Dougherty did not intend to be an entrepreneur, but he’s pursuing an Alzheimer’s disease start-up with a vengenance
The company was named Last Minute Travel.com, and Dougherty told teknovation.biz in a recent interview that he joined just as it was “on the tail end of blowing through $40 million in Super Bowl ads.” Dougherty saw both the bad – an unsound business strategy – and the good – a savior coming to the rescue.
The savior was Alan Greenberg, an alumnus of the University of Tennessee (UT) and a former top executive at Whittle Communications. He took over the company and merged it with his Travel Holdings enterprise.
At the time, Dougherty was 24 years old with an opportunity to stay with the company but move to Orlando.
“For several different reasons, I decided not to do so,” he said.
Instead, he decided to try entrepreneurship on his own, building a business plan around his father’s emerging reputation as a national expert on Alzheimer’s disease. His father is Dr. John Dougherty, Medical Director of the Cole Neuroscience Center at the UT Medical Center.
The younger Dougherty recalled that it was 2005, a time when the dreaded disease had not received the level of attention that it has more recently.
His business plan, which used the Internet to deliver Alzheimer’s presentations to physicians, “was about a year too late,” he said, citing WebMD as already occupying the space.
“I needed to go to business school,” Dougherty said. “There was so much I did not know.”
The next several years were exciting and rewarding for Dougherty. As an MBA student at UT, he says that he continually thought about the business plan for an online Alzheimer’s test, and he actually started developing it in a class taught by Lynn Youngs, current Director of UT’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Dougherty was also selected by Glenn Kline as an intern for Innovation Valley Partners (IVP), a then recently launched $35 million venture fund. “It was a perfect situation,” he said, allowing him to work four days a week for IVP and devote the fifth day to his own business plan.
IVP operated as a sidecar to Battelle Ventures, a fund associated with Battelle Memorial Institute, one-half of the management team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Dougherty’s work for IVP involved helping a Colorado-based start-up utilize technology from ORNL and the National Renewal Energy Laboratory, another U.S. Department of Energy facility.
The experience taught Dougherty two lessons.
“It’s difficult to marry technologies from two different scientists in two different locations,” he concluded. “It’s also difficult to take things out of the lab . . . from the bench to the marketplace without collaboration from the investors and scientists.”
Dougherty graduated from UT in December 2008 and has devoted the time since to refining the business plan for the company that he and his father founded. Their core product is the Cogselftest that focuses on six cognitive areas – memory, visual spatial skills, attention, verbal skills, orientation and executive function, and organized thinking.
“The one (test) they have been using was developed in the 1960s,” he notes.
As with any start-up, there has been a series of challenges.
“It took two years of research to get peer review recognition to be published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. That occurred in 2010. Along the way, the Dougherty’s made a decision to switch their marketing channel from focusing on individuals to targeting physicians. Today, the Alzheimer’s market is exploding with so many companies trying to enter, another challenge for a company backed by angels.
“Our goal is to continue to grow the company,” Dougherty says, adding that he believes there is a “game changer” on the horizon.
At 32 years of age, Dougherty has enjoyed many entrepreneurial experiences, but his passion for the community stands-out.
“You don’t realize all that Knoxville has to offer,” he says. “Knoxville doesn’t stand on its pedestal and beat its chest.”
With the hoped for “game changer” for the Cogselftest, maybe the opportunity will occur soon.