At the beginning of this year, Keren Leshem, the CEO of OCON Healthcare, an Israel-based company, was featured in a Forbes article about the pioneers of the next generation of FemTech products.
The article dubbed Leshem as one of the three women shaping the future of women’s health. Praising OCON’s efforts to address the need for IUDs — which are the most widely accepted, long-term, and reversible contraceptive methods in the world.
Why is this such a big deal? Well, according to Forbes, there were over 1.9 billion women of reproductive age in 2019 (that’s ages 15-49). And of those women, 1.1 billion need contraceptives. OCON’s IUB™ Ballerine® fills in this role as the first and only 3D intrauterine device available in the market that is capable of acting like any IUD (reversible and ready for long-term use) while being hormone-free.
Leshem has only been with OCON since September of 2019. However, despite this short period, she has managed to boost OCON’s growth trajectory to previously unimaginable heights. To the point that the IUB™ Ballerine® is now being sold in over 30 different markets all over the world (including in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.)
What’s more, with Leshem at the helm, the company stands prouder than ever as a company for women’s health — with over 85% of the OCON team being women.
Down below, I interview this Valiant CEO myself to learn more about the secrets to her success.
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Let’s start off with a brief introduction! Where did your story begin?
Keren Leshem: I grew up in the USA and moved back to Israel to join the Army. It was only after which, that I started working in the Bio-tech industry — initially involving the incubator programs widely available in Israel and later at an investment firm managing a portfolio company.
I moved on to large(r) pharmaceuticals in Europe soon thereafter, where I headed all of its corporate development activities, and, inevitably, that led to my work here at OCON where I turned a devastated company around in a year!
What projects are you working on recently? Are there any exciting milestones that you’d like to share with our readers? (And please, don’t hesitate to delve into your achievements!)
Keren Leshem: I’m the CEO of OCON Healthcare, a pioneering company in the women’s health arena – we developed a platform to deliver drugs to the uterus in a safe, painless, and innovative way. Introducing to the market, finally, a product that takes the female anatomy into mind, created for women, and by women.
When I joined OCON in late 2019 it was on the verge of bankruptcy with a distrusting board of directors, exhausted employees, and very little market acceptance to our leading product (our IUB Ballerine®). The BOD approached me to ask for my help by stepping up to fill the CEO position and together we restructured the company in every sense of the word!
Within a year I fixed our Board (added investors and industry experts to regain their trust), I fixed my team (removed all poisonous members and added super talent!), we (the team) then fixed our products (moved (manufacturing) facilities, lowered costs of manufacturing, adjusted our go-to-market strategy, developed and replaced new distributors for our products worldwide, signed new distribution agreements totaling $16M NPV, products in clinical studies were re-evaluated and re-designed to an alternative clinical setting, we created a robust pipeline and corporate strategy for new products…). We also fixed our Patents, fixed our sales, fixed our financial situation and… CELEBRATED every single success.
I was featured in FORBES magazine after we won the Frost & Sullivan Innovation Leadership Award for our IUB (Intra Uterine Ball) and we are racing forward with an additional investment round to make sure we can finance all these expensive hobbies :)!!
I’m very proud of my team, my gut (knowing there’s something about OCON we shouldn’t give up on). Just proud of the women out there that support us and push forward to help bring women-specific technology and solutions to better our lives and increase our therapeutic choices. I have no doubt we’re building a women’s health unicorn here at OCON, and I look forward to what the future holds for us.
What struggles have you faced to get to where you are? Has there been any moment during your career where you considered giving it all up?
Keren Leshem: I’m a pathological optimist! So, giving up was, and is, never an option for me. I’m also the kind of person who would always choose to hear the positives and not the negatives of a situation. Having a team of professionals (mostly women!) around me has also become a powerful driving force — as I trust that they will do their job, do it well, and not give up either.
At one point, we did suffer a regulatory issue with our product that could have ended in a recall. But, with resilience and hard work and keeping our chins up (OK and telling my team that their problems are not my concern! ha-ha) they fixed it! Even now, while we’re facing fierce competition from large pharmaceuticals and dealing with the havoc that was created in some of the markets we’re involved in — which is hurting our sales and bottom line, there’s no way we’re ever going to give up!
These products and our future pipeline are SUPER important for women’s health — we’re on the path to treating conditions such as endometriosis (1 in 10 women), Myomas/non-cancerous tumors (7 in 10 women!), cancers, abnormal uterine bleeding (1 in 4 women!), etc… and giving women options in contraception that are safe and effective – how can we ever give up?? Who will do this for us women if we don’t??
What’s a common mistake that entrepreneurs make that you believe is easily managed?
Keren Leshem: Entrepreneurs don’t listen. Now, don’t get me wrong, this can be a good thing in some cases. Being stubborn and learning independence is important as an entrepreneur. But, even so, if you want to be truly successful, you need to have AT LEAST 1 person, your mentor/your go-to person, that you LISTEN to.
Remember, people that are helping you and have a vested interest in you will help you rise. It’s because of this that I trust in people (more than not) and I think that communication is KEY to that.
How has the pandemic affected your business? Have these changes been positive or negative?
Keren Leshem: COVID has become my best teacher. It helped shape our company in so many ways that it’s hard to list them all. But to name a few:
Because of COVID, we have made incredible progress with finding and signing on distributors over Zoom. We raised capital over Zoom and even had physicians training over Zoom. It saved, and is saving, our company so much money and time in travel — it’s wonderful.
Having said that though, women needing to fit an IUD (our IUB Ballerine®) have a hard time going to their OBGYN or health care provider to insert one because of all the lockdowns — that has slightly hurt our sales. Thankfully, now that the restrictions have been slightly lifted, business is beginning to pick up again.
What makes OCON stand out from the rest of the competition?
Keren Leshem: In women’s health, there are not many companies that have products that cater to multi-billion-dollar markets, a pipeline nor an R&D team that can make this pipeline come to life. OCON is a different animal in that regard — there’s no one like us!
We have commercial products, products that are in the pre-pivotal clinical phase, and products in the pipeline that brings so much value to the market and our investors. Even more than that, we’re becoming a hub for women’s health, a leader in the education of women and their freedom of choice, and have continued to evolve to become a technology hub as we continue to grow.
What do you consider are your strengths when dealing with staff workers, colleagues, senior management, and customers?
Keren Leshem: I think the most important thing is to be humble and to be able to laugh about every situation (as much as possible). Humor is a great way to start and end conversations, it allows people to be at ease when they communicate with each other and adds a lot to the atmosphere in any meeting or call. I HIGHLY recommend it.
Thankfully, we don’t deal with lifesaving here. So, I don’t take myself too seriously — ego and honor are two things that don’t join me at the workplace. To that end, I trust the people around me to do their job.
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What have you done to embody the values of your company’s brand?
Keren Leshem: Dealing with women’s health like we do, it’s crucial that OCON’s brand and my personal brand are aligned. For example, I immediately inserted/used our technology for contraception in my own body and believe wholeheartedly in giving back to the community. So, product trust and company values are, quite literally, a part of me!
I’m also a woman. So, I lead with passion and chose my team (of mostly women) to be mindful of our brand and self as well.
As a leader, how do you manage the people in your team to ensure that they are performing at their best?
Keren Leshem: I ask questions. I communicate. I pay attention to each and every staff member. I’m also a very driven, results-oriented leader. And I let my team’s results speak for themselves.
Do you have any advice to give to our younger readers — who are, at this very moment, hoping to follow your footsteps as an entrepreneur?
Keren Leshem: 3 MOST important things:
- Learn/Know. Learn the product/industry/service you’re interested in. And learn it well so that when you sit around the table with other professionals you’re in the know.
- Network. You have to be able to consult and take advantage of knowledge other people have and to allow others to celebrate your wins and spread your vision. Networking is also very helpful for finding people for your team, for your board, and your fundraising processes.
GUTS! That’s almost all you need. NO FEAR. Just go ahead and raise those millions, call that celebrity, or publish that paper/photo/voice. What’s the worst that could happen???
What’s your favorite quote?
“Alone you’ll be fast.
Together you’ll get far.
TEAM – Together Everyone Achieves More!”
That’s my motto 🙂
ValiantCEO would like to thank Keren for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Keren or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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