For the September installment of the Healthtech Leader of the Month series, we spoke to Renee Ryan, the CEO of Cala Health.
Cala Health’s mission is to change the landscape of chronic disease through non-invasive wearable technology.
Delivering Innovation to the Patients Who Need it Most
As leader of the medical technology investments at J&J, Renee made 15 new investments. Up and coming company Cala Health’s Series A was one of them.
But her love of healthtech started long before then: “Even in the earliest days of my career, when I was a very junior investment banker, I worked at a small boutique investment bank that focused on technology and healthcare,” Renee says. “And one of my first projects was for a healthcare company. I truly fell in love. In my own little microscopic way, I was helping get innovation to patients. I found my true calling very early in my career.”
Today, as CEO, Renee helps get Cala’s innovation to chronic patients. “Cala health — big picture — is looking to be the leader in the field of wearable bioelectronic medicine, and to reduce the burden of chronic disease for people who struggle with chronic disease. What we do is deliver electrical stimulation in a precise pattern over two nerves at the wrist. That results in reducing the tremor oscillations in the brain and therefore reducing the tremor oscillations in the hand. That’s our Cala Trio, which is our first product we’ve launched. We’re currently treating a condition called essential tremor, which represents a significant patient population of 7-10 million patients in the U.S.”
As for her day-to-day life as CEO: “I put out fires all day long!” Renee says, mostly-joking. “Every day is different as a CEO. The key for me in what I do is I hire incredibly smart, talented people who are really driven by the mission and what we’re doing here. We’re all very much aligned about where we are, our value set, and the vision of the company.”
From Leader to Leader: 3 Lessons Learned
#1: Be tenacious.
Like many of our healthtech leaders, Renee emphasizes that “nos” are par for the course in the healthtech industry. “Being an entrepreneur, especially if you’re out raising money from either angel networks or more traditional venture capital, you’re going to get nos,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to ask just because you might get a no. The first one hurts. The second one hurts a little less. The third one hurts a little less.”
Eventually, tenacity will get you somewhere — like it did her. “What you really need to find are the one or two yeses who really believe in what you’re doing, and share your passion for the company you want to build,” Renee says.
#2: Actively listen.
In her work as an investor, Renee found it impressive when companies and leadership teams took her input to heart. “One of the things I prided myself on as an investor is I would give feedback,” she says. “For instance: ‘We’re not going to invest now, but if you did A, B, and C and came back to me with some really good data, we would absolutely reconsider it.”
“The smart people were the ones that went and did A, B and C and came back to us. There were times that we would reconsider and look at the investment again through a new lens, because they had listened and taken the advice.”
#3: Take advantage of the Bay Area community.
“I love living in Silicon valley because of this keen desire to help,” says Renee. “It’s in the DNA of Silicon Valley to help people. There are a lot of places you can go for free advice that will actually really help you as you develop your idea.”
The Art of Investment
As leader of healthtech investment at J&J and now as CEO of Cala, Renee’s experience spans both sides of the startup equation.“In fundraising, you’re really building very long term relationships. You really have to approach those conversations like you’re building a relationship rather than you’re selling a product,” says Renee.
For entrepreneurs, Renee advises starting with this building block.“Whether it’s in investing or in your personal life, it really starts with building trust and getting to know people like you would in any aspect of your life. I don’t think there’s a real science to it necessarily. I think it’s more of a matter of art,” she says.
And while an incredible amount of things have changed in Silicon Valley over the past years, the art behind investment hasn’t. “Be true to yourself and be honest stuck with me from my investment banking days. This has not changed at all in the 13 years since I left investment banking.”
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