“Be yourself and don’t apologize for it”, With Melinda Richter and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Be yourself and don’t apologize for it. For years, I hid the story of where I came from and the experience of growing up below the poverty line. Society puts the burden of shame on people if we don’t fit into an accepted “successful” picture. And yet my childhood not only instilled in me critical […]

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Be yourself and don’t apologize for it. For years, I hid the story of where I came from and the experience of growing up below the poverty line. Society puts the burden of shame on people if we don’t fit into an accepted “successful” picture. And yet my childhood not only instilled in me critical qualities to be successful like creativity, character, resilience and discipline, but it also made me hungry to strive for more. I eventually faced that fear and told my story, which ended up opening up opportunities I could not have anticipated. We all have our stories; they should be told and they should be embraced.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melinda Richter.

Melinda Richter champions the entrepreneurs and start-ups who drive breakthrough ideas and approaches to meet the public health threats and unmet medical needs of today, and those we may face tomorrow. After a harrowing healthcare battle as a young tech executive and serial entrepreneur, Melinda founded Johnson & Johnson Innovation — JLABS, the global incubator network of Johnson & Johnson, to connect budding life science and healthcare start-ups from San Francisco to Shanghai to the critical resources, mentorship, community and deal-making power of Johnson & Johnson Innovation. Today, the portfolio of 650 companies has nearly 40B dollars worth in financing and strategic relationships (secured and contingent), including 34 IPOs and 20 acquisitions — and it’s the largest and most diverse network of innovators for consumer health, medical devices and pharmaceuticals, as 29% of the JLABS portfolio companies are women or minority led.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Douglas Adams, creator of the “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series, said, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” That is the story of my career. When I was 26 years old, I was living and working in Beijing for a global telecoms company as a part of a fast-track leadership development program. I thought I had the world by the tail. I had an amazing career trajectory. I was traveling the globe and making what I considered to be a decent amount of money. All that really mattered to me because I came from a humble place. I was born into an 864-sq ft home at the end of a little dirt road in Northern Canada and I lived there with my five brothers, three sisters and two parents. And our home had no running water, no plumbing and no electricity. So from the time I was a little girl, I was bound and determined to change my story. I wasn’t going to be poor anymore. I thought I’d made it.

Then one day, I was walking through the woods at the International Beijing University when I was literally bitten by a bug. Within 24 hours, I landed in the international health clinic where the doctors informed me that there was nothing that they could do, and that I should call my family and say my goodbyes. That night, when I wasn’t sure I was going to wake up the next day, I faced an existential question, “had I lived my life well?” I determined I’d done the best I could, but if I got to stay here, I had to live my life differently. I couldn’t survive just to change my story. I knew I had to change many people’s stories.

During the next two months as I stared death in the face, I was confronted by the irony that our team was working on how to order a soda from the vending machine with our cell phones, and yet the doctors couldn’t take a blood test to figure out what I had. How had all this press, money and talent gone into something that now seemed so frivolous when such a basic human healthcare gap existed? So, I vowed that if I got the gift of another day, I would commit to making healthcare just as advanced, productive and attractive an industry as tech to attract the best investors and talent.

Clearly I lived….and I feel I kept my promise. I quit my very comfortable corporate job and I vowed to help “technify” life sciences — and that was the beginning of what we now call Johnson & Johnson Innovation — JLABS. My goal was to empower a global army to fight for our health; to make it just as attractive to innovate in healthcare as it was in tech. Of course no big company in the healthcare space was going to hire me to drive innovation. Many in the industry also told me every reason why it wouldn’t work: “Healthcare is too regulated.” “Investors need a quick win and don’t like to invest in biotech.” “You don’t have a PhD.” “You, little lady, can’t do that.” Growing up with eight siblings, those challenges inspired me to do it even more.

So I started alone, but bit by bit, one question at a time, built a new model of innovation for health in the birthplace of biotech, San Francisco. Now we have 13 sites and more than 650 companies around the world, all focused on delivering transformational potential solutions with the aim to enhance and save lives. And hopefully, we’re working toward the vision of preventing people from getting sick in the first place.

Our companies have nearly 40B dollars worth in financing and strategic relationships (secured and contingent) including 34 IPOs and 20 acquisitions. And, just as important to me, we are fostering diversity and as a result, 29% of our companies are women and minority-led, compared to an industry average of 1% and 8%, respectively. I believe diversity has been a major contributor to our success, so far.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I’m inspired by stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. There’s this myth that only people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates can be successful entrepreneurs, and that start-ups are only successful in Silicon Valley. At Johnson & Johnson Innovation — JLABS, we’ve learned that a capital-efficient platform, a connection to key players and resources, and a big dose of faith in an entrepreneur, no matter who and where they are, can create meaningful potential solutions to help humanity. The one thing I feel they do all have in common is that special spark; a unique combination of passion, grit, and hustle.

An example of this is the journey of Arcturus Therapeutics, a company now working on a potential vaccine in clinical trials against COVID-19. Joe Payne and Pad Chivukula were bright young men working in a large biotech who wanted to have a direct impact for patients but thought the only way they could do that is if they started their own company. And who were they? In their minds, they were just ordinary “Joes.” When we launched JLABS in their community, they started attending our educational programs and soon, with 50,000 dollars saved between them, they quit their comfortable corporate jobs and applied to JLABS with their newly created company called Arcturus. While a typical corporate executive would have considered them too risky, we saw their passion and potential to make a difference. Two years after they quit their jobs, Arcturus closed more than 2B dollars worth of deals, advancing a critical technology platform with the aim to address some of the most deadly, debilitating diseases, like Hepatitis B and now COVID-19.

Another example is our discovery of a company called Certa Dose. JLABS in collaboration with Johnson & Johnson’s Office of the Chief Medical Officer launched a crowdsourcing challenge in in 2017, to find innovative potential solutions with the aim to advance safety for patients. A young ER doc, Caleb Hernandez, who also happened to be a refugee from El Salvador, applied with a solution aimed to prevent overdosing of children in hospital and home settings. We were blown away to learn that more than a classroom of children die every day in the United States as a result of overdosing errors by medical professionals. Caleb was awarded a 100,000 dollars grant, a year of residency at JLABS and a powerful mentor network to help bring his potential solution to the world and two years later, Caleb is getting his innovation in the hands of medical professionals and parents.

That same young ER doc and his mentor, Johnson & Johnson’s Chief Medical Officer for Consumer Health, Dr. Ed Kuffner, also an ER doctor, collaborated to courageously answer the call for help on the front lines of COVID-19 at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn. They worked in the ER and in the Covid-19 tent and they didn’t stop until the curve flattened. We couldn’t be prouder of them and all the JLABS entrepreneurs who serve on the front lines of health.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I can laugh about it now, but had it happened with anyone else, it could have meant the end of my early collaboration with Johnson & Johnson. It was the day of the inaugural launch of JLABS and I was still new at Johnson & Johnson. I’d hit a major snag which threatened the very viability of this new “experiment.” I walked into a room full of Johnson & Johnson executives in full “block and tackle” mode, looking to see if one of them could help me. A man named Paul jumped into the trenches with me without telling me who he was. Along the way, I teased him a little bit, like, “OK, Paul, great job! Now, here’s what I need you to do next…” We spent the next few hours trading tactical status reports and exchanging high fives to celebrate our wins until we got it done, just in time to save the launch. It turns out that man was the Chief Scientific Officer of Johnson & Johnson, Dr. Paul Stoffels.

When I look back on that moment, I realized I was witness to the epitome of great leadership. Dr. Stoffels could have easily thrown his title at me, but he didn’t. He could have delegated the work to someone else, but he didn’t. Together we walked through walls to bring JLABS to life. That’s the kind of authentic leadership that inspires people to make the impossible, possible. I sleep better at night knowing he’s one of the leaders who cares deeply about global public health, and as a result is leading the charge on developing a potential Johnson & Johnson vaccine against COVID-19.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been fortunate to have had many great mentors in my life both personally and professionally. And yet no one can hold a candle to the influence my parents had on me. Now, my parents weren’t doctors, lawyers or professionals of any kind. In fact, they were farmers who didn’t get a chance to complete elementary school and we, as a family, lived below the poverty line in a tiny little village literally in the middle of nowhere. And that’s what made them remarkable.

My Dad and his parents escaped persecution in Czechoslovakia during WWII by stowing away on a ship to Canada. Halfway across the country, my Dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor. My grandparents spent what little money they had on his operation and miraculously, he survived. However, with no money and few options, they were forced to take a homesteading grant and settle in Northern Canada. My Dad often reflected on his childhood with us, solemnly swearing he didn’t blame Hitler for what happened. He blamed everyone who stood around and watched. So, our job, he would say quite seriously, was to be educated on what was going on in the world, to rigorously debate it and then stand up for others who couldn’t stand up for themselves. Though we didn’t have much, our house was rich in world news and debate, social activism and enduring purpose. To this day, I cannot go home without doing my homework so I can be ready for our family dinners.

My mom’s father had similarly escaped from Germany and so, my grandparents and their seven children also settled in Northern Canada with a homesteading grant. My grandparents couldn’t afford help, so my Mom, as the middle child, was pulled out of school in grade 6 to stay home and work while the rest of her siblings completed their secondary education. Despite these circumstances, my Mom is an enduring optimist. No matter what (little) you give her, she will turn it in to something beautiful. Her creativity, problem solving and “never say die” attitude helped her shine when most would break.

So, did we have very much growing up? No. Did I receive gifts of character, empathy, creativity and resilience that have been foundational to where I am today? Absolutely. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

In today’s hyper-speed global environment, we’re expected to absorb vast amounts of information, to analyze and act 24×7. This “always on” expectation means in my view we have little open time and space for creativity. So I create that “me time” by hitting the streets for a run. Not only is it an empowering way to explore a city or an opportunity to be inspired by nature, but I’m fortunate to experience that “runner’s high.” In that zone, when my brain is given free reign to just be, lightning strikes! So many ideas, that are now operational, came to me because I let go. Sometimes creating the condition where my brain is at a state of rest is the best treatment.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

If we want to enhance and help save many different lives around the world, we have to understand the people we’re trying to serve — what they want and need, what keeps them up at night and what gives them hope. So it’s important all types of people, across genders, races, religions, geographies, and socioeconomic status, are represented in our leadership, to help bring that insight to our priorities and our plan for filling key gaps.

Never has that been clearer than with the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on Black and underserved communities. Not only has the pandemic highlighted the lack of access to care, but the failure of the medical system to adequately address the underlying health conditions of vulnerable populations. With the aim of serving the healthcare needs of all our communities, this summer we will announce the awardees of QuickFire Challenge for Black, Hispanic and American Indian innovators. More importantly, we’re working to better diversify our team to be sure we truly do represent the people we are meant to serve. Though I’d always been proud of the diversity of my team, I still had gaps in certain areas and I’m now working to fill those gaps.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

We do what we measure and at Johnson & Johnson, we measure diversity. Specifically at JLABS, we measure the percentage of women and minorities who lead our companies. It’s one of the bottom-line metrics I believe that determines our success as a business or not. Similarly, across Johnson & Johnson, we’re measured with an eye to the diversity of our internal teams. We’ve also set clear guidelines for the diversity of our program speakers and leverage our influence on conferences that we sponsor to do the same.

It can be easy to choose people that look like us and those people are usually in our immediate circles. We’ve invested time and space to open up potential opportunities for diverse candidates. What has become frighteningly apparent in creating diverse slates is that as a society, we have not fully invested in building a pipeline of talent. We all need to own this TODAY. We can’t wait for someone else to do it for us. This means we as corporations need to prioritize funding in youth across all categories of diversity; gender, race, socioeconomic status, religion and style.

I was one of those lucky kids who was invested in by my community of teachers with creative assignments and by many corporations across Canada with scholarships, all who saw my worth. I wouldn’t be here today without their faith and commitment to my development. And I’d like to think I help bring a different perspective to the proverbial “boardroom.” Investing in a variety of perspectives to diversify our corporate leadership across all industries can not only foster more productivity and impact for humanity, it might give everyone an opportunity to have productive careers, to provide for their families and to have a meaningful impact on society.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

As a leader, I feel it’s important to start with creating a compelling vision that’s inspiring to your customers, your team, your communities and your shareholders. This, in and of itself, requires a certain magic because that vision needs to be bigger than any one of us — a True North that keeps us focused through all the sacrifices, disappointments and challenges that can come with creating something new. And in our industry, making a difference means trying to enhance and save lives. Once you’ve crafted that vision, a leader‘s job is to work with and serve all her stakeholders and their families so that together, the team can deliver on that promise. I specifically call out our families because not only does our work impact our home lives, but we want people to bring their whole selves to work. Today, COVID-19 has accentuated the challenge many people have in balancing multiple roles at the same time and we need to walk in their shoes and acknowledge and accommodate that.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

Some might think being a great leader is all about power, when in actuality, I feel a great leader is about being of service…to your customers, employees and their families, to your communities and ultimately to your shareholders. Now let’s put this into context. The world as we knew it was already rapidly evolving, but COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd ushered in a new era where our customers, our employees, and our communities seem to EXPECT MORE; more empathy, more care, more diverse ways of working, more justice, more equality.

So, as we look to the future, being a “boss” is not about being “bossy.” It’s about being real, sharing power, opening up opportunities and giving credit away. This does not equate to being weak. In fact, this can only be done by someone who is confident and strong. This also doesn’t mean a leader lowers his or her expectations of what that team can and should accomplish. In fact, those stakeholders will rely on him or her to be the guardian of the vision and the general of the team’s greatness.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I feel there’s nothing more frustrating than suffering through those tiny little microaggressions that are meant to “put you in your place”, to keep you “in your lane.” And as a person who’s grown up with many brothers and sisters, it’s hard to let those snubs pass, but addressing them sometimes gives them more power. With time I’ve learned to smile, quietly repeat the phrase “the best revenge is living well” and then get to work with the aim to deliver the goods.

Now there have been people and situations that have made it so difficult that I’ve wanted to quit. Year ago, I remember one particularly difficult time when I called my Dad and told him I was closing up shop. Believe me, that was not an easy call to make. And all he did was tell me the story of being a little boy and listening to Winston Churchill on the radio say those famous words, “Never give up, never give up, never give up.” So I put down the phone and went back to work.

Women and members of diverse groups can face greater adversity be it systemic or otherwise, but it’s important that we never give up, because we have something to say, we have something to contribute and if we are quiet the world will never know.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

As a tech executive and entrepreneur, I didn’t intend to work in a 134-year-old healthcare company. My mission was to hopefully help create better potential innovations for healthcare so that others wouldn’t have the same experience that I did as a patient. In fact, having been an entrepreneur for many years, I was reticent to give up “my freedom.” But when I took a step back to reflect on my mission, I realized that enhancing and saving lives meant making some sacrifices. To make sustainable, scalable impact meant combining the entrepreneurial life science model I built with the global footprint and broad healthcare expertise of a multinational like Johnson & Johnson. So I made the leap, candidly not believing I would last long in a big company, but it was the right thing to do so that the model could flourish and innovators around the world could bring their potential healthcare solutions to the people who needed them.

Despite my apprehension, I was pleasantly surprised by how entrepreneurial I could still be at Johnson & Johnson. If you can characterize the need, structure an experiment, build champions around the organization and deliver on the plan, you can make meaningful change happen at a big company. And when you can turn a ship, particularly with the caliber of people who work at a big company, you can change an industry. That is particularly true of the leadership at the top of the house, is inspiring and authentic. I was and am still today in awe of Alex Gorsky, our CEO, and Paul Stoffels, our CSO, and the Executive Committee at Johnson & Johnson. They authentically “walk the talk every day” and I couldn’t be prouder to serve alongside them for patients, consumers and their families, as well as the community of healthcare workers who so courageously stand on the front lines for all of us.

So, ten years into my journey with Johnson & Johnson….do I feel we are doing important work together? Absolutely. Are we doing it with people we enjoy spending our precious moments with? Who challenge us to be the best we can be? 100%. Are there moments of extreme frustration, disappointment and sacrifice that make me want to quit? No question. And in those moments, I go back to that night in my hospital room, when all I had left was to hope and pray that someone was out there fighting for me….and then I pick myself up, dust myself off and get back to work. And, for me, that’s what it means to have a mission that’s bigger than yourself.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

My favorite line from Safi Bahcall’s book Loonshots is “you can always tell a leader by the arrows in his (or her) ass.” Particularly in a big company, you can get along fine by toeing the line, or in fact, saying no to anything that’s new. There is no risk to that. However, if you want to make change, that means rocking the boat a little and inevitably, that’s not very popular. Over the last ten years of working with and then for Johnson & Johnson, I’ve often taken a beat to ask myself the question “am I willing to get fired for this?” More often than not, the answer was yes. Inevitably, championing a cause takes passion and grit to make it work. That approach has to be based on a solid platform of characteristics that provide enough credibility to make those breaks.

So what do I feel are those characteristics? Mission oriented and strategic, yet open to new information and feedback to make adjustments along the way. Authentic and relationship-oriented, with a penchant to drive for results and persevere no matter the challenges. Inspiring and trustworthy, championing the community of stakeholders to be the best they can be in pursuit of that mission. Passion and patience combined with a healthy dose of humor and humility. These are the attributes I look for in a leader.

If you don’t have a passion for the mission, it’s not for you. If you don’t believe your role is to be of service to others, it’s not for you. If you don’t like change or conflict, it’s not for you. If you are in it just for what it can do for you in the moment, it’s not for you.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Just say yes! As confident as I perceived myself to be, shortly after I started Johnson & Johnson Innovation — JLABS, I was asked to do a TEDx talk and I initially declined because, in my mind, I had too much on my plate. Then the organizer of TEDxAFC called me and said, “You know, when we ask 10 men to speak, 9 say yes. But, when we ask 10 women to speak 9 say no…” And that really gave me pause. He continued, “Are you one of those women; one of the 9 who find a reason to withdraw because they are scared to say ‘yes’?” Well, as they say, those were “fighting words” and before I could think I said, “Yes!“

That one YES! made all the difference. Something that makes TED talks special I feel is the vulnerability they bring out. My TEDxAFC Speaker Coach encouraged me to tell my story; my story of being poor, my story of getting sick and my mission to empower and enable this global community for our health. That moment of vulnerability on stage, I believe, is one reason why so many innovators around the world gravitated to our model. If a poor little girl from literally the middle of nowhere could do this, anything was possible for them.

I’ve since incorporated that insight into my leadership style. First, I never let women say no without challenging them to say yes. Second, I’m very open about all the good, the bad and ugly in life, so people feel free to bring their whole selves to work. Third, I look for people who are passionate about the mission and supporting everyone along the way. And finally, I want my team to know I am their biggest fan, cheering them on when they’re successful and stepping in front of them when things go wrong. That one little experience of saying YES! is still paying dividends.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Last summer I returned to China to open JLABS @ Shanghai, some 20 years after being that scared young woman far from home in a hospital bed. It was very emotional for me. As I spoke in front of a crowd of government dignitaries, colleagues and start-up founders, I knew I’d kept my promise to help patients just like me. All over the world we identify hometown heroes, people with big ideas to help patients. Today we’ve enabled and empowered hundreds of start-ups aimed to impact lives by providing a model that gives their dreams wings. With state-of the art labs and equipment, connections to investors and partners, and mentorship from Johnson & Johnson experts, our companies have dedicated their lives and their families lives with the goal to make a difference for each and every one of us.

Never has the need for funding in health been clearer. COVID-19 has taught us how valuable our health is, not just in anticipating and accelerating innovations to meet these very real threats, but that these potential solutions take a tremendous amount of time and money to develop so we cannot wait for that threat to hit our doorsteps before we care, before we act. I hope this pandemic has taught us that investing in our health can be our best defense for the economy and for our country.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Be yourself and don’t apologize for it. For years, I hid the story of where I came from and the experience of growing up below the poverty line. Society puts the burden of shame on people if we don’t fit into an accepted “successful” picture. And yet my childhood not only instilled in me critical qualities to be successful like creativity, character, resilience and discipline, but it also made me hungry to strive for more. I eventually faced that fear and told my story, which ended up opening up opportunities I could not have anticipated. We all have our stories; they should be told and they should be embraced.
  2. Prioritize people with character and shared core values. I’ve learned it’s not about what a resume says as much as what that resume means. Why have people made the career choices they’ve made? What did they do when times got tough? Do they really care enough about a mission to do whatever it takes to make it happen? People bring a mission to life so it’s important to understand if you share the same values. And when you have the right people? Get to know them as people. Treat them well. Celebrate with them and reward them. JLABS has only been possible because of the people I’ve had alongside me. And because of that, we’ve achieved more than we thought possible.
  3. To some degree, everybody is making it up as they go. We often think everyone is more of an expert than we are. I’ll never forget my first business development role. I walked into a team meeting to discuss pricing. The team had come up with what the cost was for the product but there were no comps for what we should charge in the market. Everyone just looked at each other, shrugged and said, so what do you think — and, so, we made it up. And guess what? Everybody’s making it up. And you can make it up, too. It’s just about good old-fashioned hard work, discipline and sacrifice — and being willing to make your best guesses and keep going.
  4. Start off with a small question, get feedback early and iterate. When I started JLABS, I had no idea it would grow to be the global organization it is today. I started by asking a small question that I really cared about and kept getting feedback from the market until bit by bit, question by question, I built it into a model that I feel had value for my target customer. I didn’t try to boil the ocean, because that is paralyzing. I didn’t wait to make it perfect because I could have been going in the wrong direction. These days I’m watching my partner, a serial scientific founder of many companies, and now he’s working on sustainable packaging for his new beauty start-up. He’s literally building multiple models at home on the kitchen counter with different materials, different designs and getting customer feedback every step of the way. He’s the epitome of successful and yet he’s still starting small and hustling, right there on our kitchen counter.
  5. It’s not a “no” until you’ve heard it 9 times (or thereabouts). Whether you’re trying to raise money with VCs or get a business case approved in a big company, you will face many no’s. That is just a part of the journey. What’s important is to ask that person to tell you more about their no. Inevitably, most of their concerns are solvable or a non-issue. The rest of the feedback is valuable information to take away and work on. So rather than give in or resist the no, I’ve learned to lean into it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

That fateful moment all those years ago in a hospital bed in Beijing inspired me to build a movement aimed to empower diverse entrepreneurs in healthcare around the world to enhance and save lives. And yet, 2020 has shown me that it’s not enough. The staggering impact of COVID-19 on Black and impoverished communities, in lost lives, health and jobs, means we have so much more to do. It cannot be business as usual. So, I’ve asked my team to consider how we can work together to ensure we help address these gaps.

So this fall we will be rolling out our newest QuickFire Challenge with the aim to address healthcare disparities in major urban areas in the face of COVID-19. It’s the latest in our series of crowdsourcing competitions designed to inspire the best science and technology with the aim to solve the biggest healthcare challenges of our time. Stay tuned for details.

Early next year, we expect our newest site, JLABS @Washington, DC, to open on the original Walter Reed Medical Campus, which will be redeveloped to once again serve patients. In collaboration with Children’s National Hospital, we aim to support innovators who serve our most vulnerable patients and diverse populations. And because we want to make sure all of our communities are protected against future health security threats, we’ve teamed up with BARDA, the Biomedical Advance Research and Development Authority, a division of the United States Human Health Services, to support early-stage companies focused on public health threats and emerging infectious diseases with the goal of empowering start-ups to anticipate, activate and amplify potential solutions to help keep us safe.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Courage is fear that has said its prayers,” by actor Dorothy Bernard. If you think about where I came from, everything I did meant wandering in unchartered territories without a net and without a network. And though many times I was absolutely petrified about the unknown, I did it anyway. And the more I did, the more I realized that everyone is, to a certain extent, afraid. It’s about making the decision to take the risk and working hard to mitigate the risks. And listen, there are risks in starting new ventures and there are risks in making change happen in a big company. Regardless of the circumstances, taking risks expands our world, both in insights and in outcomes. As they say, life expands or contracts in direct proportion to your courage. It’s not about being fearless, it’s about having courage. And with courage, we can change the world.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

My partner, Victor Casale, and I are both founders and entrepreneurs. He’s my sounding board and my biggest champion, and vice versa. That’s why I have great admiration for the relationship and the impact that tennis star Serena Williams and tech and venture legend Alexis Ohanian have. You can tell they bring out the best in each other and they work together to make the world a better place in many different ways. I think if we could all put our brains together, we could change the world and have a lot of fun in the process!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Women of the C-Suite: “Reserve time for the things that are important to you,” With Crystal R. Bowyer, CEO of National Children’s Museum

by Carly Martinetti

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Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


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