Twenty-four years ago, Michael Berman was hired as a product manager by the interventional cardiology unit of a tiny Minneapolis company that had zero revenue and was awaiting FDA approval for its first device.
The company was SciMed Life Systems. Its cardiology division’s first products, whose development and sales Berman oversaw, were catheters for guiding angioplasty balloons into the blood stream in order to open obstructed vessels. SciMed’s catheters were especially thin, flexible, and maneuverable, and would soon come to dominate the market. Their success helped drive SciMed’s purchase by Massachusetts-based Boston Scientific in 1995 for $1.4 billion.
These days, Berman is helping build new SciMeds. He has emerged as one of Minnesota’s most influential med-tech angel investors. Berman has cofounded two business incubators and cofounded, invested in, or joined the board of 14 medical device companies.
“I’m a junkie for developing new, interesting technologies that have great potential and can have a big clinical impact, and the best place and way of doing that is in the context of start-up companies,” he says. “That’s where most of the interesting high-potential innovation happens, and that’s what I love doing the most.”
A native of Ithaca, New York, Berman and his wife, Judith, lived in Israel for five years after he earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial and labor relations at Cornell University in 1979. After returning to the U.S., Berman earned an MBA at Cornell and then followed Judith when she became a professor of molecular genetics at the University of Minnesota. “I started scrambling to find a job, and SciMed was the company that offered me one,” he recalls.
After helping launch SciMed’s first balloon angioplasty catheter, Berman pushed hard in 1987 to develop the company’s second-generation balloon catheter technology. “Getting the resources and teams in place for those projects was not easy, but they turned out to be company makers,” Berman recalls. “Absent that investment, the company might have fizzled. With those technologies, we were able to grow the company very, very rapidly.”
SciMed was the fifth catheter-based cardiology business to gain FDA approval in the U.S. Within four years, it was number one in the global market. There were times when SciMed had twice the market share of its closest competitor. “I’d say Mike’s biggest accomplishment was that he was at the epicenter in taking a complex, dynamic, highly competitive, technology-driven business global,” says Dale Spencer, who was SciMed’s CEO.