A visionary in the field of health information technology, Michele Kang founded Cognosante in 2008 to address a critical gap she had identified in the health IT market—the need for a smart, nimble company, unencumbered by legacy systems and unafraid to challenge accepted wisdom. Under her leadership, Cognosante has emerged as one of the most trusted partners to Federal and state health agencies, growing significantly year over year.
One of the inaugural members of 100 Women Leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), Michele was honored as 2015 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® for the Washington, DC, region, then went on to win the national award for the Services category. Also in November 2015, Michele was named Executive of the Year among contracting organizations with revenues of $75 million to $300 million during the 13th Annual Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards™. In 2012, she received Mosaic Woman Trailblazer Award by Diversity Woman in recognition of her outstanding accomplishments and leadership in business.
Michele created the Cognosante Foundation in 2012 to spread the benefits of Cognosante’s growth and success to a number of deserving causes. The Foundation’s focus is to help young people, the underprivileged, and veterans who have fallen on hard times to develop critical skills and competencies to become productive contributors to society while having fulfilling professional careers for themselves.
Prior to founding Cognosante, Michele served as vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman’s Health Solutions, where she built a health business that provided mission-critical, enterprise-wide health applications, interoperable architecture, and large-scale systems integration and engineering to leading health organizations.
Michele received a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Chicago and a Master’s degree in Public and Private Management from the Yale School of Management.
As an entrepreneur and CEO in a STEM field, the most frequently asked questions I receive tend to revolve around a few themes: how did you get where you are, what would you tell other women striving to succeed in a STEM field, and how are you contributing to the STEM ecosystem? The questions are different, but the answers share very common threads.
First: Trust your Gut.
Without a doubt, the most important advice I can offer any professional – female or male – is to trust your gut and follow your passion and instinct.
Growing up in South Korea, I knew I had a deep aptitude for math and economics, and I believed I had the ability to lead. Yet even though I was at the top of my class, I was told the best I could hope for was to be hired as the assistant to a CEO. Moving to the US to pursue my goals was not an easy decision, but I made it because I trusted my passion and instincts. It wasn’t just my aptitude for math that drove me – it was my belief that being a woman wasn’t a sufficient reason not to put that aptitude to work in the business world. Trusting that instinct brought me to the University of Chicago, and later Yale School of Management – two places where those math skills came in very handy.
I left Northrup Grumman to start Cognosante in the summer of 2008. Shortly thereafter, the economic downturn brought with it tremendous unanticipated challenges. Yet despite the rapid shift in economic climate and the associated challenges raising capital, I persevered because I trusted my vision. I knew I was making a sound bet – that Medicaid would be the center of gravity for healthcare transformation – and as a result, Cognosante was well-positioned to take advantage of market trends when the Affordable Care Act passed.
Innovation has become a buzzword over the past decade – we often get so focused on “innovating” as a concept that we miss the opportunity to innovate in action. I started Cognosante because I recognized that doing things “the way they’ve always been done” wasn’t working – and further, that the market would eventually demand a solution that did. I knew that the innovative application of information technology was the key. Cognosante offers both solutions and services, but at our core we are an information technology company – and we are committed to using our subject matter expertise to drive the way technology is used in the healthcare system.
To institutionalize our culture of innovation, we established the Cognosante Solutions Lab in early 2015. The Lab’s charter is to develop new, innovative approaches that enable public health programs to economically, efficiently support and manage the rapidly changing healthcare landscape – both today and tomorrow. Through relentless, disciplined experimentation, the Lab rapidly pilots and launches new solutions.
Complementing our own development efforts, Cognosante is also committed to building an “Innovation Ecosystem” consisting of investments in and partnerships with emerging companies that are building innovative, promising solutions in health IT.
As the founder and CEO of a technology-focused company, I see great opportunity in creating an environment for our employees that fosters success and rewards curiosity and innovation. Our employees know that we are committed to transforming our nation’s healthcare system, and that they each have a role in moving us closer to that goal.
We have launched initiatives like a tuition reimbursement program for furthering education, the Cognosante Career Model to provide development and advancement opportunities, and the Cognosante Academy, which offers thousands of educational modules for self-directed professional development. We ask that our employees bring passion to what they do and take great pride in how they do it – and in return, we are committed to providing them with resources and opportunities to learn, grow, and innovate in a key STEM field.
In 2012, I created the Cognosante Foundation to spread the benefits of Cognosante’s success to a number of deserving causes. While our focus is not limited to just STEM initiatives, a very strong, robust STEM theme runs through our efforts. Our first initiative was, in fact, to support Million Women Mentors (WMW), and we initiated a mentorship program, which encourages Cognosante employee participation in MWM-related activities for mentoring and tutoring.
Another major Foundation effort is with Young Invincibles (YI), a national millennial research and advocacy group. Last summer, YI and the Foundation jointly launched a fellowship program to provide primarily first-generation college students the opportunity to develop leadership skills, explore public policy issues, and expand professional networks ahead of graduation. The young women and men selected for the program joined the Cognosante team for our leadership summit in Baltimore last spring, interacting with our executive team and getting a taste of what it’s like to be involved in an organization devoted to technology and healthcare. This year, we’ve expanded the program to an even greater number of students. Their enthusiasm, intellect, and curiosity are proof to me that the drive for and desire for STEM careers exists within the next generation – but it is up to us as leaders to provide opportunities like these – and like those above – to truly channel that drive.