By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
One might describe Mike Goodrich as a “lab guy.”
The Western New York State native says he’s been working in labs in one way or another since he graduated from Maryville College in 1992 with a degree in chemistry. In addition, Goodrich would “buy and flip” used analytical lab equipment while also keeping some of it for his own uses. Now, the Maryville College alum is helping enrich the education of students at his alma mater.
Cornerstone’s President recalls stopping in Maryville during a church trip when he was in the eighth grade. He loved the more moderate winter weather, compared to his hometown, and enrolled at Maryville College as soon as he could.
“I’m never shoveling snow again,” Goodrich thought, and that’s been true for the most part.
After eight years working in Nashville immediately after graduation, he moved back to Blount County where, among other endeavors, he built cabins in the mountains. Goodrich also continued to collect surplus lab equipment which provided a defining opportunity when Nathan Duncan, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Maryville College, called him. The faculty member needed access to some equipment that Goodrich had at his house and, as they say, the rest is history.
Goodrich and a now departed partner founded Cornerstone Analytical Laboratories in 2016 after both worked for more than two decades in the field, locally and in Nashville. The start-up’s base of operations is the Sutton Science Center on the Maryville College campus, a location that benefits both Goodrich and the institution.
While growing his own two-year old start-up, Goodrich has made his equipment available to the College and its students. “We brought in new chromatographic and thermal analysis equipment to enhance capabilities Maryville College already had,” he explained.
It’s an arrangement that seems to work for both the entrepreneur and the private liberal arts college which will celebrate its bicentennial next year. There are currently five Maryville College students working on their “Independent Study” in the lab. The students are focused on their individual capstone projects that the school requires for graduation, while learning the skills needed to enter the workforce with a competitive advantage.
In some cases, those distinct activities intersect, and Cornerstone has the opportunity to hire students when the workload requires additional hands.
“The arrangement allows the students to use Cornerstone’s equipment,” Goodrich says. “There are not many undergraduate schools that can provide their students experience on LC-MS (Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectroscopy) equipment. They learn in class, and then we expose them to the real-world applications.”
In addition to offering students real-world experience, the unique lab equipment enables Cornerstone to provide its analytical services – chromatographic testing services and thermal analysis – to a broad customer base – from pharmaceutical and beverage companies to those in sectors like dietary supplements, food, petroleum, manufacturing, and academics.
“We’re a niche lab . . . helping people who don’t have an analytical lab by supporting their individual needs,” Goodrich explains. “We do a lot of custom testing. We can pretty much do any type of analytical testing.”
As far as the business, he says that Cornerstone does not respond to its customers with a “one size fits all” approach. “We customize a solution that leverages our mix of equipment,” Goodrich explains. “We are a contract-tester and methods-developer for industries that need us.”
This is one of those “win-win” situations. The college gets access to some specialized equipment that augments what it already has. The students are able to use the equipment to advance their skills and help make them more marketable after they graduate, and Cornerstone has a great location to grow its business.
Perhaps the best win of all, however, is helping his alma mater.
“Our hope is that, when the kids get done here, they can pursue opportunities in the analytical world,” Goodrich says. “We’re pleased to be working collaboratively with the great science programs to bring real world experience to the students’ education. It’s symbiotic.”