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
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 companys
lead product, the da Vinci™ Surgical System,
uses state-of-the-art instrumentation, robotics
and a 3-D visualization system to enhance a surgeons
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 thats a necessity in my
job every day."
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
Argonauts 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, 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 dont know the answer,
you can learn it. Ive 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."
Leuchter Wilkins 77
Its 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 companys
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 masters
degrees in American history (1978) and public
administration (1988) from the University of Wisconsin.
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 Kyphons 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 companys
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.