By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
“I could not be more thrilled with the acquisition or the acquirer,” Chuck Witkowski says of the purchase of Knoxville-based Hubble Telemedical, Inc. by Welch Allyn, Inc.
The announcement, effective at the end of 2014 and made public in mid-January, “is fantastic for all of us . . . the company, its shareholders, its employees and our customers,” the former President and Chief Executive Officer of Hubble, told us in a recent conversation. He will remain with New York-based Welch Allyn, running its new business from Knoxville.
The acquisition opens new growth opportunities for Welch Allyn in remote diabetic retinopathy screening and for Witkowski, who joined Hubble just a few months after the start-up was founded by Ed Chaum of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Ken Tobin of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
“Welch Allyn is one of the most trusted brands in healthcare,” Witkowski said. “Its brand and distribution channels within primary care are unmatched.”
By being part of a much larger, well-connected company, there will be more resources available to grow the business nationally and even internationally. There is also access to a much larger network to help introduce the retinopathy screening product to primary care physicians. Over the past three years, Witkowski explained that Hubble had determined the best way to screen patients susceptible to Diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults, was through their primary care physicians.
The sale of Hubble is not Witkowski’s first start-up exit. The Johnson City native founded Protein Discovery, a tech company that developed new tools for protein research. In November 2011, Protein Discovery merged with Expedeon Ltd., a global provider of protein research products, and Witkowski joined Hubble the next year.
We asked him for some advice that he would offer other entrepreneurs.
“Begin with the end in mind,” Witkowski said, replaying the words of Lee Martin, a well-known local entrepreneur and one of his mentors.
“Is this a lifestyle company or are we going to need to raise money to fund the company and then provide those investors with liquidity,” he said about one of the first decisions to make. “If the plan is to exit, is it going to be through a public offering or an acquisition? If the latter, who are the candidates and what might be of strategic value to those companies?”
Witkowski said those questions should be answered very early, maybe even before the start-up is formally established.
“Then, push those thoughts into the back of your mind and build the best company you can,” he advised.