There is a different story behind every entrepreneur and understanding that story is key to understanding what drives them. We spoke to Brent Sugimoto, a Fellow and WAVE (’14) alum, about his journey. From engineering to entrepreneurship to marketing, Brent has done it all. With over a decade of experience, Brent reflects on his career pre-and post-MBA.
Brent started out his professional career as an engineer, working as a consultant in the medical devices industry. His foray into entrepreneurship started even before his MBA – having been one of the founding members of Corvia Medical, a medical devices company that specifically addresses heart failure. As a consultant recruited onto the founding team, what excited Brent about this idea was that it addressed a need that surgeons had and was not being met by the industry. Further, since pharma companies were the ones who focused on heart failure, it allowed for the team to work in a new space that hadn’t been tapped into before. What was challenging about this venture? The feasibility of the device, for one. While the opportunity clearly existed, it was all up to the engineers to actually build the device. There was also no clear path in terms of regulatory restrictions, especially since the product was in a fairly new space. Further, there was the issue of acquiring reimbursement from health care policies like MediCare/MedicAid, which was a very big challenge as that is what drives consumers to try the product. Today, Corvia Medical is a successful company that is in the process of being acquired. As a founding member, Brent is very excited about this.
Having worked in medical device marketing for over a decade, he wanted to get some foundation in core marketing and felt that the Consumer Products Goods (CPG) industry was the best place to gain this perspective. With this in mind, he joined the Center for Brand and Product Management at the Wisconsin School of Business in August 2012 and went on to do his summer internship in brand management at Procter & Gamble.
During his second year, Brent was selected to be a Fellow in the inaugural Fellowship in Enterprise Development Program in the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship, an experience that left a very deep impact on him. As someone with a passion for new product development and brand marketing in conjunction with entrepreneurship, Brent found that the opportunity to speak to a variety of entrepreneurs with diverse experiences was very eye-opening. “The hardest thing with entrepreneurship is taking the first step,” he admits. “So it was interesting to see how other people have done it, and their takeaways from that experience.” He recalled how encouraging it was to listen to a speaker who participated in the Distinguished Entrepreneurs Lunch program who shared a little bit about the major personal risk he had undertaken with his venture and how it eventually paid out.
His project, while in the WAVE class, was also in the medical devices field, specifically in developing hearing aids. He found that the support he got during the Fellowship program as well as the myriad of opportunities he was offered as a Fellow helped him with the project and to understand the various facets of starting a new venture in new product development from a more experienced point of view.
In hindsight, I asked him if there was anything he would have done differently at Corvia, taking into account his experience in the Fellowship and WAVE class. He admitted that the initial market research and surveying was done on a very small scale – they had talked to doctors they had close relationships with who might not have been their core customers. “Now, I have a better understanding of the tools available and how to efficiently survey customers in order to access the market size.”
After graduating in May 2014 with his MBA, Brent moved back to Boston to work for Vention Medical in brand management. His role was mainly in marketing and addressing the functional needs of clients. He recently joined Beaver Visitech International (BVI) as a Global Product Manager. BVI is the largest ophthalmic surgical medical device company and what attracted Brent to this opportunity was the fact that his role was now to actually find the real drivers for business. “It is more brand-related, more commodity,” he comments. It also ties back to his coursework in new product development and entrepreneurship. Identifying the opportunity, finding revenue sources and bringing in products that aren’t already in the market are ways to be entrepreneurial without a necessarily starting a company – a different perspective on the concept that is seldom considered.
Any tips for budding entrepreneurs? “Don’t be gun-shy.” He says, right away. “Go out, experiment, talk to people, form teams and try out your ideas. You have to have the imagination and the drive to find the opportunities that you want and take risks without too many consequences.”