Can you tell us a little bit about your background and experience?
I was a founder and CEO of a pharmaceutical manufacturing company, and then took over and grew a nonprofit medical technology incubator, helping others to start and grow their own life science-based companies. Before all that, I had been a CPA and a partner in a worldwide consulting and accounting firm. Now I’m working on my own, mentoring multiple entrepreneurs, as well as investing and serving on boards of start-up companies
How does your experience inform the projects you get involved with?
Entrepreneurs need mentors who have “been there, done that,” and I have a lot of relevant experience that is useful to them. Sometimes, my best experiences are the ones where I failed, but learned a lot.
You retired last year as the Executive Director for TechFW, which is a nonprofit technology incubator and accelerator in Fort Worth, Texas, but you remain a coach for some of its clients. Tell us more about the organization, and your activities there.
TechFW focuses on entrepreneurs with new pharmaceutical and medical devices, assisting those early-stage entrepreneurs with the tools they need to take their companies to the next stage, such as helping them find the right accountants, attorneys, prototype-builders…whatever they need. In 2012, I also started the Cowtown Angels as a program of TechFW and it is now one of the most active angel networks in the state.
What advantages do you see in Fort Worth and—more broadly—in Texas for startups and entrepreneurs?
I moved to Fort Worth originally to start my company here in the mid-1990’s for many of the same reasons that people still move here and to other places in Texas. It’s a supportive environment for business, with the people and the educational institutions to provide the necessary labor, and local government that’s business-friendly. In addition, DFW airport makes a huge difference, as it is easy to get anywhere in the country and back home on the same day or within a day.
Are there specific industries or sectors that you see emerging in the region?
The life sciences have been big here, but they are getting bigger. There are, as of this year, now two medical schools in Fort Worth as well as a pharmaceutical school. The City of Fort Worth is building a new medical innovation district in an area that already has one of the nation’s greatest concentrations of medical service practices and hospitals. There is a lot happening here, and it will only get better.
You are also a Partner in the VIC Investor Network (VIN). What made you decide to become a part of VIN? Are there synergies with your other activities?
I think VIN is a great opportunity for investors to get involved in early stage companies that they would not otherwise ever see. Even those of us who are involved in angel networks, like the Cowtown Angels, don’t often come across companies that have the strength of the management teams created by VIC at that early stage.
As someone who successfully created and grew a company in the life science space, what advice do you have for young companies?
Find mentors who have relevant experience and find a way to keep their attention and keep them involved.
You mentioned that you didn’t have a technical background prior to jumping into the pharmaceutical industry. What were both the challenges and advantages during that time?
It is true that I wasn’t a chemist or medical professional, but I had many years of consulting in that industry. In addition, I grew up with a father who was a pharmaceutical chemist and who was CEO of multiple pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, so I just absorbed some industry knowledge and contacts that way. Sometimes, people who are very technically astute lack the business language they need to communicate the value of their companies to the world at large, and I think I had that skill. A technically oriented company needs people at the top with both. I think the key is to be who you are and do what you’re good at, and then bring others in close who are good at the other stuff.
Are you seeing more women life science entrepreneurs? If so, why? If not, what needs to be done to improve the situation?
I am definitely seeing more women life science entrepreneurs, but I’m afraid that it doesn’t take much to be better than it used to be, when I didn’t see any others at all. Plus, I don’t know whether I’m seeing more because they are coming to me for advice, so my view may be somewhat skewed. What needs to happen is for the venture capital industry and others to be more open to funding them, and this may first hinge on more women being in the venture capital industry.
Texas has a large number of top-tier research universities. How can these entities ensure that the innovations with the highest likelihood of improving global health get the resources they need to prove themselves?
Specifically, VIC Technology Venture Development, as well as more generally incubators and angel networks, are good resources to help to figure out which of a university’s technologies might have the market potential to become successful. A university’s technology commercialization team can find ways to collaborate with these groups so that their technologies get an outside look, and perhaps, one of them will have some ideas to move the technologies forward.