Erik Halvorsen is a highly sought-after public speaker and advisor in trends and innovations in healthcare. He is always on the lookout for ways to improve patients’ lives and transform the healthcare industry. Often described as a “translator,” one of his many talents is the ability to speak science with businesspeople and speak business with science people. Erik has received numerous awards and accolades over his career, including named Top 40 Under 40 in Boston in 2011, a current member of the Forbes Technology Council, and named one of the Top 30 Chief Innovation Officers in healthcare in 2018.
From a very young age, Erik Halvorsen wanted to be a doctor. He attended the University of Virginia and earned his B.A. in Psychology/Pre-Med. He then went to his M.S. in Anatomy from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine before returning to the University of Virginia to earn his Ph.D. in Pharmacology while researching Parkinson’s disease.
For nearly 14 years in Boston, Erik led numerous teams focused on life sciences R&D across the Harvard system. After all of this time in Boston, Erik was recruited to become the first Director of Innovation for the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical center in the country, including leading institutions like MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, Methodist Hospital and Rice University. In Texas, Erik and his team established the TMC Innovation Institute and its flagship startup accelerator, TMCx, as the premier destination for healthcare startups.
Currently, Erik is a Partner leading up the therapeutics vertical at pH Partners, a boutique healthcare investment bank based in Austin, TX, and with offices around the country. Erik focuses on assisting innovative healthcare companies in securing capital and strategic partnerships to deliver better treatments to all patients in this current role.
Our Interview With Erik Halvorsen
Question: What’s the most important thing we should know about you?
Erik Halvorsen: Probably the most important thing about me is that I take my work very seriously and have tremendous pride in a job well done—but I don’t take myself too seriously. It’s important to enjoy your work and the people you work with and take time for yourself and your family. I have not always had balance in my life, but I feel like I really do right now. . .which is very comforting.
Question: Name the most impactful lesson you learned from failure.
Erik Halvorsen: We all accumulate failures over our careers. Big ones. Little ones. And each can serve as an opportunity to learn and grow. I think I am self-aware enough and can reflect on these times to get a little better at what I do and as a person. Most of my failures consistently reinforce one key takeaway. . .I don’t know everything. It keeps me humble and, importantly, makes me a life-long learner.
Question: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Erik Halvorsen: I have been very fortunate over my career to work with some fantastic people—doctors, scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs. Most of my career has been finding great ideas and turning them into companies and products that benefit society. Picking one is too hard—it’s like trying to say which of my kids is my favorite!!! That being said, some of the most rewarding work I have done has been in pediatrics, where I have helped develop new diagnostic tests and drugs to treat rare diseases and cancer. I also have a constant feeling that my best accomplishment is yet to come. . .which is very motivating.
Question: What did you waste the most time on when you were first starting your career?
Erik Halvorsen: Trying to always “win.” As I have gotten older and gained experience, finding win-win solutions whenever possible has been a goal. My job often involves brokering deals between investors and companies—or finding strategic partners or acquirers of a company or asset. Relationships matter, and your reputation does as well if you want to be in business for a long time. So in each transaction, everyone must walk away satisfied—it is definitely not a win-at-all-costs approach.
Question: Name a tool you use for work that you can’t live without.
Erik Halvorsen: It’s gotta be the obvious one. . .ZOOM!
Question: What is your favorite hobby and why?
Erik Halvorsen: When I get some alone time, I like to go golfing with friends—or during the week, hit the driving range and listen to music while hitting balls. It is very cathartic. But one of my favorite activities around the house is to cook with my kids. It’s great to get them involved in chopping vegetables and just being part of the creation of the meal that we sit down together to eat.
Question: What excited you the most about your industry right now?
Erik Halvorsen: The activity and innovation in pharma right now are unprecedented. Genetic medicines are here and getting better—from small molecule drugs targeting specific mutations or gene therapy and gene editing approaches. We are on the precipice of curing a number of diseases that have been untreatable up to now. I also think you are going to see fundamentally new ways of treating cancer by turning cancer against itself and tricking it into a beacon for the immune system.
Question: What concerns you most about your industry right now?
Erik Halvorsen: The delivery of healthcare itself is broken. It’s far too expensive, and we have severe problems with health equity in this country. Digital health has been the darling of investors for years now, but there is so much noise out there, and companies struggle to demonstrate ROI or improved patient outcomes. The cost will continue to be a significant factor that could inhibit innovation and adoption of new technology and delivery models. . .leaving us with the status quo, which is not sustainable.
Question: What’s the greatest risk you’ve ever taken?
Erik Halvorsen: I occasionally eat my wife’s cooking. Does that count?
Question: Name one small habit that positively impacts your productivity.
Erik Halvorsen: I read for one hour before I go to bed and 30-45 minutes when I first wake up in the morning. Scientific articles, the day’s news, press releases on important deals in healthcare and life sciences. Keeping current and staying ahead of the curve is very important.
Question: What tips do you have for getting a seat at the table?
Erik Halvorsen: Make yourself invaluable. Be an expert in something. Technical, logistical, psychological, financial. . .whatever it is, be the most knowledgeable member of the team in an area, and you will have a seat at the table.
Question: What book has made the biggest impact on your life?
Erik Halvorsen: Goodman & Gilman’s “The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics.” The Bible when it comes to pharmaceuticals and how they work.
Question: Do you value intelligence or common sense more? Why?
Erik Halvorsen: Common sense tells me I shouldn’t have to choose. . .so I won’t.
Question: What would you consider to be the perfect day?
Erik Halvorsen: Wake up early before the wife and kids. Do a little reading with a cup of coffee. Have breakfast ready for everyone when they wake up, then head out to get in a quick round of golf. Come back and play with the kids—video games or swimming in the pool. Then we cook together and have family dinner followed by a movie on the couch with buttery popcorn! I think I just made my plans for this weekend. . .