How a Near-Death Experience Inspired This Entrepreneur to Change Her Career and Plug Into Her Purpose

Melinda Richter of JLABs never imagined she'd run a health sciences incubator. But a near-death experience inspired her to tap into a new purpose -- helping entrepreneurs in the health sciences.

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By Linda Lacina


How Success Happens is a podcast featuring polar explorers, authors, ultra marathoners, artists and more to better understand what connects dreaming and doing. Linda Lacina,'s managing editor, guides these chats so anyone can understand the traits that underpin achievement and what fuels the decisions to push us forward. Listen below or click here to read more shownotes.

Melinda Richter was on top of the world. She was in her 20s and in Beijing for a special leadership conference. She had a job that took her around the world, working on buzzy tech projects like ordering a soft drink from a vending machine with her cell phone.

Then, everything screeched to a halt. A toxic bug bite led to a case of meningitis -- one from which doctors didn't think she'd recover. She went to bed each night not certain she'd wake up, all the while wondering why the health system around her seemed so archaic and why ordering a soda with her phone was ever on her to-do list.

She promised herself if she survived that she'd use her one life to help others.

"It made me realize that if I was able to make it, that I needed to have my life be about not just changing my story, but changing other people's stories," says Richter. "I never knew what I was going to make it into. I just knew I needed to get started."

Related: Hear How This Woman Coached Herself Through a Near-Death Experience to Become a One-Person Fitness Brand

Making this change wasn't simple or quick. She gave herself space to recover -- and learn. She quit her job, went back to school for an MBA. Later, she'd move to Silicon Valley, to put herself in the home of biotech and get meeting and working with entrepreneurs in the life sciences to understand the gaps and how she could help bridge them.

This restart meant living off her savings and downsizing to a small studio. She'd eventually move from a car, to a bike, to taking the bus, almost releasing parts of her old life to breath life into a new one.

"It's very humbling," says Richter, "But it didn't feel burdensome. Money, really, does nothing for you. You can let go it and you can get it back and you can redeploy."

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And she found herself tapping into traits she was first exposed to as a child in rural Canada, growing up in a humble household with eight brothers and sisters. "You don't get stuck long," she says. "You figure out how to make it happen even if though you don't have many resources."

And with no scientific training, she leveraged her upbringing and her tech background to craft a new model for entrepreneurs in the health sciences that would surround them with advisors but give them the freedom to focus on their work and help them innovate quickly.

Fueling her was that sense of purpose she found waiting for answers on a hospital bed all those years ago, knowing she could help others going through what she had. "If you're driven by something that's very mission-based, very values-based, then you're willing to buck the system."

Related: Related: Kathryn Minshew of The Muse: Decide Who You Are, or Have it Decided for You (Podcast)

Today, Richter runs JLABs, a fast-growing incubator with eight sites locations in two counties, including a new outpost in New York City.

In this episode of How Success Happens, Richter will explain how she rebuilt her life and how she powered through. And she'll explain how the power of purpose can give anyone the momentum they need to solve tough problems.

"You have to be there for the right reason," says Richter. "You have to understand your "Why.'"

Related: Conversation is the Most Underused Innovation Tool

Listen below. To subscribe to this podcast, find us on the following platforms: SoundCloud, Stitcher, iTunes, Google Play.

Linda Lacina

Entrepreneur Staff

Linda Lacina is the former managing editor at Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Smart Money, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Family Circle. Email her at Follow her at @lindalacina on Twitter. 

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