Dr. Linda Maxwell and her four siblings relish education, learning and being around people who value these elevating processes.
That’s a recipe for success that the sisters – all Ivy League graduates – are gratefully willing to share in their various expert fields.
The second of five girls, Maxwell – the founder and managing director of the Biomedical Zone which is a collaborative partnership between Ryerson University and St. Michael’s Hospital — was the only Black professional to make this year’s Women’s Executive Network (WXN) Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women list.
They were celebrated at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
“It was a real honour to be nominated and to have the support behind me from Ryerson and St. Michael’s,” she said. “It’s a group effort to advance someone like that. To have been selected is probably one of the most significant honours in my career so far. It was reaffirmation that the work that we are all doing between Ryerson, St. Mike’s and the Biomedical Zone is important and impactful and that people recognize that importance. I am just one of a team that makes all of this happen. It’s a great piece of encouragement not just for me, but the whole team about what we are doing and how it matters.”
Last January, St. Michael’s and Ryerson celebrated the launch of a 20-year partnership to research and develop innovative health care solutions and to support start-up biomedical companies seeking to improve patient care. The partnership brings together Ryerson’s engineering and science strengths with St. Michael’s research and clinical expertise in a 22,000 square foot state-of-the art laboratory – iBEST (the Institute for Biomedical Engineering, Science & Technology) – where they will test practical ideas that can be brought to the patient bedside quickly.
Adjacent to iBest is the Biomedical Zone which is a 2,000 square-foot incubator that specializes in the development and commercialization of biomedical products and technologies. The Biomedical Zone is built on the model of Ryerson’s highly successful DMZ (formerly the Digital Media Zone) which is the number three ranked business incubator in North America.
Maxwell’s imprint covers the Biomedical Zone on the seventh floor of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute west building at 350 Victoria St.
“As with many great things in life, it’s all about timing,” she said of the emergence of the new zone. “I had spent a lot of time working with start-ups and in research commercialization in the United Kingdom and it was just through some rather social meetings with some of the senior management at St. Mike’s and Ryerson that the concept of a new zone came up. They were interested in creating a biomedical or health care version of a zone. Through a series of rather informed meetings, we started talking about the idea and before too long, I was asked to come in and basically architect not just the program, but the actual space.”
Unlike other incubators, the Biomedical Zone offers a combination of business and clinical development and support that’s tailored to the needs of entrepreneurs and inventors.
“There are companies in the zone that work on developing their businesses and we work with them,” Maxwell, an ear, nose and throat specialist with an interest in reconstructive facial surgery, pointed out. “It is a very high-touch interaction that we have. We really feel it’s about the quality of the company and the technology and what they are trying to do in health care that really matters. It’s not something that you could sort of commoditise and do at scale.
“It varies day-to-day on what the companies need. We spend a lot of time on the clinical engagement, getting companies in front of the right kinds of end users, whether it is doctors, nurses, patients, hospital administration or other collaborators at Ryerson like engineering students or the faculty. It really depends on the company. We have built the programs from scratch. There is nothing like this in Canada. It’s totally cutting edge.”
In addition to being a medical surgeon with health care experience in three continents, Maxwell has global experience in research commercialization, early stage capital raising and the management of health care angel investment networks.
Armed with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Oxford University, the Yale University medical school graduate is among a new breed of health service leaders.
The substantial growth in the number of physicians pursuing business management degrees doesn’t surprise Maxwell.
“I surmise that it has to do with the fact that for clinicians to continue to be the leaders they need to be in health care, you have to speak many languages,” she said. “To be a really powerful caregiver and leader, you have to be able to speak medicine, research, policy, ethics, business and government. All of these are important, especially in this country where there are shrinking resources, growing demand, a lot of cutting edge technology, artificial intelligence, data science, robotics, regenerative medicine and all this stuff going on. There are major opportunities to marry business, science and medicine in a way that benefits everyone. That, to me, is one of the core reasons why you are seeing these kinds of different conditions and I am sure you will see more variations of doctors over time.”
The offspring of Ghanaian-born medical doctor Samuel Maxwell, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer 20 years ago, and his widow Irene, a nurse who resides in the Greater Toronto Area with her daughters, the Maxwell girls beat the odds to graduate from Bathurst High School –which nine years ago renamed its library ‘The Maxwell Family Library’ – and graduate from Harvard University.
“It was tough growing up in New Brunswick as there were no other families that looked like us and, who I think, even thought like us,” said Maxwell, a founding board director of Community Empowering Enterprises which is a Youth Challenge Fund legacy initiative. “That was actually OK because it made us very strong. We had a lot of supporters and there were many who weren’t supportive of our family. Regardless, because of the isolation geographically and culturally, our family was very close and we had to be in order to survive. I have fond memories of New Brunswick. It’s a beautiful place and it is where my roots are.”
Maxwell said her parents encouraged excellence and higher learning and her late father, who migrated in 1949, is one of her most important role models.
“Growing up in New Brunswick was challenging, so for him to be a professional of African descent was hard,” she noted. “My dad was an extremely brilliant man, a hard worker and someone who never let circumstances get the best of him. If anything has got me to where I am right now, it is having seen all of the things that he had to go through and the challenges he had to overcome. He did it with such grace. He didn’t ask for a lot, but he was very proud of the things that he accomplished in difficult circumstances. He had a great appreciation for the arts and culture along with medicine and science and he enjoyed travelling.”
On her first trip to Africa four years ago, Maxwell visited the village in Kumasi where her father – a member of the Ashanti tribe — was raised.
“It was remarkable to see where he came from and where he ended up in life,” she added.
Eldest sister Dr. Cynthia Maxwell has been the University of Toronto maternal fetal medicine fellowship program director since 2009, Rita Maxwell is an Ontario Court of Appeal legal counsel and an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto, Ada Maxwell-Alleyne is the Ontario Medical Association acting director of health policy and Dina Maxwell is a risk assurance services, cybersecurity & privacy manager at PwC Canada.
“We are very grateful for all of the great fortune we have and we do actually reflect on how things have worked out so well for us,” Maxwell said. “Even if you work hard, sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. However when we get together which is regularly, we have fun and are pretty goofy. We really don’t speak about our achievements too much.”