(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in a five-part series focused on various aspects of Tennessee’s statewide mentor network that currently supports start-ups in two key sectors – life sciences and energy.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
“It’s all about finding the mentors, then working with LaunchTN and our research institutions to mine for companies with great technologies and the right leadership mindset to move the company forward,” Abby Trotter explains. As Executive Director of LST, she led that association’s delegation that visited San Diego in 2013 where the group learned about the city’s highly successful Springboard accelerator program from their CONNECT entrepreneurship and economic development program.
A year later, LST issued a report in conjunction with Baker Donelson that identified the challenges that start-ups in the life science sector face. Many are the same as any new venture, such as access to capital, but the typical time to market for start-ups in the sector is much longer than those for a software company, as an example.
Most successful entrepreneurs have realized their dream with help from a mentor. For life sciences companies, accessing a seasoned mentor in that sector can be challenging if the entrepreneur is not located in or near Memphis or Nashville, the state’s two biotech hotspots.
That void is negated by the “Life Science Network,” launched in mid-2015 in partnership with LaunchTN. Now, entrepreneurs from anywhere in Tennessee have access to experienced mentors regardless of anyone’s location.
Since its launch about three years ago, LST has signed-up more than 60 individuals to serve as mentors and recruited a total of 20 companies into the program. Six have graduated, and seven are still somewhere in the self-paced, multi-stage process. The others exited the program for various reasons including business strategy shifts, time restraints or relocation.
The most recent graduate is Frontier Diagnostics LLC, and we’ll spotlight it in the fourth article in this series. Other graduates are: Arkis Biosciences, EpiKardis, Protypia, Surgiorithm, and NeuroDyne.
A maximum of seven companies are involved in some stage of the “Life Science Network” at any one time.
Whenever Trotter describes the mentoring program, she starts by praising Jim Monsor, its Director. “He’s made the program what it is,” she says.
Monsor is a seasoned veteran of the life science sector, starting his career 35 years ago with Abbott Laboratories. He was recruited to Middle Tennessee in 2002 to serve as Senior Vice President of Operations and Chief Operating Officer for BioMimetic Therapeutics, Inc. That company was acquired in 2014 by Wright Medical Group Inc., and Monsor agreed to lead the “Life Science Network” just a few months later.
“The mentoring itself and the level of engagement from the mentors has been terrific,” Trotter says, adding that the process is beneficial to both the entrepreneurs and the mentors. “The reason you get engaged as a mentor is your thirst for knowledge, and this program helps keep you there.”
For a member-based association like LST, the mentor network has become a key part of its service mix.
“We’re great at advocacy for the industry and now we are also great at helping grow new life science companies, mostly out of our state’s research institutions,” Trotter says. “That’s what we’ve been focusing on at Life Science Tennessee, and both feed off each other.”
NEXT: A look at the “Energy Mentor Network.”