Innovation Ecosystem

A new day, and a new executive director at MedMates

An interview with Kelly Nevins, who shared plans, tasks and challenges in her effort to build out the nascent industry group

Photo by Richard Asinof

Kelly Nevins, the new executive director of MedMates, shared her immediate goals for the industry sector group in an interview with ConvergenceRI.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 6/6/16
Kelly Nevins is the new executive director of MedMates. Her first challenge is to create and recruit a board of directors, much like a startup, and to identify the needs of her members and potential customers, as well as developing a strategic plan for the nascent medtech industry sector group.
How will the rapid growth of the personal wearable digital devices change the market for the medtech industry, both here in Rhode Island as well as nationally and globally? How will hospitals and health insurers adapt and rewire their health IT systems to integrate with such customer-driven devices, which collect information outside of the current electronic health record format? How will MedMates reconcile the tension between what the government’s agenda and funding stream is, and what the medtech industry needs are? Will the group define its role as a convener moving forward? How will the group seek to involve a company such as IlluminOss, with its potential to become the next billion dollar firm in Rhode Island?
The traditional market for medical device products has been driven by the needs of the hospital industry and the insurance industry. With personal, wearable health devices projected to grow to become a $30 billion industry within the next decade, how will that change the economic equation about who is the customer? Further, as the business model changes for how reimbursements are made under both Medicaid and Medicare and commercial insurers, moving away from fee-for-service and toward bundled payments, how does that change the market dynamics for medical devices? Is there an opportunity for Rhode Island to move to develop an innovation sector around aging, particularly given its demographics around a growing aging population, as a way to develop new companies and new jobs in the state?

PROVIDENCE – It was literally the second day on the job for Kelly Nevins, the new executive director for MedMates, when she sat down to talk with ConvergenceRI and shared her ideas about how to move the nascent industry group to the next level.

To a number of questions, Nevins answered with a refreshing honesty: I don’t know.

Nevins, who most recently had been working as director of tour management at Collette Vacations, has a strong background in nonprofit management. She served as director of the Volunteer Center of Rhode Island for seven years and manager of community relations and outreach at the Boston Medical Center HealthNet Plan for four years.

[For transparency purposes, Nevins’ work history also included a stint as a director of donor services at United Way of Rhode Island, where she and ConvergenceRI were once colleagues, and ConvergenceRI once trained Nevins in public speaking.]

With the arrival of Nevins in her new position, MedMates has now officially moved ahead with the launch of its latest version, dubbed MedMates 3.0 by some.

The medtech industry group was founded back in 2012 and held its first organizational meeting in January of 2013. [See link to ConvergenceRI story below.]

The very first order of business, according to Nevins, was to embark on a listening tour, to talk with key members of the Rhode Island medtech community in both industry and government. The goal, Nevins said, was to ascertain what members think about MedMates, what they believe are the growth opportunities in the sector, and what needs they have that could be met by MedMates.

Among the people Nevins said she would be meeting with were: Christine Smith, the executive director of the Science & Technology Advisory Council at CommerceRI; Richard Culatta, the state’s new Chief Innovation Officer; and Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, which provided the funding for her job.

The second priority will be to recruit a board of directors for the medtech industry cluster group, Nevins said.

A third priority will be to develop a strategic plan for the next few years for the organization.

“We are really at a startup level,” Nevins told ConvergenceRI.

A fourth task will be to facilitate the move into new office digs at the Social Enterprise Greenhouse, where MedMates, a 501 (c) 6 nonprofit, will partner with SEG to serve as an accelerator for new medtech entrepreneurs and startups.

That partnership is being funded with $525,000 from CommerceRI over the next three years, a workforce training grant award under the RealJobsRI program.

Here, then, is the ConvergenceRI interview with Kelly Nevins, the new executive director of MedMates.

ConvergenceRI: What are the immediate tasks ahead for you as the new executive director of MedMates?
NEVINS:
We are really at a startup level. We have a mailing list. We have people who have indicated interest.

We are nowhere near where we would want to be, saying that we’ve got everyone involved who we would to be playing in the sandbox.

One of the first things I need to do is to recruit a board of directors. This is part of what I’m going to be doing over the next couple of weeks.

We do have an executive committee in place, but we need a board of directors. We’ll need to be setting up committee structures.

We also need to develop what our strategic plan will be for the next couple of years.

We’re really at the beginning stages. A lot of good work has been done over the last couple of years by people who were working part-time, and by volunteers.

But [MedMates] hasn’t had somebody who can dedicate themselves to this organization full-time. So, I’m starting pretty much at ground zero.

ConvergenceRI: As they used to say on Mission Impossible, “your mission, should you choose to accept it…”
NEVINS:
[laughing] Well, I’ve chosen to accept that mission.

ConvergenceRI: What past experiences do you bring to the job that will help you in recruiting a new board of directors?
NEVINS:
I do have a background in nonprofit management. I ran a nonprofit for many years. At the time that I took over that nonprofit, the organization was just about to close its doors, and I brought it back.

I was able to look at what the needs of the organization were, and then start to find the people in the community who had the expertise to help drive those strategies.

At this point, with MedMates, we’ve got a great executive committee. However, there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity to get together and say: what do we want to do next?

One of the first things that I will be doing over the next couple of weeks is putting together a survey of the membership, to ask: what is it that you’re interested in? And, if we do x, is that something that would be worthwhile to you?

We’re really trying to figure out what the needs are in the community, and what is it that they need from us. And, how best can we make a difference, so that we’re not doing what everyone else is doing?

That’s what my next couple of months is really going to be focused on – bringing in people who have the expertise to advise the organization, to serve on the board, who can guide us in the right direction, who can connect us to funders, and bring them [into the conversation.]

How doe we create those relationships? How do we make introductions?

ConvergenceRI: How do you see the inherent tension between what is an industry cluster group and what is a business association, as you build out the identity of the group? How do you plan to wrestle with that?
NEVINS:
I can’t answer that right now, because I don’t know.

Part of the answer will be developed in going out on the listening tour, listening to our different members, checking our what’s needed in the community. We need to understand what those needs are.

ConvergenceRI: Beyond the survey and the listening tour to capture what those needs are, do you plan to hold any focus groups?
NEVINS:
There’s a potential. At this point, what I’m going to be doing is visiting with people individually, having conversations with them about what they’re doing, and what is it they need.

Focus groups can be part of that. I just started two days ago, Richard.

ConvergenceRI: In January, the Brookings Institute released its analysis of the future economic opportunities in advanced industry sectors in Rhode Island, identifying the biomedical innovation industry sector as one of the targets. Have you had a chance to go through that?
NEVINS:
No.

ConvergenceRI: Who are the people on your listening tour?
NEVINS:
Some of the people I’ll be meeting with are Christine Smith over at the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation. I’ll be meeting with members of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s team, including her new chief innovation officer, again, to find out what’s going on in the sector.

ConvergenceRI: Is it part of the strategy to align MedMates with government’s agenda?
NEVINS:
My understanding in the initial meetings is to find out what they are focused on, so that I can provide that information to our membership, again, to make connections.

During my interview, we talked about advocacy, to be able to say: here’s what is doing on, here’s what’s exciting, and how do we break down barriers.

ConvergenceRI: Would you consider creating a caucus at the State House, as a way to advocate, and to have a way of educating the legislators?
NEVINS:
Absolutely

ConvegenceRI: What excites you most about the new position?
NEVINS:
To me, it’s exciting to be working with industry in a sector where we can bring jobs to Rhode Island, good paying jobs to Rhode Island, [with an industry sector] that has exciting new products.

A couple of weeks, ago, I went to a business plan competition, held here in Providence. One of the people got up, they were showcasing a headband that measured the absolute pain levels in your brain.

And, to me, just the implication, that if it works, and doctors can absolutely prescribe the right amounts of pain medication, it could have huge implications for drug abuse in our community, making sure that people don’t get addicted to pain killers.

To me, it is really exciting to be part of [the process] to help makes those types of [devices] come to life. And, to make a difference in Rhode Island by bringing jobs here. That’s exciting.

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