Medtech Serial Entrepreneur Manny Villafana on Fundraising and Leading During Covid-19

Medical 21 Founder and CEO Manny Villafana shares how he’s moving  ahead with his startup despite new and complex challenges caused by Covid-19 during this One Take CEO Interview podcast and video segment sponsored by Platinum Group.  (Click here to hear the interview or here to watch it.)

Cardiac_Pacemakers_FoundersVillafana faced plenty of surprises in the past when starting, growing and taking public seven businesses including Cardiac Pacemakers Inc. (CPI), which created thinner, smaller pacemakers with technology still in use today (photo at left is of Villafana and his three CPI founding partners in 1971). But what’s different this time is the inability to meet with people.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to be separate from the people that we want to reach and talk with, such as potential investors and doctors. It’s been a very difficult time to raise capital. I don’t know how to do that without being face to face, shaking hands, having a lunch or dinner and having a direct interface,” he says. “Zoom and all the other forms of communication are great but they cannot replace the one-on-one connection with a potential investor.”

Screenshot 2020-07-27 23.31.03It’s also more important than ever for a CEO to interact with his or her employees and leadership team, Villafana says. The challenges they’re facing are not just at work. “Many of them are working at home where they are constantly bombarded by outside influences. So you gotta get everyone together once in a while and again, face to face, and touch base with them to fire them up, tell them the good things and also tell them the bad things.”  And most important he says, tell them stories about previous situations in which you led people through similar or possibly worse situations.

“For example, when we started St. Jude Medical, we developed an extraordinary heart valve while again and again people said it couldn’t be done. We had a lot of challenges, a lot of design changes and it took 26 iterations of the St. Jude valve before we finally go it just right.”

With his current venture, Medical 21, he also had to have a frank conversation with employees about their safety. Given the the research and testing they do, most work within close proximity of each other. Hear what he said on this subject, as well as others (including two key tips for anyone who is thinking about starting a business), by clicking on this link to Spotify, or watch his interview on YouTube by clicking here.

One Take CEO Interviews are independently produced by multi-award winning former business editor and writer Dale Kurschner to provide viewers and listeners with unscripted, unedited discussions on how Minnesota CEOs are leading during the Covid-19 pandemic and its unprecedented impact on their operations, and the economy. The first episodes are recorded home-to-home via Zoom, due to then-required “work from home” rules.

The series of frank-talk conversations with CEOs is sponsored by Platinum Group, Minnesota’s most experienced advisory group helping business owners and leaders with extreme challenges including financial setbacks, lender and landlord re-negotiations, turnarounds and bankruptcies. Kurschner is one of its consultants and specializes in strategic communication, reputation management and crisis communication.

Complimenting the CEO series are interviews with key members of Platinum Group. This week’s is with Greg Coward, a former product marketing executive who’s gone on to serve as CEO of a dozen industrial B2B manufacturing and consumer goods companies. He also has owned to businesses and led through many turnaround and other rapid-change situations (more here).

Screenshot 2020-07-29 08.19.01Coward says the greatest risk for any business today is waiting. Changes need to be made now, and this includes changing the planning process from annual to more like daily. “There was a story in yesterday’s [Wall Street] Journal about how Google’s cloud business every week has a new plan. I have a neighbor who’s president of Rollerblades and he says they change their plans every week. His greatest challenge daily challenge is to plan and then know how to throw the plan away.”

Yet some businesses haven’t changed to this more nimble way of planning and acting. “There is some comfort in the liquidity being supplied by the government today, which allows you to maybe put off until tomorrow making some plan or change or feeling anxious about it. But I think that’s a false comfort because there’s going to be a tsunami of trouble ahead whether it’s with the U.S. debt or whether it’s the debt with companies. This is not sustainable and we’re all going to get a good lesson on whether the modern monetary theory actually is true.”

Coward’s interview can be listened to/downloaded from Spotify or watched on YouTube.


All One Take CEO Interviews can be found on You Tube, and also on Spotify as well as Apple PodcastsCatch up on recent episodes:


All Platinum Group interviews can be found on YouTube and also on Apple Podcasts and SpotifyCatch up on recent episodes: