Simon Stertzer

Keep abreast of what is going on in your field, and with the competition, on a daily basis.


In a long and productive career, Dr. Simon H. Stertzer has sought to improve treatment modalities in cardiovascular disease. A close colleague of the late Andreas R. Gruentzig, MD, the pioneer of balloon angioplasty (PTCA) in Switzerland, Dr. Stertzer was the first to perform PTCA in the United States in 1978. Dr. Stertzer’s contributions to clinical cardiology include advancement of rotational atherectomy, sheathless coronary and drug delivery stents, cardiac transplant molecular diagnostics, and currently, direct stem cell implantation into the heart muscle of patients with heart failure.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

When I was actively working full time at Stanford some twenty years ago, I learned that a fledgling company in Silicon Valley was working on a device it patented to deliver cells, chemicals, hormones, and other biologically active substances into the heart muscle. The owner of that fledgling company, called BioCardia, had a brother who was one of my students at Stanford. We decided to join forces outside of the University, in an effort to develop a specific program to promote the advance of directly injected cells into the heart muscle.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Being an Emeritus professor at Stanford, this is the first full year that I have not been teaching aspects of cardiovascular medicine, but I have continued to pursue numerous activities at BioCardia as well as in other commercial areas of biotech. As a Board Chairman of a public company, issues of management, scientific and personnel challenges, as well as developing other projects, consume so much time that before you realize it, the day is done.

How do you bring ideas to life?

By staying very close to advances in biotech- and based on almost 50 years of clinical experience, ideas that blend technological advance with extant biological problems, become constant stimuli to new ideas. Bringing them to life is a matter of dealing with a staff of engineers and having the financial resources.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Increasing the ability of molecular biology to alter the future course of disease treatment.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

As a past chair of Cardiovascular Medicine at Stanford once said, “Simon always follows through with what he says he is going to do.”

What advice would you give your younger self?

In retrospect, with what I know now, I would have gone into areas of medicine that are less reliant on large numbers of people to execute the specialty. And I also would have chosen an area of specialization that is less affected by the private and public insurance problems that plague medicine today.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

True entrepreneurial advances have a momentum of their own, if they are properly handled. And if they are really properly handled, then they can get by on less venture capital dilution than most people believe.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Keep abreast of what is going on in your field, and with the competition, on a daily basis.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Reduce the technical expertise required to operate your technology, to the point where using a device becomes more like using a bottle opener than playing the violin. In other words, entrepreneurs should develop technologies that are easily adopted by practitioners, and are not so complicated that they require re-training. There must be a degree of simplicity in the advancement, or it loses its value.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I once brought Venture Capitalists into a company during its very early stages of development, because I believed their capital strength would provide the staying power necessary to bring the product to market and profitability. But organizing a company around venture capital rather than private or corporate money, allows the VC to dictate product development, control management, and dictate exit strategies. In my experience, VCs emphasize the various aspects of product development that they think will achieve early profitability, sometimes to the detriment of the scientific process necessary to achieve adoption by the medical community. I did not overcome this challenge; the company failed.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Create sensors for intracardiac and intrathoracic pressure measurement which involve minimal difficulty to install, and are clinically accurate.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently gave a large tip to someone who fixed some plumbing in our house. I always appreciate people who can do repair work that I cannot, show up quickly, save me aggravation, and are honest.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

The medical journal services that summarize advances reported in the literature, save a practitioner or scientist hours of reading journals which are so voluminous that it is difficult to keep up with important advances. These services offer a distillation of unimportant literature so that one can focus only on what is truly significant.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I think the book that most affected me in my life is “The Lonely Crowd”, written by David Reisman et al., published in 1950. I read it when I was in college.

What is your favorite quote?

Thee it behooves another road to take, answered he when he saw me weeping, if from this savage place thou wouldst escape.” Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Canto I, v91-93.

Key Learnings:

  • Always stay ahead of your competition – and know exactly what they’re up to at all times.
  • If you build a technical product, make sure your customers can use it seemingly and without any technical know-how.
  • Always appreciate those who can deliver on what they promise.