By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Long before many of today’s young entrepreneurs were born, there was a slogan for Timex watches. It went this way: “Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
I could not help but recall that phrase when we caught-up recently with Joy Fisher, a well-known and very connected member of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge entrepreneurial ecosystem. We first met her about a decade ago when she was doing contract work with Tech 2020. Later, Fisher was part of the University of Tennessee (UT) Research Foundation staff and then the team at UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI).
Two years ago, she decided to practice what she had been preaching and teaching, starting her own company – Clodico – where she was President and Chief Executive Officer.
As was the case with anything that Fisher touched, she pursued it with a vengeance. Previous articles on teknovation.biz noted that Clodico had pivoted three times and, in the process, won its track in the 2014 “Charlotte Venture Challenge” and was a finalist in the “2014 $1M Global Action Challenge” held last November in Nashville.
Fisher’s close friends are aware that she has been dealing with a personal challenge since mid-2014 when she received a diagnosis of cancer in the abdominal region with the specific organ undetermined at the time. In fact, she chronicled her journey and the heavy chemotherapy treatments she received with frequent posts on a CaringBridge site.
In characteristic “Fisher Fashion,” she scheduled her chemotherapy treatments last November so she could make her pitch at the “Global Action Challenge.” Few of those in the audience even realized her health issue.
“I’m in remission,” Fisher happily told us when we talked a few days ago. “I’m back and ready to start working again.”
The cancer, however, was not the only “licking” that she has dealt with over the last few months.
“We (Clodico) were moving ahead really well and had a term sheet from an angel group in January,” Fisher says. “We had finished all of the product development and testing and had secured all of the approvals.” The company was ready to launch its initial product to remove odors, such as cigarette smoke, from used cars.
Two days after receiving the term sheet, the Clodico team received something it was not expecting.
“Out of the blue, we received notice that our licensor intended to terminate the agreement,” Fisher says. “It shocked us. It was a complete and total surprise.”
The Florida-based company from which Clodico licensed its underlying technology hired outside consultants who determined that the terms of the agreement were not in the licensors best interests.
“They wanted to limit us to one narrow field of use and renegotiate all of the agreements,” Fisher said. “That was untenable. So, we are in the process of shutting down Clodico.”
She describes her feelings as shocked, disappointed and dismayed. Yet, at the same time, Fisher looks back and says there were warning signs that she and her team ignored. It’s a lesson for other entrepreneurs to hear.
“We saw the signs of the eccentricity of the Founder of the licensor company from our very first meeting,” she says in retrospect. Start-ups take time and money, and Fisher realizes now that the licensor wanted a much faster path forward than a new venture like Clodico could achieve.
“We had our blinders on because of the uniqueness of the technology,” she says. “We kind of blew off the ongoing signs of technology control and lack of communication.”
There was also the fact that the original focus – developing a new line of environmentally-friendly disinfectants that quickly kill the bacteria and viruses plaguing hospitals – was not possible without improvements in the performance of the core technology that Clodico had licensed.
So, in spite of two lickings in six months, Fisher is still ticking and looking to the future.
“I’m going to do project work again,” she says. Her spirit, attitude and perseverance are a model for all of us, not just entrepreneurs.