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By: Fink Densford
This year has been an exciting one for Ra Medical, maker of the DABRA arteriosclerosis laser designed to treat peripheral artery disease.
In May, the Carlsbad, Calif.-based company received a nod from the FDA for the DABRA, clearing it for sale in the US – something it had applied for approximately three years prior. And in September, the company revealed plans for a new funding round looking to raise up to $15 million to support the newly cleared technology.
The path to commercialization has been a long, and satisfying, journey for co-founder and executive vice president Melissa Burstein. She credits the company’s belief in their product and a culture that prizes innovation for its success.
“We are pleasantly surprised with the demand for our DABRA product and we see day in and day out that it has a true and intrinsic value for the operators that are running cath labs and performing the procedure. The patient results are phenomenal,” Burstein told MassDevice.com in an interview. “We are making tremendous strides creating greater value and increasing the value of our company.”
In terms of her own accomplishments, Burstein said that a combination of planning, a focus on innovation and the integration of caring into her every day life has helped her succeed.
Before helping co-found Ra Medical in 2002, Burstein dipped her toes into a number of different industries, seeking one that would be a good match for her personality and motivations.
“I started out in international telecommunications, and then had a stint in customer packaged goods before moving into big pharma, and then biotechnology, and then ultimately starting a company in medical devices,” Burstein said.
The medtech industry’s culture of supporting innovation and caring for patients was an important sticking point for Burstein, and one that she said made it easier to operate in as a woman with executive goals.
“What I think I would share about medical devices in general, and biotech, is that it’s a cultural fit for me – and the fact that these, by nature, are innovative industries. These are industries where innovation is not only appreciated, it’s required. That is the foundation and cornerstone of the culture within most of the successful companies,” Burstein said. “For me as a woman executive, being the person I am, it was a very easy fit into an industry where technology and innovation drive growth, rather than more established industries, such as telecommunications or consumer packaged. In finding this, and finding the fit for me, in my experiences that are driven by innovation and performance, I have found an opportunity to rise to a level of executive that I may not have had in other industries.”
Burstein said she sees medtech as a fertile environment for women looking to move into executive positions, due to both the number of small companies that make up the industry and the fact that it highly values innovation and rewards innovative individuals, no matter the gender.
“In many aspects, at these start-up companies and small companies, there is the need to innovate – for lack of other people – and the fear of failure doesn’t exist so much as an imperative to try to get the job done, then readjust if necessary. I think that that these become very fertile environments for women to succeed in leadership roles,” Burstein said.
For any aspiring executive, planning for a career and trying to balance those plans with life and family is critical, Burstein said. For her, having the right plan for her career and life helped her navigate her way through the industry successfully.
“As you progress in your career, I believe that each person, both men and women, have to have a plan for how they see themselves achieving what they want to career-wise, but then ultimately that balancing whatever they want to bring into their lives beyond purely their career,” Burstein said. “In my case, and in many women’s and men’s cases, a lot of that does entail having a family.”
And while planning for both a career and family can seem daunting, Burstein said that being able to lay out the steps beforehand helped her stay focused and dedicated on long term goals.
“In my particular case, I was 100% focused on my education and making my mark in large companies – before branching out and starting Ra Medical Systems, my own company, and building that. So, for the first ten years of Ra Medical System, it was all about the company – the company, the company, period, the end! It was nights, it was weekends, it was travel, it was being and air warrior or road warrior, and it was 100% focused with the end goal of building the company to an adequate maturity where I could then be in a position to delegate and continue to be in a leadership role, but be able to balance and have a family in addition,” Burstein said.
For Burstein, balancing career first and a family later made sense – but she knows that’s not for everyone.
“For other women, I think they need to choose their own path. Be that having a family earlier, and then focusing on their career once their children are a little bit older and are in school. For some women they can do it simultaneously. There’s absolutely no right or wrong to the equation, it simply has to be the plan, and then you execute what’s right for you,” Burstein said. “As with many things in running a business, I had a plan for how I saw my life, and I think that that’s the cornerstone of most successful leader, to have a plan, understand it and be able to execute on it.”
While planning was essential for creating an environment conducive to success, Burstein said that one element had a larger part to play – believing in what they are doing, and caring about helping people.
“It’s that ultimately, we care. We believe in what we’re doing. It drives me, it drives my employees, and interestingly, I’ll just go back to when we were talking about myself in a leadership role as a female executive in this space, it drives my family,” Burstein said.
This motivation is important to Burstein, and the fact that her children see her spending her days trying to help people motivates them to do the same in their lives.
“I have two children. The older one understands that I get up every day and I go to work to help people, to make their lives better. This translates into my 5 year old believing that she needs to go to school every day, try her best, perform the best she can, meet the challenges, and do good for the world. Help people, to help her fellow students, help her teachers, and be a contributing citizen in whatever community she finds herself in,” Burstein said.
The effect reaches more than just her family, Burstein said, affecting all of the individuals working at Ra Medical, and has helped the company flourish.
“I think that translates into my family life, and my work life, to the point where my employees – from the executives that work for me and with me all the way down to the manufacturers – they’re driven by the fact that we’re serving a better purpose,” Burstein said. “We are helping save peoples’ legs. In doing so, we are saving their lives.”