October 2001

A View from the
S&T Start-Up

Climbing Steep Learning and Growth Curves in Biotech and Pharmaceuticals

Broad Collaborations on Small-Scale Research

Playing a Role in Science Education Worldwide

Summer of Discovery

Two Computer Scientists Who Follow the Roads Less Traveled

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© 2003

 

Bryn Mawr College
A quarterly newsletter on research, teaching, management, policy making and leadership in Science and Technology

A View from the S&T Start-Up
By Lisa Bechler

One of the greatest challenges for women in science and technology careers is to be involved in a start-up company, leading the transition to a growing, established enterprise. The following profiles highlight Bryn Mawr alumnae who have succeeded — and continue to succeed — against the pressures of competitive market forces, of demanding venture-capital markets and of corporate expectations in a male-dominated business environment.

Profiting from Experience

Susan Barnes ’76
Photo: Paola Tagliamonte

A love of learning and a lot of business experience have helped Susan Barnes ’76 assume financial leadership of several high-profile, multimillion dollar enterprises. Today, she is vice president of finance and chief financial officer for Intuitive Surgical, an industry pioneer since 1995 in the development of advanced surgical systems for use in hospitals. The company’s lead product, the da Vinci™ Surgical System, uses state-of-the-art instrumentation, robotics and a 3-D visualization system to enhance a surgeon’s abilities in the operating room. "Computers and robotics technologies enable surgeons to perform minimally invasive surgery for complicated operations," explains Barnes. "This, in turn, allows patients to recover faster."

Barnes joined Intuitive Surgical in 1997 as its first full-time finance professional, and she has since assumed additional responsibilities in human resources, facilities, IT, Asian distribution and sales, clinical regulatory and quality issues, service and customer support. Her biggest hurdle, she says, has been "to continue providing creative solutions, while maintaining strong financial controls in a constantly changing world."

Before she took her current position, Barnes was co-founder and managing director of the Private Equity Group at Jefferies & Company, as well as a senior manager at Westwind Capital Partners and Richard C. Blum & Associates. She also served as vice president and CFO of NeXT Computer, which she co-founded with Apple Computer veteran Steve Jobs and four others.

A trustee of Bryn Mawr College, Barnes majored in archaeology as an undergraduate and earned an M.B.A. from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1980. Looking back on her success in the finance and high-tech sectors, she acknowledges the value of her Bryn Mawr education. "A strong liberal arts education provides a basis for always learning new things," says Barnes. "And that’s a necessity in my job – every day."

Combining Disciplines

Diana Lees ’80

As director of software initiatives for Argonaut Technologies, a California-based company founded in 1994, Diana Lees ’80 has combined a scientific background with a penchant for selling. In fact, for most of the first 20 years of her career, she held sales positions at Rochester Scientific, LKB Instruments, Zymark, Molecular Dynamics and Molecular Simulations. Following a brief tenure as director of new business ventures at CombiChem in 1999, Lees joined Argonaut as director of strategic partnering. Her current responsibilities include business development, project management and strategic marketing. "My job," she explains, "is to facilitate the voice of the customer being heard in the right parts of the company, so that we make the right decisions."

These decisions relate to Argonaut’s design of new products that will complement those used in chemistry labs around the world to run and monitor chemical reactions during pharmaceutical research. "Our products help chemists invent new molecules or optimize the procedures used to make known ones. Some of the molecules made using our products go on to become the active ingredients in marketed pharmaceuticals," Lees says.

Lees, who majored in biology at Bryn Mawr, says her education had an important influence on her career.  "Bryn Mawr taught me that even if you don’t know the answer, you can learn it. I’ve based my entire career on that philosophy." While she has enjoyed professional success, Lees believes women in science and technology must still prove themselves. "Unfortunately, I think the adage about having to be twice as good as men is still true. But if you are — and most of us are" she chuckles, "you can pretty much do anything you want."

Navigating Rough Times

Sara Leuchter Wilkins ’77

It’s been a tumultuous ride at the top for Sara Leuchter Wilkins ’77, vice president of investor relations and corporate communications for Marex, Inc., a Miami-based company traded on the Nasdaq. As her company’s stock takes a beating in the current technology-hostile market, Wilkins must spread the word about how Marex is expanding from a pure e-commerce company serving the marine industry to a software products and technology services company serving a broader range of global industries. She is on the phone daily with investors, brokers, the media and equity analysts. "My biggest challenge is to present Marex in a way that will create buying interest in our stock and grow the value of our company." At times, she says, the task is difficult at best. "Weathering the tremendous downturn in the economy, and especially in all things Internet, has been tough," she admits.

Luckily, Wilkins has plenty of experience to leverage. Prior to joining Marex in 2000, she spent a decade in similar roles at Ashland Coal, Sunglass Hut International, Greenwich Air Services, SportsLine.com, IVAX and ProxyMed. Additionally, she served as a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1989 to 1990, and as historian/archivist for The State Historical Society of Wisconsin from 1977 to 1988.

Wilkins graduated magna cum laude from Bryn Mawr with a B.A. in history. She says, "My degree was important to many of the senior executives along my career path, who recognized and appreciated the value of a Bryn Mawr education." She also holds master’s degrees in American history (1978) and public administration (1988) from the University of Wisconsin.

Reshaping the Market

Karen Talmadge ’74

Challenge is the name of the game for Karen Talmadge ‘74, who co-founded Kyphon Inc. in 1994 and is now a director and executive vice president. First, there was the scientific challenge of using angioplasty balloon technology in an novel way. In Kyphon’s case, this involved inflating the inside of crushed bone in the spine to restore normal anatomy for fractures using a minimally invasive surgical approach. Next was the challenge of convincing venture capitalists to take a risk on the technology and its ability to create a market for itself. "The venture-capital community, in general, is not comfortable with market risk," Talmadge observes. "They prefer to fund companies whose products will take over an existing market."

Talmadge is now focused on demonstrating the benefits offered by her company’s product, the KyphX® Inflatable Bone Tamp (IBT). "The challenge of bringing new medical technology to market is complex and multifactorial," she says. "You have to develop a detailed plan with milestones to demonstrate your progress. But you also have to have your eye on the horizon, assume the company is going to succeed and be prepared."

Talmadge majored in biology at Bryn Mawr and went on to earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology at Harvard University. Her career track includes scientific and senior management positions with California Biotechnology and its subsidiary Metabolic Biosystems, where she served as its vice president of R&D. After co-founding Kyphon, Talmadge played many roles at the start-up company — president, treasurer and CEO.

About the Author

Lisa Bechler is a communications consultant for clients in the high technology, health care, pharmaceutical, financial services and higher education sectors.

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