True Test of Authentic Leadership, Personal Strength and Being Vulnerable

Brief Background

Chief Executive Officer, Evidation Health

Board of Directors, Sleep Number

Board of Directors, NextGen Jane

Advisory Boards, Georgia Institute of Technology and California Polytechnic State University

Co-founder, MedtechVision Conference

Board of Directors, Dystonia Medical Research Foundation

Director of New Ventures and Research Fellow, Guidant Corporation

Fellow, American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering

Silicon Valley Business Journal’s 100 Women of Influence

Dr. Deborah Kilpatrick is a multifaceted woman, whose focus and resilience have enabled her to be successful across a wide-range of organizations and roles. Her professional life has put her in a spotlight at the intersection of science, technology and healthcare; but it is her personal life that has shaped her ability to tolerate adversity. For the last 27 years, she has dealt with a chronic neurological disorder that has her unpredictably in and out of remission, which, when fully symptomatic, impacts her ability to bike, drive, or walk normally. During that time, she has had to learn, and re-learn, how to deal with it and manage it, each time coming out of remission in a completely different state, especially as she ages. The disorder has strengthened her mental capacity to tolerate failures and unexpected difficulties, a handy quality when you’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done before and you have no idea how to do it. Kilpatrick relays to our Program Manager, Sharon Mwale, how she’s filtered through the complexities of life to get to the core of what really matters to lead effectively and authentically.

Talk about a challenging time through which you had to lead –was there a defining moment? Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?
In startups, financing rounds are never easy, even in the best of companies in the best of markets. And I have been in fundraising situations in down markets (e.g., the last U.S. recession) where it was really mission-critical to get the capital in the door for the company to survive. In these situations, I tend to keep the pressure to myself and not ask for help enough—I forget that these situations are not unique and there is something to learn from just admitting challenges and asking questions of those who’ve faced these challenges. Increasingly, what I try to do differently is open up to trusted individuals and ask for feedback or help. Perhaps my defining moment will be when I automatically do that and don’t have to remind myself.

From your experience, what has changed the least, yet still has major impact regarding gender parity within entrepreneurship, technology and healthcare?
The amount and pace of funding going to female founders and CEOs in startups still lag behind that going to male founders and CEOs, even when accounting for multiple factors. The following datapoint was reported by Fortune in early 2019: in 2018, all female founders put together received $10 billion less in funding than one e-cigarette company took in by itself. We hear a lot about the “pipeline problem” in regard to representation in senior leadership as it relates to gender parity, particularly in STEM fields; however, this Fortune story was highlighting a different kind of pipeline problem taking into consideration the fraction of innovation in the U.S. that originates in startup environments. It highlights a pipeline problem for the commercialization of novel technologies and products that come from women founders – and given that women and men are acculturated and have different experiences, with unique healthcare needs – I think this can have significant implication for innovation in all aspects of women’s health.

How has your professional and/or academic experience influenced the way in which you approach entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership?
I believe a true test of authentic leadership—especially in startups and in new technology development, where trying and failing is inevitable to achieve success—is whether you can stand in front of a team and a) ask for help or b) admit you were wrong. Beyond that, I think what often separates the most successful companies or teams from the rest of the pack is the ability to quickly recognize what needs to change when you hit a setback. They’re the ones who are able to embrace “blameless failure” and course-correct to the right solution in the least amount of time with the least amount of resources.

What is your advice to women and what actionable steps can they take as leaders or aspiring entrepreneurs in the health & tech industries?
Know your stuff and have a prepared mind before you “sit at the table”. That table might be a job interview, a team meeting, a financing pitch, a board meeting, or a podium keynote. My dad was a high school football coach in the small town where I grew up in Georgia; he taught me the importance of practice and preparation, because you don’t always know when you’re going to get a chance to play. Don’t waste opportunity because you did not prepare. That advice is not specific to any given sector, but I will say I think it can be disproportionately important for women in many situations.

Lecky’s Final Thoughts

“Don’t waste opportunity because you did not prepare,” speaks volumes, yet men and women prepare very differently. Understanding and embracing the differences allows women to sit at the table in an authentic way. There is no need for you to be anyone else but you. Feel comfortable in that knowingness and seek clarity around what works for you. All else will fall into perfect order.

If you would like to recommend a female entrepreneur in healthcare technology to be featured, we encourage you to contact us.

Contact information:
Sharon Mwale       Program Manager        [email protected]