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A Father's Example Leads to a Lifetime Passion for Innovation

By Dave DeFusco

Lorraine Marchand, a Katz School biotechnology adjunct professor,  signs her book, The Innovation Mindset, for Columbia University students.

When Lorraine Hudson Marchand, an industry professor in the M.S. in Biotechnology Management and Entrepreneurship, was 12 years old, her father took her and her brother to a Hot Shoppes in Wheaton, MD, three mornings in a row during summer break. After they were seated, their father handed them stopwatches, three-color pens, and composition books. Over eggs and orange juice, they were instructed to observe the wait staff and determine what was slowing table turnover.

“My father told the waitress and the manager about our project and asked if we could talk to them afterward,” said Marchand, who teaches courses in pharmacology product development, entrepreneurship and venture creation at the Katz School of Science and Health.

The Innovation Mindset was published by Columbia Business School.

The reason for the slow turnover, they determined, was simple: sugar packets. Diners crumpled them up after using them, spilling granules on the table, seats and floor, adding time to cleanup. After the third day, the Hudsons huddled at home where they created a prototype of a plastic cube with two compartments—one for unopened packets and the other for used ones. It was also designed to hold ads for local business.

“The restaurant manager loved it,” said Marchand, formerly general manager of life sciences at IBM Watson Health. “In fact, she loved it so much, she not only bought them for her restaurant, she promoted it to Marriott brass. By the end of the following year, they ended up in Hot Shoppes throughout the Baltimore, Washington area. That’s when I got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, because I found out that problem-solving was fun.”

The Hudsons ended up trademarking their creation, The Sugar Cube, and earned royalties from it. That experience, as well as spending three decades developing new products at Bristol-Myers Squibb, LabCorp, J&J, HP and IBM, inspired Marchand to write the book, The Innovation Mindset: Eight Essential Steps to Transform Any Industry, published in September by Columbia Business School.

In The Innovation Mindset, she shares her eight laws of innovation, a formula for driving significant and lasting transformation in any organization. Marchand emphasizes the frame of mind needed to spark the innovation process, underscoring the importance of creating a problem-solving culture and supporting personal curiosity, passion and talent. She pinpoints the strengths shared by the big ideas that gain traction and debunks the myths that hold back aspiring creators.

Having spent her career in a male-dominated field, Marchand is well aware of the perception that the best new ideas spring only from the minds of men. In the book, she draws on her own experience as co-founder of four startups in discussing how to support women’s entrepreneurship and highlights the contributions of underrepresented innovators. At the end, she includes the special tribute, A Women’s Innovator’s Hall of Fame, to acknowledge great female innovators throughout history.

“Not only are women fully capable of marshaling the imagination and the vision—not to mention patience and persistence—that it takes to develop a breakthrough idea,” said Marchand, “they are doing it—and have done it. Like much else about women’s history, we just don’t know their names as well as the men.”

Early in her career as a science writer for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Marchand chronicled the sequencing of the human genome and the development of the first biologics and gene therapies for cancer and rare diseases, like cystic fibrosis, as well as a 10-year clinical trial on Type I diabetics to determine whether intensive glucose control could help reduce complications, such as eye and kidney disease. Her work drew praise from upper management, but a male colleague seeking a promotion took her aside one day and told her that she was “making him look bad.”

“I had created a new bar or a new level," she said, "and it was no longer the Old Boys Club that he joined when he had arrived at the organization."

Her colleague’s patronizing attitude didn’t deter her. She eventually became the founding director of NIH’s Diabetes Education Program, which was launched in cooperation with the federal Centers for Disease Control.

“I certainly understood the process of bringing stakeholders together, interviewing, getting varying points of view and synthesizing all of that,” she said. “A lot of my skills directly applied to the position and I was able to develop some new ones, like managing.”

In another clinical trial on diabetes, Marchand was the first to broaden the study population to include women, as well as African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders. She recruited nearly 3,000 patients in 18 months, cutting the time of the trial in half. The trial received so much notice for both its efficiency and diversity that Marchand was recruited by the clinical research department at Bristol-Myers Squibb to improve their operations around patient recruitment.

“The way we designed the trial, the messaging and the research itself turned out to be absolutely seminal,” she said.

When COVID-19 struck, she decided to combine all her government and corporate experience into The Innovative Mindset. Those experiences have also informed her approach to teaching at the Katz School, where she draws on the example of her father, a teacher and inventor himself who challenged her throughout her upbringing to come up with three solutions for every problem she encountered. Her students remind her of the enthusiasm she felt during those summer days at the Hot Shoppes.

“I thought I had the cream of the crop at Princeton and Columbia but, honestly, Katz School students rival those MBA students,” said Marchand, who is also an adjunct professor of management and a member of the Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Management Program Advisory Board at Columbia Business School. “They’re curious and dedicated and just wonderful to work with.”