This is another in an occasional series on small-business owners operating in San Luis Obispo County. If you have operated a small business for at least three to five years, please contact Julie Lynem at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 781-7932. Businesses will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
When Ann Dover was young, she enjoyed watching her father, a chemist, “swapping ideas with other scientists.”
“I also liked the atmosphere of collaboration and partnership with his colleagues,” she said.
As president and chief executive officer of Discovery Life Sciences Inc., Dover is charting her own course in the life sciences industry. In 2002, with the completion of the Human Genome Project, Dover said she and her business partner, Steven Raia, saw an opportunity to “take advantage of these exciting new advances in our understanding of disease process.” They started a business helping drug and medical device developers to “translate novel research and discovery into new medicines and diagnostic tests,” she said. The company started working with one clinical laboratory site in New York, and now works with 80 in 17 countries on six continents.
Dover, whose husband, Steve, and three children work for the company, recently talked about what it takes to operate her business and its future.
Q: What were the three most important ingredients to starting your business and why?
A: Financing, financing and financing. Outside of that, it’s courage, tenacity and faith. As far as financing, we’ve done it all on our own. My business partner back east provided me with an initial $60,000 to start my company, and I had him paid back within six months. I could ask him at any time for a loan or go to the local bank. Our growth probably would be faster. But I just haven’t wanted to do that. Growing to these next stages I probably will have to reach out to someone to get a line of credit. When you get to the next level, it’s like your kids. When they’re little, they need little things. When they get older they need other things like phones.
Q: Explain the toughest challenge that you faced when you started. How did you overcome it?
A: Recognizing that it was up to me to do everything: Sales, marketing, business development, SOPs (standard operating procedures) and management plans, financing, hiring, training, etc., and then I had to go home and make dinner for my family. I didn’t sleep much in the beginning.
Q: What is the single biggest priority for your company now?
A: Hiring talented professionals for sales, marketing, business development and operational professionals with the right background to help grow our business. It’s difficult finding employees with a life sciences industry background.
We’ve certainly been able to find dedicated employees right here in our own backyard, but our future growth will require business professionals with skill sets and experience easier found in the big biotech hubs. However, we can certainly use the attractive lifestyle of the Central Coast to lure people to our location as we dig deeper into the talent pools we have locally.
Q: What was your — or an employee’s — best idea that has increased sales, profitability or both? Explain why.
A: There’s never been any one specific product or clinical service idea that’s independently driven sales but rather a general consensus, reinforced on a regular basis that we are responsible for our own innovation, and that since we are a small company doing business with large multi-national corporations, we have to work very hard to continually get our message out about our business in a very noisy space.
Q: Where would you like to see your business in the next five to 10 years, and what steps will you take to ensure your vision for the future becomes reality?
A: At the moment, we are transitioning our business from not only providing exemplary clinical service but also to delivering unique clinical products on a web-based “retail” sales platform. This will enable us to hire more talent, hopefully from the local area, the space we need to grow, and increase our partnerships with medical centers and physicians in our communities.
As developers of new tests and instrument systems utilize newly discovered biomarkers to detect and treat both chronic and acute illness, our web-based product platform will be able to deliver discreet patient information and data necessary for both clinical and analytical validation, which is required by our clients to gain U.S. FDA approval prior to marketing.
Q: How have you taken advantage of social media in your business?
A: This is our biggest source of underachievement. We understand that social media is a key driver in our industry going forward, but we haven’t done a good enough job in applying it to our market space. I do have 2,400 colleagues on my LinkedIn profile, does that count?