Lesley Solomon, the Executive Director of the Brigham Innovation Hub at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is a self-proclaimed “startup person.” In her role at Brigham and Women’s, she uses her startup-inspired roots to make strides in healthcare and her entrepreneurial skills to drive new research initiatives. Solomon has been part of the Brigham community since 2009 when she helped develop the hospital’s first online fundraising strategy. We caught up with her to chat about her past, her family, her current work and what she’s looking forward to in the coming year.
Tell us about your path to this position at Brigham and Women’s.
I kind of have a startup bug. I got it at my first job at the Food Network where we had to be creative and come up with different ways to sell ideas. In the startup world, you’re going to get a taste of every aspect of the company and that’s what I loved about it. The speed and excitement and energy creates this buzz that can help build something really impactful.
My grandfather was also very entrepreneurial and I got that from him as I was growing up. When I eventually moved back to Boston, I started volunteering at Brigham and it felt like home. Then I started working there. When we were going through strategic planning, I attended a lot of strategic planning sessions. We were also thinking about how to increase revenue, so I ended up writing a plan for innovative revenue streams for the hospital and here I am.
How have your job and the healthcare industry evolved over the past few years?
I’ve been in healthcare since 2009 and I can say it’s an industry that’s now much more open to change, new ideas and creative problem solving. My first role with the innovative revenue streams was to help the industry and faculty collaborate. In the beginning, there was some skepticism for sure. But with NIH funds being reduced and people realizing the industry has the potential to move research more quickly, a lot of things have changed.
There are so many innovation initiatives happening right now in healthcare. How does Brigham and Women’s Innovation Center distinguish itself?
We are open and interested in working with the startup community. We’ve been focusing on problems and challenges within the community, as well as matching our people with others from outside the Brigham. We collaborate with startups that have solutions to our problems. If we collaborate, we can help move those startups forward and speed up the impact of change for our patients.
Boston is special, too, because there is so much support and energy in the innovation space. I will tell you: every single night of the week you could be at a different innovation event in this city. There are so many people who are playing in this space that are smart and creative – every day you’re meeting fascinating people and helping to propel new ideas forward. And that’s why I love what I do, because I get to help drive those things.
What are you most excited for in the coming year?
We officially launched the Brigham Innovation Hub in September 2013 and got funding in 2014, so we’re young. We had a team by June 2014 and we’re just starting to build a pipeline of projects internally. Externally, we are building relationships with partners. I’m really excited to see what opportunities are going to turn into products or services that will impact patient care.
Speaking of opportunities, what are the coolest innovations you’ve seen lately?
The one I’m most excited for is Sophia Koo’s work on a breathalyzer for a fungus in the lungs. The existing technology is a lung biopsy. Not having to do that procedure would be a huge change. One of our bioengineers is also working on developing microneedles for drug delivery, which could mean the timed release of drug delivery through a patch. Awesome stuff.
Last question: What has your experience been like as a woman in this healthcare innovation ecosystem?
I think that this is an important question. I have two kids and I have found that it is really challenging to be a full time mom and to work full time. The Brigham in particular is extremely supportive of working parents. No one has ever given me a hard time because I had to run home and pick up my kids. Everyone who has kids understands the challenges of needing to get home for a soccer game or texting with a babysitter. But I will say that it’s the hardest thing in the world to fully manage a team and have a family. I love my job and I love my kids so I wouldn’t give up either, obviously, but you just have to know that you’re going to be making tradeoffs. It’s worth it to be on both sides.
This interview is part of our fall series on women in medtech. Check back in for weekly interviews with women in the medical technology field. Do you know someone who’d be a good fit for this series? Email email@example.com.
Soniya Shah is an on-staff contributing writer at MedTech Boston. She's a senior at Carnegie Mellon University pursuing a BS in technical writing. She has experience as a ghost writer and medical writer, and in developing software documentation.
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