Danguole Altman, Founder, Vapogenix, Inc.
How did you become an executive in the health care industry? Did you always have an interest in health care?
I was attracted to health care as early as high school – I wanted to work in a field where I could make a difference in people’s lives. Initially, I was a biology major with pre-dental aspirations (why is a whole other story), but by the end of sophomore year I had switched to Economics with a strong interest in health care policy and management. Even in college, I pursued interesting summer and part time jobs in health care – as a triage clerk at a hospital ER, working for the State of Massachusetts in the Medicaid Budget office. Graduating from college, I joined Lewin and Associates, now the Lewin Group, and worked with public and private sector clients on health care policy. I was hooked! After business school, I joined McKinsey & Company, primarily working with health care clients. What followed afterwards – besides marriage to a fellow McKinsey consultant - was a decade of executive positions with medical groups, including as CEO of a women’s health care services company - and now the last 10+ years building a life sciences company developing non-opioid pain medications. I have recently joined Newport LLC as a partner, so am continuing in health care and life science, advising emerging growth companies and their investors.
You are unique in that you were a woman founder of a company that has grown with substantial outside capital. What advice do you have for first-time women CEOs who are embarking on the same journey?
I have raised over $40M to build both companies I founded – FemPartners and Vapogenix - from venture capital, private equity, family offices, and high net worth individuals. In the vast majority of cases, I was the only woman CEO or Founder in my investors’ portfolios. I have three pieces of advice – first is Be Confident. As women, we tend to be over-prepared and self-critical. Work hard on getting your pitch down – do your homework on what might concern investors, practice – but at the end, no one knows your company and space as well as you do. Be confident in that knowledge. Second – Use Your Networks to ask for help. You will find your best advice, support, and leads that way. Shark Tank and pitch competitions are fine, but you are more likely to raise money through personal referrals. Third - Target Men Who are Comfortable with Strong Women. My key investors have all been men, but they have been married to strong women with their own careers. The last point is similar to my advice to my daughters about boyfriends – men with mothers who worked are more likely to support you and your career – and has held true in my choice of spouse as well, who has been tremendously supportive.
The health care industry is continuously evolving and innovating. What trend or technology are you most excited about?
I believe tele-medicine has the opportunity to transform and disrupt health care. While tele-medicine been around for years, until recently, physicians could not bill for services provided online so were slow to adapt. That is changing. Technology can be used to help expand access to specialists in underserved areas, reduce costs by decreasing the number of physical office visits, improve quality of care and improve productivity. It has the potential to totally disrupt the health care industry.
You have some other exciting professional news as well, as you were recently nominated to the Board of Overseers of Harvard University. Can you tell a little bit more about what you are hoping to contribute to this board?
I was so honored and humbled to be nominated! Harvard University is fairly unique in that its Board of Overseers is elected by alumni, so I am one of nine candidates, of which six will be elected. Harvard seeks overseers with varied backgrounds, and I believe my combination of expertise and experiences - as a woman entrepreneur in the life sciences, my long-term efforts to support newly formed democracies through my work as a board member of the Baltic-American Freedom Foundation, and my background growing up as a daughter of Lithuanian refugees, speaking limited English until grade school - would add a particularly valuable perspective to the work of the Overseers today. I have been a highly active alumna, so have extensive knowledge of the University, developed over 35 years of service to the Harvard community. I am particularly interested in being a strong voice for the student experience across the University.
(You must be a Harvard alum to vote for Danguole. If you would like to learn more, visit: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/01/candidates-announced-for-harvard-elections/)
Being active in Harvard’s health care alumni association has been a significant part of your health care journey. How would you suggest other WBL members use these kinds of networks to help them achieve their goals?
Whether raising money or advancing in your career, fostering your networks is critical. I remember years ago at one of our Summits Professor Vicki Medvec from Northwestern University spoke to us about her research, which consistently showed that women MBAs in her class spent less time at and valued networking much less than men did. Yet most successful men will credit their personal networks to their success in raising capital and “getting a seat at the table” for leadership and board positions. We all have conflicting demands on our time. Networking and becoming friends with others in your industry adds not only to your personal growth, but over time is very valuable professionally.
Personally or professionally, what might the WBL network be surprised to know about you?
I have four children – all with the same husband who I’m still married to. And I love to cook. My grandparents bought a property in Cape Cod when they arrived in the US, which they paid off operating as a Bed and Breakfast. Yours truly helped her grandmother get 3 meals on the table for up to 20 people, every day of the summer for years.
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