Josh Makower named new director of Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign

Makower will take over leadership of the center, which is dedicated to training people to be health-technology innovators, in the summer.

Josh Makower will take the helm of Stanford Biodesign on Aug. 1. He is a general partner at NEA, a venture capital firm, and chairman of ExploraMed, a medical device incubator. 
NEA

Josh Makower, MD, MBA, an industry leader in health care technology, will become director of the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign on Aug. 1.

Makower will assume the role from the center’s founder, Paul Yock, MD, professor of medicine and of bioengineering. Yock, who holds the Martha Meier Weiland Professorship in the School of Medicine, will remain closely associated with the program in a new, more limited role. 

“Josh Makower has vast experience developing biomedical technologies and ushering innovations from bench to bedside,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. “His deep knowledge and thoughtful approach to invention will enrich Stanford Biodesign and advance Stanford Medicine’s precision health vision of predicting, preventing and curing disease — precisely.” 

The move brings Makower full circle. Twenty years ago, when Yock established Stanford Biodesign, the center was one of the first university programs focused specifically on health technology innovation. Makower joined as co-founder to develop an educational curriculum, becoming the lead architect of the need-driven approach to inventing that has become known as the biodesign innovation process.

Yock and Makower led Stanford Biodesign together for four years until Makower returned to the private sector to focus full time on entrepreneurship and technology development. However, he maintained close ties to Stanford as an adjunct professor of medicine and as an adviser and mentor at the center. As its new director, Makower has been appointed to an endowed professorship.  

“Hearing that Josh was interested in the director position was like finding out that Steph Curry is eligible to play on your college basketball team,” Yock said. “We’re delighted to welcome him back to lead Stanford Biodesign into its next 20 years.”  

Makower has pioneered many procedures and technologies that have transformed health care. Earlier this year, he was selected for membership in the National Academy of Engineering for his invention of balloon sinuplasty and for other innovations. Balloon sinuplasty is a minimally invasive treatment for chronic sinus inflammation; it uses a small balloon catheter to drain the large nasal sinus. 

“Josh is among the top health technology inventors and entrepreneurs of his generation, and to have him return to Biodesign as its next director is a great privilege and opportunity for the program and Stanford,” said Jennifer Cochran, PhD, professor and chair of bioengineering. 

“At this stage in my career I’m thrilled to spend more of my time training the next generation of innovators and working with the Stanford Biodesign team to advance health technology innovation at Stanford and around the world,” Makower said.  

Founding Stanford Biodesign

Yock created Stanford Biodesign to focus on technology translation in health care. Together, he and Makower launched its educational offerings, based on the premise that innovation could be taught.

“Josh, who had created and tested an innovation process as head of the strategic innovation group at Pfizer and later ExploraMed, took the lead in developing the biodesign innovation process, which provides aspiring innovators with a step-by-step approach to inventing and bringing new technologies to patients,” Yock said. “This methodology is now at the heart of everything we do at Stanford Biodesign.”

Today, Stanford Biodesign offers a full-time postdoctoral fellowship program, a fellowship for Stanford faculty from medicine and engineering, multiple undergraduate and graduate courses, global innovation training partnerships, executive education, and numerous grant programs that provide funding and mentoring to innovators with promising ideas. To date, more than 3.4 million people have been helped by technologies invented by trainees during their time at Stanford Biodesign, and the biodesign innovation process has been widely adopted by universities and training programs around the world. 

Leading Stanford Biodesign forward

As he steps up in August, Makower plans to first do “a lot of listening” to understand what the center is doing right and what might be improved. He is particularly committed to advancing the center’s focus on racial and gender equity and inclusion, with the ultimate goals of increasing diversity at the center and across the industry at large, as well as promoting the use of technology to improve health care access for all patients.

With the economic downturn from the pandemic still looming, Makower also intends to prioritize the center’s focus on value, emphasizing the need for innovators to plan from the very beginning to develop solutions that are economically sustainable.

Another area he hopes to explore is innovation policy. “If we can develop data-driven observations about the way certain regulatory, economic and social policies support or suppress innovation, we can develop a policy framework that can be used by communities, institutions and governments to enable new technologies to safely reach patients more efficiently and effectively,” he said. “I’m excited to engage with others in the Stanford community to make this happen.”

Makower, who has more than 300 patents and patent applications, has had a significant effect on patient care through technologies he has developed as the founder and executive chairman of health technology incubator ExploraMed, and as the head of medical technology investing for NEA, a venture capital firm. As the new director of Stanford Biodesign, he will move into a special partner role with NEA and maintain his chairmanship with ExploraMed.  

“I plan to do my very best to live up to Paul’s legacy and help ensure that the next 20 years are as successful as the first,” Makower said. “I’m very grateful that he plans to stay involved, so that when I find myself asking, ‘What would Paul do?’ he’ll be here to answer.”



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