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Entrepreneurial Surgeon Channels Athletics Into Innovations


To say that athletics is an integral part of Kathryn Stecco's life would be a gross understatement. The surgeon and entrepreneur says that athletics has played a huge role in shaping her career.

Kathryn Stecco

To say that athletics is an integral part of Kathryn Stecco’s life would be a gross understatement.

Stecco, a surgeon, and co-founder and medical director of Panthera MedTech, a company specializing in the development of new technologies in mobile health, says that athletics has played a huge role in shaping her career.

“[Athletics] permeates every aspect of my career,” she explains. “I’ve been an athlete my entire life. And the type of mental training you learn from athletics is directly related to the techniques that I use in my career—both in medicine and the business of medicine.”

Learning Early

Stecco grew up in what she describes as “a very blue-collar family.” Her family didn’t have many resources, and her parents were not educated. She found herself at a very young age having to figure out how to hustle, how to make money, how to be creative, and how to put herself in a situation where she could get into college and graduate school.

“I had to figure out how I was going to finance that,” Stecco explains.

She worked at odd jobs, but more importantly, learned how to be creative from the time she was very young. She had to figure out how she was going to fund her education on her own. Ultimately, developing that mindset helped her get where she is today—not just a surgeon, but an entrepreneur, a martial arts expert, and a concierge physician to athletes.

“It’s hard to sit in a classroom, get an MBA, and become a good business person, because you really can’t teach that type of entrepreneurial mindset in a classroom,” Stecco says. “You’re almost born with it, or you’re not.”

That philosophy has not only impacted her approach to medicine, but to life and business as well.

“I love working with people who come from rough times,” she explains. “And I will take some kid who grew up poor and made it on their own versus a very well-educated MBA any day. Because the person who has had to struggle has that drive that you really can’t teach. They’re open to looking at all possibilities to succeed because there’s nothing to go back to.”

Complete Immersion

Dabbling is not a word in Stecco’s vocabulary. She believes that if you want to succeed, if you want to be great at anything, you have to immerse yourself in it 100%. Why? Because there are other people—your competitors—who are immersing themselves 100%. And if you work at your craft half of the time, or even three-quarters of the time, you’ll lose out to someone who’s training 100% of the time.

“Whether it’s sports, medicine, medical device development or teaching—whatever you’re doing, you have to learn every aspect of your craft if you want to be successful,” she says. “I work directly with engineers. I’m heavily involved with devices. And that gestalt type of training gives you the background you need to be able to talk about the subject literally.”

Stecco says she finds inspiration in her patients, as well as in her own frustrations with not being able to solve a medical problem. That frustration fans the fire to develop innovative, new technologies.

But her creativity is also fueled through her love for animals. She owns 4 shelter cats, one shelter dog and 2 Maltese, and has rehabbed a shelter cat with 3 legs.

“I work with animals, and I’m very inspired by animal movement,” Stecco explains. “Watching how animals move inspires me to come up with better designs to help people. It triggers a whole host of other imaginative processes.”

Athletics Spawns Creativity

Stecco has been training for 7 years in mixed martial arts and kickboxing, but laughs at the thought that she is an expert. What she takes from her training is recognition of the close relationship mixed martial arts bears to physics, movement, and body positioning.

“People hear mixed martial arts and they think fighting, and it’s dangerous,” she says. “But it’s very cerebral and technical. I gain a lot of inspiration for devices and understanding how the body could move better, and become more mobile, more fluid. We have a couple of designs we’re working on right now that were directly inspired by my personal kickboxing experience.”

Does Stecco consider herself a creative individual? Perhaps, but she’s more about relieving frustration and fixing problems where there are no solutions. She says it’s the universal queue to do something to figure out how to squelch the frustration.

“I have a lot of patients who are mixed martial artists,” Stecco explains. “I see a broad range of injuries, and the frustration of having to deal with them. You see the same thing over and over again, and you try to come up with better ways to fix the problems so they don’t actually happen.”

Creating and Changing

Stecco, who received a full scholarship to play for the women’s basketball team at College of the Holy Cross, and was a graduate assistant coach for the University of Southern California women’s basketball team, still makes time to get onto the basketball court.

“I grew up on the east coast,” she says. “Played basketball outdoors, street sports, all the time. I now have a court right around the corner from my house, and I’m always there. It’s very meditative. I’ll go there and shoot all the time and come up with ideas. It’s a kind of meditation to let your unconscious mind sort of flourish while you’re shooting baskets.”

As her mind flourishes, problem-solving ideas come into focus. And when those ideas become innovations that change a patient’s quality of life for the better, Stecco feels rewarded.

“The money is secondary,” she says. “The main motivation for many of my technologies is sparked because I see a problem that needs to be solved. Whether it’s people or animals, the technology is transferrable.”

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