The Journey of a Female Founder
Martha Lawrence has over 25 years of experience in the healthcare industry and is the co-founder of AccendoWave, a machine learning technology company that helps measure and manage pain. In only 12 years, it has become the leading company in the US when it comes to measuring pain objectively and has partnered with two technology giants – Samsung and AT&T.
Despite consulting for VC funds and private equity hedge funds, Martha Lawrence and her co-founder of AccendoWave chose to bootstrap the company instead of pitching it to investors for funding. A decision based on the fact that only 3% of VC investments goes to female founders.
Prior to founding AccendoWave, Martha worked in executive leadership positions for major healthcare companies, including Fortune 500 HCA (Hospital Corporation of America) Healthcare.
In our conversation, Martha Lawrence talks about her career journey, her first few months as a female founder, the inspiration behind AccendoWave and the importance of networking effectively.
Last but not least, we discussed the part she is playing to increase the ratio of women founders applying for funding, and also improve the metrics for funding given to female startup founders.
Branching into Healthcare
Martha grew up in the Silicon Valley and chose to major in Kinesiology (study of movement of the body) for her undergrad at the University of California. Not a surprising choice since she was a student-swimmer. There’s a trend for most kinesiology students to proceed to med school or physical therapy school but Martha opted to instead pursue an MBA at the Marshall School of Business which is part of the University of Southern California.
From here she made her entrance into the healthcare industry as a corporate fitness director for 2 Fortune 500 firms in LA; Dart Industries and Teledyne Corporation. After a couple of years, she felt like she had reached her peak in that field and migrated to National Medical Enterprises, working for notable healthcare companies like Sandoz, Tenet, and HCA.
After many years of working in executive leadership positions in the healthcare industry, she pivoted into consulting for venture capital, private equity and hedge funds around innovation and investment. During that time, she was inspired to co-found AccendoWave with her business partner, Cary Jardin.
The inspiration behind AccendoWave
“I left HCA in ’08. When I left, I realized that the favorite part of my job was around innovation. The bridge to having my own company was the consulting work with private equity and hedge funds around innovation and investments. They often had smart financial people who didn’t necessarily understand how we made decisions and how the money flowed from contracts and they often had very long sales cycles for their portfolio companies.”
This was why Martha came in, to help them identify the inefficient systems, understand the decision-making process and how to do a better job in terms of growing their portfolio.
Having noticed that there was a gap of qualified people in operations on the innovative side of the business and yet it was growing industry, she co-founded AccendoWave.
“I think more of us should do it. There are probably fewer than 10 in the United States that have gone from long careers working for hospital companies to becoming CEOs, especially in machine learning technology companies.”
The Benefits of Working in Different Roles or Industries
When you change roles, you get a second or more rounded perspective, unlike someone that has stayed in one role. There are things that previously, you wouldn’t have noticed because of your lack of experience in other roles. “When I was in the hospital world, there were things that just weren’t on my radar screen that now that I’m an entrepreneur, and I have a growth stage company, I look at that and go, ‘Wow, we could be doing a lot better in that particular area.’ ”
As a company where one of their channels is hospitals, Martha says she understands the secret sauce – how to deploy rapidly in a healthcare system at scale, with an incredibly smoother and light touch.
The first few months of starting up AccendoWave
Martha describes the experience as humbling. She had been an executive and consultant to multiple major corporations but when she started AccendoWave, she had to wear many hats which included being the delivery guy when necessary. One of the reasons being they had chosen to bootstrap the company and couldn’t afford to hire a large team so she had to do many tasks that she would have previously delegated.
“It was eye-opening. A good thing to experience in your career at some point.”
Bootstrapping Instead of Raising Funds
Martha knew that the statistics of female CEO founders receiving VC investment did not stand in their favor. She felt it would be easier to start the company through bootstrapping and work towards making it a success rather than spending her time pitching when she knew the highly unlikely chance of getting VC funding was 3%.
Why Does Only 3% of VC Funding go to Female Startup Companies?
There are a variety of reasons, some of which include:
• Linkedin released a study that showed that men were much more likely to apply for a job even if they didn’t meet over half of the criteria while women felt that they had to meet all the requirements before applying to a role.
• If you look at the investors, there historically has not been a lot of women in that field who are investing.
• Previously there has not been a focus on women-led companies. There are some accelerators that are now focused on women-led companies and fostering those.
How Women Startup Founders Can Help Increase the Funding Directed Towards Female Founded Startups
Martha is part of a group of top women in the healthcare industry in the US and two of their goals are to ensure that none of them ever have to make a cold call in healthcare and to have more women in corporate boards. This would go a long way to helping female founders access funding and opportunities.
She points out that women leaders can open the doors for female founders by helping them make warm connections with key people.
Furthermore, women leaders can be intentional by looking for female founders that need their assistance and fund them when possible.
“I was a very effective networker internally. HCA had a lot of people that worked for the company so there was a lot of ability to network internally. I was not terribly effective externally. When I look back at that time frame, I could have spent probably 10% less time at the office and it wouldn’t have impacted my success. And if I had deployed that time externally, networking, that would have helped my career.”
She has several ways that she networks externally:
• She has taught at both the universities that she attended. Once a year, she teaches on innovation and the work that she’s currently doing at UCLA and she has done something similar at the University of Southern California.
• She sets aside 5 hours a month to meet with people that have been connected to her by someone she knows and trusts. It’s usually to give advice about a transition or talk about an area that is adjacent to her field.
Top Tips for Networking
Be prepared! Have a one-page marketing plan, know what roles you’re looking at, the geography, and the companies that are interesting to you. This way, the person that is meeting with you will know how to help you. Otherwise, you may lose a chance of having a very valuable and continuing relationship with this person.
Tip from Elena: When you send a connection request on Linkedin, add a personalized note. Don’t just send a connection request and say, “I want to connect with you and share your network.”
Biggest Career Lessons
Covid has been a great teacher for her as an entrepreneur. It has shown her how to pivot based on the different channels that the company has.
Another lesson that she learned at HCA – which she still practices to date – is being disciplined as an entrepreneur and in execution. Being disciplined means you’re more thoughtful about where you guide your company and how you spend your time because you know that there’s an opportunity cost to that time.
Early on in your career, it is critical to have mentors. She’s been fortunate enough to have 3 influential mentors in her career. All 3 of them have been men. Not because she didn’t want female mentors but because there weren’t a lot of women ahead of her in executive positions to mentor her.
One of her mentors is an attorney who is very rational and offers great insight when it comes to people and understanding the dynamics of how companies work. The other two were both mentors and sponsors. Both of them were incredible leaders and in addition to providing guidance and insight, they supported her career internally.
At the beginning of your relationship, you may feel like it’s unbalanced because you’re not bringing much to the table but with time, as your career grows, you’re able to offer more to your mentors.
Is it Beneficial for a Woman to Have Female Mentors, Male Mentors or Both?
Both – Mentors, based on their different career experiences, have different input to offer and so as a mentee, you benefit from these varied career experiences irrespective of the gender of your mentor.
The Future for AccendoWave
AccendoWave currently has multiple channels. When it was founded, it started in hospitals to gather massive data on pain management. This was a slow process and expansion wasn’t a priority at the time.
They currently have agreements with global pharma companies interested in their ability to measure pain. They also have confidentiality agreements with a global medical device company and a data company.
Their newest channel which has proved to be essential during covid is remote monitoring at home and outpatients.
She predicts that AccendoWave will scale in those 3 areas based on the interest that they’re currently getting in the market place.
Currently, the company is very present in the US. They have been looking at international expansion but the timing hasn’t been right. They do intend to expand internationally and reduce suffering in other places in the world.
Every day, Martha attends to two staples in her schedule to keep herself updated:
1. She spends 15 minutes reading a newsletter called PitchBook which is a free newsletter that she gets every morning. It describes, both for healthcare as well as outside of healthcare, investment deals that have recently taken place. It’s a very efficient way to keep your finger on the pulse concerning funding.
2. She follows thought leaders on twitter and reads the articles they’re sharing, their opinions or forecasts.
Thought Leaders Martha Follows
• NIH who are doing a lot of work on pain
• Scott Gottlieb and Andy Slavitt – They provide meaningful dialogue and information in a concise way about topics related to covid from a healthcare perspective.
What else is on the cards for Martha?
For Martha, her next career goal is to be on a corporate public board. “I think it would be strategically very interesting work to do in the next phase of my career.”
What is the Legacy that You Want to Leave on the World?
“Family is a part of your personal legacy. My husband and I have two daughters who are thriving and I think that’s part of our legacy.
Professionally: helping other women in their career and for the company to become a gold standard for pain measurement and pain management.”