Note: This is Part 2 of a five-part series highlighting speakers from MaRS HealthKick 2015, an annual pitch competition for health startups at MaRS. Read the first instalment here. Visit the event website to learn more about the program, speakers, jury and startup companies involved. MaRS HealthKick 2015 is an invite-only event.

Melinda Richter, head of Janssen Labs, describes the organization she leads as “addicted to progressing science to the patient.” On May 7, she will be one of the many exciting speakers at MaRS HealthKick presenting to an audience of innovative health entrepreneurs, investors, and corporate and government partners.

Speaker highlight: Melinda Richter

Melinda’s passion for empowering patients was first ignited by a near-death experience. While visiting Beijing, Melinda, then a young executive with a fast-track career path at a global telecommunications company, was bitten by a bug. She rapidly developed a severe, acute illness that could not be diagnosed and from which her doctors felt she would not survive.

Fortunately, after the intervention of a specialist and several months of therapy, she recovered, and her experience kindled a passion to do something that would make a difference. As Melinda puts it, she wanted to “make the healthcare industry as advanced and sexy as the tech industry.”

Watch Melinda’s TED talk to hear her tell her story.

As Melinda said in a recent interview: “Everybody that you meet has a story about why they are in this space and it is either because they have had a family member who has been sick, or they have been sick, or they have some personal passion—it is certainly why I got into the industry.”

Indeed, a similar experience drove e-Patient Dave to become an advocate for the empowerment of patients, as I described in a recent blog post.

With no scientific or medical background, Melinda decided to focus on finding ways to reduce the barriers to the development and commercialization of new therapeutics, medical devices and diagnostics. She founded Prescience International, an award-winning firm dedicated to accelerating research by creating the necessary supporting infrastructure, educational programs and financing. Prescience enabled life sciences (and cleantech) entrepreneurs to focus on progressing their ideas toward commercialization to ultimately reach and benefit patients.

In 2013, Melinda announced that Prescience was partnering with pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson (J&J) to expand J&J’s external research and development engine, “adding capital-efficient infrastructure, high-impact services, technical and funding programs, and strong networks to provide unparalleled access and engagement with entrepreneurial communities around the globe.”

Melinda knows about the many barriers that health entrepreneurs—like those presenting at HealthKick this year—face in their work, but she is also aware of the many ways that those barriers can be lowered and surmounted, driving benefits to patients.

To learn more about MaRS HealthKick 2015, visit the website or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #HealthKick2015.

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Martin Sumner-Smith

Martin Sumner-Smith, PhD, was a senior advisor with MaRS Health Venture Services. See more…