By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
The final day of the greatly expanded “Health:Further Festival” wraps-up today in Nashville after a day-long series of sessions focused on the all-important topic of investment capital.
The combination conference and music festival, spotlighted in this recent article, was sponsored in part by PYA, the power behind teknovation.biz. With stages focused on everything from technology to wellness, we spent much of our time interacting with those who play important roles in the start-up space – investors, mentors, and the entrepreneurs themselves.
PYA Client IQuity Shares Its Progress
Jeff Pate, PYA’s Chief Business Development Officer, moderated a Thursday discussion with IQuity, a Nashville-based start-up that was featured in this recent teknovation.biz article. Now a client of our firm, company Founder Chase Spurlock described his 12-year journey from a Vanderbilt University laboratory to the commercial sector.
The company has developed tools focused on autoimmune diseases, starting with multiple sclerosis. Determining that patients exhibit distinct RNA (ribonucleic acid) expression patterns in their blood, the company is able to tell physicians if there is the presence or absence of the disease. The result is faster treatment.
“This is a great success story for tech transfer,” Julia Polk, IQuity’s Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Financial Officer, said. The well-known Nashvillian has worked with more than 100 start-ups since she left her role as Chief Financial Officer for Change Healthcare Corporation in 2012, so she has seen a number of failures as well as successes.
Spurlock observed that “Nashville is a wonderful place to start a business, but we’re still in need of a strong life sciences hub.” He credited Cumberland Emerging Technologies, where IQuity is located, for helping accelerate the company’s evolution.
“We need more of an emphasis (in Nashville) on diagnostics and life sciences,” Spurlock added.
In response to Pate’s question about advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, both IQuity executives said hiring good people that complement other team members and operating as a family were two key factors in success.
Polk also added something that many entrepreneurs forget. “Always think about your technology and what it can do next,” she advised.
Mentor Network Spotlighted
Life Science Tennessee’s Mentor Network, funded mostly by Launch Tennessee, was on display during another session. Jim Monsor, leader of the program, moderated a panel that included three of its nearly 60 active mentors. He noted that 20 to 25 start-ups have participated in the program over the last three years and about five have graduated.
So, what are the biggest challenges the mentors face?
“Too many entrepreneurs get caught-up in following the shiny item rather than focusing on a customer need,” James Bell, President of Medical Device Guru, observed. For Shawn Glitner, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Pendant Biosciences, it was failure of the mentees to listen to the advice they are given.
“Great ideas don’t mean it will make money,” Ira Weiss, Principal in Weiss Associates, said, noting that this is particularly a challenge for founders who are scientists and engineers.
Other key topics that are frequent challenges for the mentors are entrepreneurs late in delivering on deadlines, individuals who are unable to execute, and those that are not coachable.
“The mentor can’t do the work for them,” Weiss said. “We’re simply there to guide them.”
For Glitner, known for his personal enthusiasm, the big concern was passion. “I can’t create that passion (they need to feel),” he said. “I’m interested in how passionate that entrepreneur is.”