Q&A with Shirley Bergin, Partner, Chief Operating Officer & Chief Marketing Officer, TEDMED

Following TEDMED’s announcement last month to expand its annual gathering of thought leaders across health and medicine into a simultaneous worldwide event hosted in multiple cities, Oxeon Associate and Editor of Oxeon’s newsletter ‘F.W.I.W.’ Jamie Villadolid sat down with Shirley Bergin, Partner, COO & CMO at TEDMED, an Oxeon portfolio company. The two discussed TEDMED’s growth in recent years, its core mission and what the road ahead looks like as the company continues its global expansion. [dropcap]Q:[/dropcap] You’ve worked closely alongside TEDMED Curator and Chairman Jay Walker for about 15 years now, since the early days of Priceline.com. What was the initial motivation behind you, Jay and your leadership team getting involved with TEDMED and assuming ownership in 2011, and how did it come about?

Jay has actually been a patron of TED for some 20 years, and in 2010 its founder, Richard Saul Wurman, asked him to give a series of short talks. It was really through that that we got to know the TEDMED ethos, and we loved that mission and purpose. At the time we were already doing some work in medication adherence through our lab and as a part of our think tank, and that gave us the first behind-the-scenes viewpoint on what was happening in a very big, meaty, complex system – the healthcare system.

We see and saw that there is going to be a huge movement as people take a much more active role in demanding, prescribing and guiding the care that they receive, as well as the access to information and tools that allow them to take care of themselves in such a way that they are able to prevent many of the life threatening diseases we see today. We saw an industry just ripe for participation, ripe for multidisciplinary collaboration, ripe for people from both inside and outside of healthcare to come in and drive real change.

The more we did the research, the more we became personally invested in the opportunity to take the TEDMED brand and expand it into a meaningful platform with a unique position on health and medicine. We saw it as an opportunity to convene leaders and ideas around the important innovations in health and medicine, and a platform to form powerful collaborations that could spearhead positive, transformative impact on the future.

[dropcap]Q:[/dropcap] You had a big announcement a few weeks ago, with the news that TEDMED will hold its first live, simultaneous multi-city event this September. Can you talk a bit about the impetus behind this, and what it means for TEDMED 2014?

Even just a few years ago, TEDMED was a small, somewhat out of the way conference at a hotel in San Diego, California. Now it’s a bi-coastal gathering at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., being simulcast this year in an equally iconic venue to be announced in San Francisco where we have formed a powerful new partnership with University of California San Francisco, a top medical research institution in the world.

It is our objective to align and partner with premier medical research institutions around the globe as part of our continued host city expansion. The focus there is to recognize and amplify the importance of these medical institutions in innovation and in driving forward all of the work that needs to be done in the space.

For 2014, we're having those host cities in San Francisco and Washington D.C., but we're also simulcasting to 100+ countries to teaching hospitals, medical schools, non-profits and government agencies, to make sure that all of those on the frontlines of health and medicine are getting access to the amazing content that will be coming from the stage.

[dropcap]Q:[/dropcap] How else do you think TEDMED has grown in recent years?

I think we have started to look at ourselves as more than an annual event. We've grown up in that we recognize the importance of the TEDMED brand and our ability to convene both people and ideas as really important year-round. While that meaningful physical convening once a year is vital, we are also recognizing that part of the value of the TEDMED brand is in our ability to provoke the conversations around the great challenges of health and medicine. And that shouldn't happen simply one time a year, for a week. It should happen year round.

[dropcap]Q:[/dropcap] In conversations with you, Jay and the rest of the TEDMED team, you all emphasize the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to the world of health and medicine – can you elaborate on why this is such an integral part of TEDMED’s mission?

Some of the problems we face in health and medicine, like cancer, still require a specialist to drill down to find the answers. But many of the problems we face today have other causes that are social, economic, cultural, legal, educational, psychological and more. If we are truly going to understand the problems, much less move forward toward a successful coping mechanism or a solution, we have to see the big picture. What we really need is to embrace all of the perspectives that address the complexities that make these challenges so difficult to solve. We have to put together all of the different perspectives so that we can achieve a comprehensive understanding – that is the only way to drive successful action.

[dropcap]Q:[/dropcap] With all the innovation occurring in health and medicine, how does TEDMED provide a unique platform for thought leaders in the space, both at the annual event and year round?

We carefully produce our annual stage program as ten or twelve distinct sessions, but I think it is important to say that each talk does not occur in isolation. Those sessions are an hour and a half to an hour and forty-five minutes each, built around carefully selected themes; they are powerfully quilted together to represent a broader thematic topic we want to explore. And we are exploring it from all different perspectives, all different sorts of innovation, all different points of view, experience levels, backgrounds. We really believe from that stage you are seeing the beauty of cross-pollination: cross-fields, cross industries, cross perspectives, cross society. That's what makes each of the gatherings so powerful, and each of those talks pulled together so powerful. Each talk itself comments and supplements the others: the whole is greater than the parts. You can sum up a talk in an isolated 15-18 minute segment, but its not, it's actually a piece of a bigger puzzle.

The Great Challenges program is a perfect example of how we're continuing to elevate and showcase innovation in research and in technology year-round, covering everything from care delivery to reimbursements. It cultivates year-round conversation, whether it is through Google Hangouts or through Q&A’s or Facebook chats or the blog, it's looking to convene the community in a broad way that builds on the amazing content that came out of our annual conference. You spend the year talking about and exploring the important topics as they are amplified in the news and are awarded additional recognition and exposure and then you reconvene back at TEDMED to either revisit those and/or explore new topics that have emerged since the last time we convened.

Really the culmination of all those conversations is in some ways represented at the annual event through the community we bring together. I would say TEDMED's focus is about convening people and ideas, and those ideas are innovations. At the heart of how we look at innovation, we say it stems from the human imagination, to imagine something to be better, to imagine something to be different, to be more effective, to be more creative. And so, our objective in convening is absolutely to showcase and amplify the power of human potential as a direct output of the human imagination.

[dropcap]Q:[/dropcap] TEDMED has a host of impressive partners – how do these relationships play a key role in TEDMED’s overall mission and growth?

Our priority is for the TEDMED community to embrace and celebrate passionate, committed game-changers, intellectually curious all-stars and those on the frontlines driving the future in health and medicine we all want. TEDMED is a thought leadership platform. That's why our partners cover the broadest possible range of expertise, from the largest global corporations in health and medicine, to leading technology companies, top educational and research institutions and the most important U.S. government health agencies and institutions.

Obviously, some partners provide critical financial support and we also have key non-financial relationships as well. These include relationships with government health leaders from the U.S. Surgeon General, to the chairs and directors of the Institute of Medicine, the NIH and the CDC. With our recent announcement of a permanent relationship with UCSF, we’ve set the pace for a global series of alliances with the world's most accomplished medical research institutions, as well.

Our partners' leadership and expertise provides critical insight into the topics, innovation and themes that need to be explored, discussed and celebrated among the TEDMED community. These partners help us stay ahead of the curve with cutting-edge developments in science, policy, technology, law, markets and more. This enables us to keep the full TEDMED community informed as we address the total environment for health and medicine.

In all these ways, then, our partners are a critical part of the overall experience and our platform's larger success, from our stage program to our year-round Great Challenges discussions and our global live streaming opportunities.

[dropcap]Q:[/dropcap] Looking beyond 2014, how do you envision TEDMED’s continued evolution and what are some key goals for the future? Ultimately, how can TEDMED transform the world of health and medicine and add value on a global level?

Our evolution is toward a strong global community that is 24/7 all year round. We can transform health and medicine by acting as a super-connector for people who would never meet anywhere else, by bringing together ideas and institutions for all those important creative collisions, on a global scale. Innovation and imagination recognize no national boundaries, and neither does TEDMED. We're having some key partnership discussions now around what it will look like to bring TEDMED to the world, and to bring it to the world simultaneously.

We started off with a large domestic focus and presence, and now we're looking to expand that into conversation about the important work being done globally and around world health. That's our expansion. In 2017, we expect to be in seven cities around the world, as one annual TEDMED event occurring simultaneously across those seven stages.

Our vision is to create one week a year where the world comes together to focus on what’s new and important in health and medicine. We hope that during that time we’ll be exposing the world to the amazing progress that's being made and we're also exposing the world to all the transformative work that’s going to happen.