As the President and Founder of BlakeBrooke Ventures, LLC, Angela leverages her 20 years of experience in the medical device space to invest in and consult for early-stage start-up companies with game-changing technologies. She brings angel investors together with innovative medical solutions that are poised to be breakthrough technologies.
Additionally, Angela is the CEO of Empress Medical, a U.S based start-up company revolutionizing the treatment of uterine fibroids. She serves as an advisory board member for OVUM Health and is also the founder and managing partner for BlakeBrooke Ventures SPV. She has helped deliver successful exits while in various roles with companies such as AGA Medical, Vascular Insights and Venclose. She is passionate about advancing new technology and improving the lives of patients. She was honored to receive the 2023 “Outstanding Leadership Award” from Health 2.0 for her impact in the healthcare field and was delighted to be featured on cover of The Health Insights magazine, October 2023 edition and be included as one of the top 10 most influential females in the Med Tech space. Her most coveted role is being a Mom to her two daughters, Lainey Brooke, 3 and her late daughter Audrey Blake.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Angela shared her professional trajectory, the mission and vision of BlakeBrooke Ventures, LLC and Empress Medical, insights on the latest trends impacting the health tech industry in 2024, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
Angela, please share your background and areas of interest.
I have been in the med-tech start up space for over 20 years. I began my journey in the medical device sector working in various roles from sales, clinical, marketing and management. In 2018, I invested in my first med-tech start-up company and in 2021, I decided to start my own company dedicated to investing in med tech start-ups. BlakeBrooke Ventures was founded and named after my two daughters, Audrey Blake and Lainey Brooke. My areas of interest are early seed med tech startup companies that have truly game changing technology with a strong market demand. The past two years, my focus has been in women’s health after seeing how it was the least funded area of med tech. I felt this was unacceptable given women make up 51% of the population. There are so many incredible innovations being developed that are desperately needed but lack adequate funding to get them to market.
Tell us about the mission and vision of BlakeBrooke Ventures, LLC and Empress Medical.
The vision of BlakeBrooke Ventures is to become a dominant investor platform for the med tech space with the ability to fund groundbreaking technologies in a very impactful way. Our mission is clear, to help advance the innovation of technology that provides better patient outcomes and improves patient quality of life.
As for Empress Medical, our mission is to provide a better solution to the current treatment of uterine fibroids. This health condition affects more than 26 million women in the U.S resulting in far too many unnecessary hysterectomies. Our goal is to provide women with a better quality of life and help preserve fertility in those who wish to conceive. Our vision is for Empress to be viewed as a true advocate for improved women’s health; to help bring awareness to the global market demand for innovation in women’s health and the need for funding in this space.
Healthcare and technology are increasingly intertwined. What are the latest trends impacting the industry in 2024?
In my opinion, funding is what is impacting the industry the most. We especially experienced this in 2023 and I am hoping we see a better shift in 2024. Investors have been more hesitant to invest, and we could spend hours debating the reasons for that. In addition, the regulatory path has become increasingly difficult and lengthy, not to mention expensive. While the regulatory pathway is absolutely necessary, I do feel it is also unnecessarily burdensome in the process, thus hindering commercialization for many med-tech start-ups with amazing technologies.
Regarding healthcare, over the past decade I have witnessed so many changes in how new FDA approved technologies are able to be adopted into a healthcare facility. It is more challenging than ever for physicians to have access to new innovative technology because of the processes put in place for approval. It is not uncommon for a new technology to be on a wait list of 6 months to a year just to be considered by a product review committee. Often the committee consists of physicians who will never even use the technology or recognize its importance. It is challenging for all involved and my hope is we start to see a better process within the healthcare system for adoption of new and innovative technologies.
How is the MedTech industry currently coping with the fast pace of change?
I think the industry is coping well. If you notice over the past 5 years and especially post Covid, we are seeing a major shift in accessibility to healthcare. More companies have emerged that offer virtual clinics, making the ability to see a physician for simple diagnosis a lot easier and convenient. For example, Ovum Health, which I serve as an advisory board member, allows women to make appointments with an OB-GYN and see them virtually. Ovum Health physicians can diagnose, treat, and manage conditions that may complicate a healthy pregnancy. This is a big deal for women who can’t always make in person appointments for various reasons. We are also seeing an increase in AI technology, which is allowing for far better treatment than before. Again, the only way the industry can keep up with the fast pace of change is from the support of investment of innovation.
In your opinion, where do large medical device companies see the greatest opportunity for growth?
In my opinion, it is in research and development and smart acquisitions. Staying stagnant is the worst thing any company can do but especially a large medical device company. They should constantly be on top of trends and the future of medicine and seeing where they can both expand into new areas and improve upon their existing portfolio.
What questions should MedTech startups already answer before approaching a potential buyer?
They should already know the basic 5 W’s, who, what, when, where and why. Who within that company makes the buying decision and who will your technology impact the most? What value does your technology bring to the company? When can the company expect to see a positive impact from the technology? How long before it can start being sold, etc.? Where does the technology fit into their current portfolio or future offerings? Why do they need this technology, why now? These are just the basics, there are so many more. It is critical to do proper due diligence on a prospective buyer, you must be able to convey a positive synergy between their business model and your technology.
In terms of a potential exit, what is more important for a medical device startup – clinical data or commercialization?
That’s a tough question because both are very important. It starts with the clinical data because if you don’t have strong clinical data, getting to commercialization is going to be extremely difficult. Also, without strong clinical data it poses an issue for obtaining proper reimbursement and getting included on insurance policies, all of which can affect the success of a potential exit. From a commercialization standpoint, a potential buyer needs to see a clear pathway to commercialization. There are times when a start-up can exit before commercialization happens, however those instances are rare. Most exits happen after commercialization, some exits are shortly after while others are a few years out. Sometimes the start-up utilizes the time after commercialization to increase the purchase value while the strategic uses this time to evaluate the growth potential and profitability of the acquisition. In my option the importance of clinical data vs commercialization is a true balance.
Besides venture capital, where else should medical device startups look for money?
Angel investors and look at setting up a SPV (special purpose vehicle) that allows smaller checks to come in without affecting the cap table. It’s amazing how quickly you can reach 1 million in critical funds when you’re just starting from friends and family. Having an SPV allows them to invest with smaller check sizes. Look for grants that could be available and also look into crowdfunding. When you are a start-up, you don’t count anything out, you must be passionate about raising funds as this is what 90% of your time is spent doing. You must get creative and think outside the box. Networking is key!
What is your personal MedTech investment psychology?
My MedTech investment psychology entails investing in technologies that truly meet a need and solve a problem. I am passionate about investing in minimally invasive technologies, technology that takes the procedures out of the operating room or Cath lab and allows them to be performed in an office-based setting or OBL. Not only is this better for the patient from a clinical standpoint but from a financial standpoint as well. It also gives the physician better control over what is the best for their patients in selecting which technology to use, rather than being told by the hospital system. Anytime a technology/device can strengthen the relationship between a physician and their patient while providing exceptional patient outcomes with lower risk, I am all in!
What are your plans for the future? Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
My plan is to still be advocating for innovation and better patient care. I hope to continue doing that by investing in innovation, being a spokesperson and advocating for increased awareness in the areas that need attention and helping any way I can to advance the initiative of start-up companies who are working hard to improve patient outcomes. In regard to Empress Medical, in 5 years I hope to see OrbiTal being seen as the gold standard in uterine fibroid treatment. I plan to always be a strong advocate for women all over the globe regarding investment into healthcare research and development. Over the next 5 years, my plan is to help the women’s health market go from the least underfunded to the most funded in the med-tech space. We have a lot of work to do, and I have no doubts we can do it.
One piece of advice for early-stage medical device companies.
Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride, but it is worth it.! My biggest piece of advice is directed to the physician inventor and that would be, hire the right people. The most common and detrimental mistake I see is the physician opting to run the company. I get it, it’s personal to them but in business it can’t be personal. You must be able to make decisions rationally. Hire a CEO who has experience with start-ups. I’m not saying the physician can’t play a big part, but very few physician controlled start-ups succeed. Hire a strong CEO and let them build out their team, most importantly let them do their job! This seems like simple advice, but it is one of the biggest challenges I have seen over the past 20 years of being involved in start-ups. Make sure everyone on the team can bring something of high value to the table. Everyone must have the mentality that they are in the “same boat and working together”. While everyone brings something different, it is also important that everyone can step in and pull the weight of another member. I can promise you there will often be times where everyone will need to help chip in with the same critical and challenging task. The phrase “there is no “I” in team” is never more true or important than it is for a med-tech start-up company.