AxoGen CEO Karen Zaderej Named A Florida Entrepreneur of the Year

Karen Zaderej

As a female chief executive officer in the healthcare industry Karen Zaderej often stands out in a male-dominated industry. This month she stood out for another reason – as the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 Award winner for the state of Florida in the healthcare category.

Zaderej said she typically stands out as the lone woman in a group shot of her peers. Even among the other entrepreneur winners in additional categories, she remained the lone female for Florida. She noted that there is still a glass ceiling that “limits the opportunity” for women to be fully recognized and contribute as capable leaders. However, Zaderej noted some investors are “putting their money where their mouths are” in order to promote diversity at the C-suite level and on boards of directors.

“In healthcare, there’s a proactive view that boards need to become more diversified. It’s good for boards and companies, but it’s also a better recognition of who is making the majority of healthcare decisions. In most families, it’s the mother who is making those healthcare calls,” Zaderej said.

Women, she said, are still a minority in the industry. She noted that she still has a concern someone will make an immediate assumption that she’s not a business leader, but someone who will “get you coffee.” She said women are often assumed to be assistants rather than executives, which is a reality that has to be addressed.

When she was vying for the Entrepreneur of the Year award, Zaderej praised Ernst & Young for the process she went through. Zaderej said the judging panels were diverse and took a broad look at overall success in business. Zaderej said she delighted that she was selected and is able to represent all entrepreneurs while being a role model for women.

“Being feminine doesn’t mean you can’t lead. Things are possible. You can build a strong business and be disruptive in healthcare,” she said.

And AxoGen is certainly attempting to be a disruptor when it comes to the repairing of peripheral nerve damage. The company’s peripheral nerve repair platform features a comprehensive portfolio of products, including Avance Nerve Graft, an off-the-shelf processed human nerve allograft for bridging severed peripheral nerves without the comorbidities associated with a second surgical site. Additional products are AxoGuard Nerve Connector, for tensionless repair of severed peripheral nerves and Avive Soft Tissue Membrane, which is a minimally processed human umbilical cord membrane that may be used as a resorbable soft tissue covering to separate tissue layers and modulate inflammation in the surgical bed, according to company information.

With the company’s product line, Zaderej said AxoGen has tapped into a “substantial game changer” in healthcare. Addressing nerve damage can restore the quality of life in patients who live with chronic pain. Also, the company’s nerve repair programs can help reduce the need for chronic pain treatments such as opioids.

Additionally, the company continues to work on advancing its techniques that will add additional quality of life for patients. For example, Zaderej said the company is exploring the potential restoration of feeling for women who have undergone breast reconstruction. Zaderej said the company is close to moving into a commercial application, a move that could be another game changer for reconstructive surgery.

As AxoGen moves forward with its research, Zaderej will too in the Entrepreneur of the Year award. National finals will be held in November. Regardless of the outcome, Zaderej said the experience has been fun and will help raise of the profile of her company and women in leadership roles in the life science industries.

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