Call it foresight, call it luck, call it what you want, but Paul Gudonis, CEO and Chairman of Myomo, has quite a track record when it comes to skating to the proverbial puck.
Gudonis, who has an engineering degree from Northwestern and an MBA from Harvard, has a history of bringing new tech to market in an impressive fashion. First, his company, Ameritech launched the first cell phone network in the United States in the 1980s. Later, as the CEO of Genuity, he grew the company from a $5 million regional Internet backbone to a $1 billion internet service provider during the dot-com heyday.
His current gig, Myomo develops MyoPro, a robotic device for patients suffering from neurological disorders and upper-limb paralysis. The medical robotics company, founded in 2006, rose to prominence after President Obama signed the JOBS Act into law in 2011, allowing private companies to raise up to $50 million from the public. Coincidentally, this was the same year Gudonis got hired as CEO of Myomo.
He recently spoke with Chief Executive about his interest in robotics, the biggest challenges in growing the business, how his leadership style has evolved, and more.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
How did you get involved with robotics?
My transition to robotics began when I was recruited by Dean Kamen to lead an international nonprofit robotics competition called FIRST, which was designed to shine a spotlight on students who competed in the sport of the mind. That experience drew me into medical technology. I met the team at MIT that developed the Myomo technology. They had a big idea – conquering paralysis with lightweight, wearable robotics, and they were looking for a CEO to commercialize it. I love working on big ideas, and this gave me a chance to bring medical robotics to people who could have their lives transformed by incredible new technology. I became Myomo CEO in 2011 and it’s been an incredible journey from a start-up to a company now traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
What opportunities do you guys see with the changing reimbursement models coming into fruition?
Our devices are currently reimbursed on a case-by-case basis by commercial health insurance plans, worker’s compensation plans, and the VA system for veterans with arm paralysis. We have applied for coverage by Medicare, which would expand the number of individuals who could obtain one of our powered braces. Going forward, we may see more bundled payments in which the MyoPro is included in the cost of treating a new stroke patient or in the cost of surgery to restore function in the arm of someone who had suffered a shoulder nerve injury.
“I’ve learned that you can’t lead a company from behind a desk.”
What are your biggest challenges right now?
Educating the marketplace is an ongoing challenge for us. If you consider the population of people with paralysis or limited functionality in their arms or hands, we have only penetrated a small percentage of the market who could benefit from the device. We’re focused on reaching patients and their families, as well as physicians, orthotics and prosthetics professionals, occupational therapists – anyone who has a connection with this population. We’re trying to reach those most in need of this life-changing technology.
How has your leadership style evolved since you took the reins at Myomo?
I’ve learned that you can’t lead a company from behind a desk. I have always felt that the best way for me to understand the needs of our MyoPro users, and to understand the challenges facing our sales team and engineers, is to have a presence in the field. Since I’ve been leading Myomo, I do 50 calls in the field each year, between sales and clinical visits. I get a lot of good feedback on how we’re doing by being in the field.
As we’ve expanded as a company – from a four-person team when I started to 35 and growing – I’ve also seen how important it is to make sure every member of our team is invested in our plans. So, we implement 90-day management by objectives (MBOs), laying out what we’re looking to accomplish, our deliverables and our metrics. It allows our employees to be part of the discussion of our goals and how we’re going to meet them.
What’s next for you guys?
We just announced in June that the MyoPro is now available to adolescent patients who have limited functionality in their arm or hand as a result of a neuromuscular disease or injury. It was an important milestone for us, but more importantly for this new patient population who can now benefit from the technology, restore functionality in their arms or hands, and really improve their quality of life. We’re now working on a pediatric version of the MyoPro, which we expect to introduce next year.
We’re also focused on scaling up through international expansion. We gained approval for commercial sale of MyoPro in Canada last year. Also last year we obtained CE Mark approval for commercial sale across Europe, and we’re now working with our partner, Ottobock, on distribution there.