Founder/Chief Executive Officer
Clay Wilemon leads DevicePharm, and has 25 years of experience in medical device marketing with both early-stage companies and global healthcare leaders. He serves on Independent Board of Governors of Sonex Health, LLC, and he is also an Advisor at Visionary Venture Fund, LLC. . He served as Interim Chair of Tenex Health, Inc. .
HTA - Tell us about your personal/professional background?
I am a graduate of Vanderbilt University, husband of Debbie Wilemon for 30 years, and father to Austin, Tyler, Kyle, and Andrea. I have been involved in healthcare marketing since the mid-1980s and have run DevicePharm and its predecessor since 1990. In the course of that time I have had the privilege of working with team members and clients to launch over 500 new medical brands.
HTA - Can you share about your early mentors, and how they have impacted your career?
My most meaningful mentors were my dad, his twin brother, my mom, and a number of men who were involved in youth ministry in my church growing up. These people taught me about hard work, being honest and honorable in all things, and understanding that its not all about me.
In the business world, a number of clients and peers have taught me to be courageous and to keep pressing forward even when failure is a possibility. A few high-profile medical technology company CEOs have shown me that being busy is not an excuse for not giving back to the communities that have given so good to all of us.
HTA - What experiences prepared you for leading DevicePharm?
My first healthcare marketing job was working as a surgical sales rep selling intraocular lens implants and ophthalmic lasers. Considering that I was working in marketing at PepsiCo one month prior to entering an operating room for the first time, that was a steep and awesome learning curve. I got to understand how surgeons really think about what they are doing.
In addition, I gained experience in marketing hospitals and health systems and large medical groups after that prior to starting Health Communications, which ultimately became DevicePharm. This firsthand knowledge of the business of healthcare, coupled with the med-surg knowledge, has been hugely beneficial in streamlining our ability to get to the point quickly with an insider’s understanding of our customer’s world.
HTA - You founded DevicePharm in 1990. What inspired you to do it?
DevicePharm was founded as Health Communications which I later split into two companies, one of which was DevicePharm. The inspiration was that I wanted to run a healthcare marketing firm and enjoyed the fact that our work helps our clients achieve their business and clinical goals. That thought is even more inspirational today. This is a really awesome industry.
HTA - DevicePharm is known for helping clients execute an integrated marketing strategy. Can you share more about that process?
When I first read Phillip Kotler’s book on integrated marketing, I realized that was the only approach to marketing that makes sense. Our clients and their customers consume information and live in a multi-channel world. Those channels have to be aligned and relevant to build a brand and ultimate help our customers achieve their goals.
We use a process we call Opportunity Launcher™ to define brands and integrated marketing communications strategies. It helps us define the path from Opportunity to Success™ with clarity on execution ranging from 1:1 communication through the expanding scope of 1:10s, 1:100s, 1:1,000s, and even 1:1,000,000s.
HTA - How do you foster creative and innovative thinking? How are ideas shared and implemented at DevicePharm?
The key to creative content and innovative thinking starts with a process of aligning everyone around a strategy. Once that happens, you have to create a culture and process that allows for ‘good ideas’ to come from anywhere – from people who have the word ‘creative’ in their title, and from people who don’t.
HTA - DevicePharm, with locations in Orange County, CA and Minneapolis, MN, expanded to Austin in 2017. What went into that decision?
It’s simple. Austin represents the convergence of tech and med-tech. Big companies are moving to Austin and other markets in Texas. Austin will become a hub of med-tech innovation going forward and it is in the center of the emerging Texas med-tech ecosystem. We want to be part of that dynamic.
HTA - With so many unique requirements and regulations, what are some keys to profitably and efficiently scale a medical device company to success?
There are different types of medical device companies. Early stage companies with a single product or platform have to be capital efficient in their formation and drive value before they face the burden of having their value driven by sales. A key part of that is creating a brand that becomes ‘big’ to the right people early.
For ongoing commercial medical device companies, they key is adding clinical and economic value beyond simply being paid for the widget. Value can take on many forms – population health, overall cost of care, direct cost of care, mortality and morbidity, etc. The key for companies is being able to define this value in clear terms that the customer can understand and communicate throughout their organization.
HTA - Can you share some examples of startups that DevicePharm helped to accelerate, from a prototype to Series A?
One of the most exciting companies we are working with today is CathWorks. This company is changing the way in which coronary angiography is evaluated with their new CathWorks FFRangio™ platform. This will enable interventional cardiologists to objectively quantify, decide, and confirm whether PCI is indicated and if it worked – all during the procedure. The potential clinical and economic benefits are clear and huge.
Another company right now is Sonex Health. It is a Mayo Clinic Ventures spinout that is changing the treatment of entrapment neuropathies such as carpal tunnel syndrome. I also serve on the board of directors for Sonex. That company is enabling surgery to move from the operating room to the office with a new level of safety and a far better clinical and recovery experience for the patient.
HTA - How do you learn? What are you reading?
I read the Bible every day. It reminds me to do everything I’m doing with excellence and how to treat our staff and customers.
I read everything that David Aaker from the Hass School at UC Berkeley writes about branding. He combines structure and ‘soul’ together to create some awesome branding frameworks that we have used with hundreds of clients.
I also read about 10 medical specialty industry newsletters everyday to stay on top of the big picture in healthcare. The trends, especially in the use of image-derived data, AI, machine-learning, robotics and other technologies are applicable across all specialties. The ‘same thing’ is happening in multiple medical specialties today and it is innovative in each.