working at the intersection of science, healthcare & entrepreneurship

John Meslow

John Meslow, a retired Medtronic executive, envisioned the opportunity for Minnesota private college students to work on real life biomedical projects and inventions at the interface of science, medicine and business. He designed the flagship Mayo Innovation Scholars Program in partnership with Mayo Clinic in 2006. During the COVID-19 pandemic, John and his team pivoted to a virtual format and expanded project sources to include Medical Alley affiliated start-ups. Over two decades, Innovation Scholars has served as a model for other experiential learning programs and received national recognition. The program stands as the capstone of John Meslow’s distinguished career.

A proud graduate of St. Olaf College, John’s first job out of college was with International Multifoods Corp. He moved on to 3M, and then in 1968 he joined a little startup company named Medtronic as the employment manager. At Medtronic, John met Earl Bakken, an extraordinary innovator who developed the world’s first battery powered pacemaker. This experience set John on a course that would define his career for the next 31 years as he made the Medtronic Mission central to his life’s work.

John Meslow rose through the ranks to become a respected and beloved leader who would help fulfill Earl Bakken's vision for the use of electrical stimulation in the treatment of disorders of the nervous system. John played a pivotal role in the development of an entirely new field of medicine which today is known as neuromodulation. Ultimately, John became an officer of the company and President of the Neurological and Spinal Business.

John led this business during a period of extraordinary innovation in brain and spinal cord stimulation for treatment of a wide variety of diseases and conditions, including chronic pain, Parkinson's disease, essential tremor, epilepsy, dystonia and obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as novel approaches in intrathecal therapies for spinal and cerebral spasticity and management of cancer pain. Outside of the central nervous system, Medtronic was a leader in sacral nerve stimulation for overactive bladder and incontinence, as well as gastric stimulation for treating gastroparesis. Taken in total, the innovative therapies developed under John's leadership have saved lives and improved the quality of life for well over a million people and their families around the world.

John is remembered as a bold leader who would always think big. He encouraged those around him to believe that with the right team, perseverance, and a defined purpose, almost anything was possible. Working with John was a daily clinic in leadership development, and he loved developing leaders. He always focused on the importance of integrity and good judgment while interspersing his characteristic humor and humility.

John Meslow was an entrepreneur at heart. He understood the science and technology behind the products, but his passion and his great expertise was his ability to develop people. He loved coaching and mentoring emerging leaders and innovators. John was an exceptional leader because he cared deeply about developing people of all ages to achieve their full potential and had the ability to connect and make friends in all settings.

Continuing John’s legacy, Innovation Scholars engages tomorrow’s leaders from Minnesota’s private colleges and universities in the exciting and challenging work of transforming ideas into new biomedical products to improve lives. Over almost two decades, more than 900 students have participated in Innovation Scholars. John’s legacy continues to inspire the development of a new generation of medical technologies and most importantly, tomorrow’s leaders in biomedicine and innovation. (With gratitude to Scott Ward for portions of this tribute.)