of 25 people and employ them all year long. So I decided to build a network of subject matter experts I had worked with and knew well that I could bring in on projects, as needed, and that has been a great business model for me.
You and Laurie Halloran also co-founded MedExecWomen, how did that come about and when was the group founded?
Shepherd: There is a West Coast organization called MedTechWomen. I went to their meeting in 2015 and thought to myself, I have found my tribe. This is an annual meeting of women focused totally on strategy, and I knew I wanted to bring it to the East Coast. I spoke with two of the founders, and they gave us permission.
I then contacted several women that I know in the industry and got their support to have the first meeting, which was in 2019. I contacted Laurie Halloran because she has her own company that puts on a lot of meetings, so she had that experience. I contacted Marlou Janssen, who at that time was the president of Biotronik, and she offered to host the meeting at their facility in Manhattan. We had 83 women attend that first event in New York City. It was really exciting, and we got great feedback. We just held our fourth annual meeting in May 2023 in Boston, and we had 150 women attend.
I am very passionate about MedExecWomen because there are just not enough women in the medical device space. What we’re trying to do is create a community of women, and as we build this community and more executive-level women get charged up by it, we are able to pull more women into the industry. That is our goal and our ultimate aspiration.
What advice do you have for people in MedTech who are looking to move up the ladder to an executive position?
Shepherd: Find a mentor and get a business degree, if you don’t have one. Find out what management wants you to be able to do in order to move ahead, and what they need to justify promoting you. I had good people coaching me at Bard, and they told me I needed a broader education in business and finance. I had a very good science background, but I did not have a strong business background. They recommended that I get an MBA. It took a long time, but I learned so much. It was very helpful in justifying my promotions, and it has helped me in everything I’ve done since.
Develop working relationships with people in your company that can help you build your career. Look at what other women have done to advance their careers and then figure out what you need to do to advance yours. You need to set long-term goals, and you have to have a lot of perseverance. Sometimes you may need to take a step back to a smaller company or a startup to make an upward move.
If you could turn back the clock to when you were just starting in the industry, is there anything you would have done differently?
Shepherd: I probably would have gone for my MBA a lot sooner. I would have spent more time learning how to be a team player. Growing up I did not play team sports—I played solitary sports like tennis. Team sports teach you a lot about “trading the me for we.” I wish I had learned more about that when I was younger. Even though I’m a great networker now, I would have started much earlier with my networking. You can never have a too-big network, and you should always find ways to regularly communicate with the people in your network.
What is the best career advice you’ve received?
Shepherd: When I was talking about the level of competition out there for my business, one of my mentors said to me, “The person who will get the project is the one who wants it the most, so you’re going to have to want it more than anyone else.”
What are your interests outside of work and MedTech?
Shepherd: I love to travel. This year my husband and I will be going to Southeast Asia. I love spending time with my family and playing tennis. It is not easy to find time to pursue outside interests, but it is important to have outside interests and find time to be with friends and family. My friends and family are very important to me.