Dr. Mary Jo Gorman on female entrepreneurial leadership in medicine, health IT & beyond

IT has been a traditionally male-dominated field, but there is a growing place for women. There are even accelerators focused on kick starting entrepreneurial ventures led by women.

In August, Prosper Women Entrepreneurs, a St. Louis-based startup accelerator for women-led companies, selected five companies for its Prosper Capital Fall Startup Accelerator Program.

Mary Jo Gorman, MD, is the lead managing partner of Prosper Women Entrepreneurs and an entrepreneur herself. Dr. Gorman is the founder of Advanced ICU, a company focused on performance enhancement solutions in the intensive care unit. Now, with Prosper Women Entrepreneurs she has helped select the five companies, three of which are health IT startups, for the fall program and a $50,000 capital investment each. She shares insight into the founding of her first company and her work in advancing other companies led by women.

Note: Interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: When did you decide you were interested in pursuing the entrepreneurial side of healthcare?   

Dr. Mary Jo Gorman: I began my first company as a way to improve the level of care that was being delivered at the community hospital where I worked. I didn't see it as a change in direction so much as a way to solve a problem. That has been a pattern in my career — I was looking for ways to address a problem, and starting a company that could do that was my response. In retrospect, I was being entrepreneurial. Healthcare is a very large marketplace, and, unfortunately, we have a lot of opportunities to do things better.

Q: What was the process of founding Advanced ICU care like?

MJG: My partners and I thought that we had a good idea to bring the expertise of ICU specialists (intensivists) to communities that didn't have access to that level of experience. We decided to do this by combining talented practitioners with technology and a quality improvement process. We were able to demonstrate that we significantly improved the clinical and financial performance of hospital ICUs. At the time, this was a new approach to care in the community hospitals and there was skepticism about if it could be done or not.  It was a great deal of work, but it was exciting and fulfilling because we could see positive results. Without great partners, we could never have achieved our success.

Q:  How did you first become involved in Prosper Women Entrepreneurs?

MJG: Local leaders in St. Louis were examining what could be done to improve the growth of women-led businesses. While a very large number of women-led businesses are started every day, they lack the size and scale of male-led businesses. There are a number of things that have been shown to work and one area of opportunity for women is access to capital.  My experience in raising funding at Advanced ICU Care gave me an interest in raising funds to invest. I am particularly interested in women-led businesses because of the opportunity that exists in this underappreciated marketplace.
Q: You have started several companies. Are you planning to explore any new projects in the near future?

MJG: Starting Prosper Capital, a micro venture fund, has been another startup! We are working to deliver funds and programming to help move the growth curve of early stage companies. It is exciting, and I think that the approach holds great promise. I suspect that I will be exploring new projects for a very long time!

Q: What advice do you have for women seeking to break into IT, healthcare and other markets?

MJG: It's important for women to learn how to effectively engage in the community where they want to participate. This is often called networking, but purposeful use of her time to find and meet the people that can provide further connections is critical. There is a method to this that can be learned and applied and can have major changes in one's career path.

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