Stephanie Smith of Beagle Bioproducts
Meet Stephanie Smith, founder of Beagle Bioproducts
, a biological extraction company.
What is Beagle Bioproducts?
Beagle Bioproducts extracts high-value specialty chemicals from the biological material found in harmful algal blooms (HAB’s). We have developed a unique platform for the collection of this feedstock material, and proprietary extraction procedures for the recovery and purification of our products from the feedstock.
How did you come up with the idea?
Beagle resulted from an awareness of increasing demand and decreasing supply of a specific class of chemicals that could only be derived from cyanobacteria, the same organisms that cause HAB’s. At the same time, the cofounders were engaged in other activities related to HAB’s, and started to view HAB’s not just as an environmental hazard, but rather as a potential natural resource.
What was the biggest surprise in starting your business?
For me personally, the biggest surprise was how open and supportive the business community at large is of small businesses and entrepreneurs. I am trained in scientific method, whereby one constantly looks for the flaws in a hypothesis or idea in search of the truth. This training makes scientists seem negative in their approach to things, or harsh in their criticisms -- though that is an unfair characterization. While due diligence is a must, people in the business world seem to always be looking for the positive aspects of your ideas and business, and all advice comes from a place wherein people want you to succeed. The due diligence doesn't take place to tear down a concept, but rather to find the best path to success and understand risk. Even potential competitors respect your successes. I had always heard all these stories about the cutthroat world of business and let myself believe them because the pursuit of money is inherent in business. What I have found, however, is that science was much more ruthless than business!
Where did you find your first employee?
Our first hire was someone who was, at the same time as me, laid off from a company that was struggling at the conclusion of a government-funded project. This person had years of invaluable experience related to Beagle's line of business and was a trusted colleague. This has become a common theme in our hiring strategy at Beagle. We hardly look at resumes and pedigrees, but rather look at ability as demonstrated through prior experience, and buy-in, meaning that they get what we want to accomplish and are willing to dedicate themselves to our success.
What does a typical day in your business look like?
I think the best way I can answer this is to point out that there is no such thing as "typical" at Beagle yet. We are in a rapid stage of building, learning, and growth on our way to our first revenue, and every day is devoted to doing what's required for that goal. Today I worked most of my day in the lab. Some days I'm writing all day, some days I spend entirely in fundraising activities, or working with my partner on our finances. So I guess "typical" is summed up as actively engaged, for whatever amount of time it takes, in work towards our milestones that we laid out for success.
What are some of the advantages to doing business in Ohio?
Bearing in mind that I've never done business anywhere but Ohio, one of the remarkable things I find about our state is the Ohio Technology Investment Tax Credit (OTITC). This has been a wonderful incentive for Beagle's investors, and I believe really stimulated the positive outcome we had with Series A. We have also been the beneficiary of Ohio Third Frontier
funds through an arrangement with the Ohio Bioproducts Innovation Center (OBIC) at OSU
(Ohio State University), through a grant program at TechColumbus
, and a networking program at BioOhio
Now that I list them all out like this, it dawns on me just how integral all of these state-supported programs have been to Beagle's success so far. We have both directly and indirectly received financial support from these organizations, and just as importantly we have received coaching, access to critical networks, and invaluable relationships. It is hard for me to imagine a better environment for starting a biotech business like Beagle.
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers?
Oh yes, I could share several. One thing that comes to mind was the day my business partner had to explain to me what was meant by the term "upside." I consider myself reasonably proficient at math, but have learned that the world of finance and investing has, well, a different way of doing the numbers. We were already a couple of months into Beagle when my partner, Eric, realized that I thought my "payoff" from a successful exit for Beagle would be the same as anyone's who had invested in the company. So we had a little talk about cap tables, common shares, preferred shares, etcetera. I was seriously dumbfounded when I realized the financial potential that Beagle held for my family's future. I just wanted to be my own boss, build something exciting and new, and make a good living! Eric tells the story as the only time in his recollection that I was silent for more than two minutes. On the one hand, Eric might have been dismayed and a little nervous when he realized how ignorant his partner was with respect to these basic business concepts. On the other hand, he loves telling everyone that I was excited and on board with starting Beagle when I thought I was barely going to break even.
What inspires you?
My husband, and his devotion to my success and Beagle's success. Bearing in mind that the "upside" was news to him, too, when I decided to take the plunge and start Beagle, he made enormous sacrifices so I could do this. He quit graduate school to work full-time and keep our health insurance, provides free IT support for Beagle, and on an ongoing basis converses with me about the technical aspects of what we are doing. He is a scientist as well, and has been a tremendous technical resource. Knowing that he's all in on this venture is enormously motivating and inspiring to me. I've leaned something about what it really means to be unselfish.
What founders do you admire and why?
The founder I most admire is my partner Eric Roy. Eric has made a career of helping entrepreneurs and small businesses almost purely for the joy of seeing others succeed. That is combined with a deep understanding of what it takes to build a business and get it to revenue. He serves on boards, advises young entrepreneurs, and does much of it for free. It was a happy accident, as I am fond of saying that our paths crossed when they did. I am not alone in this high opinion of him. Many of our investors are from Eric's Rolodex, and others provide us with services at a fraction of their normal rates, largely because of their respect for Eric's abilities, values, and past performance as a businessman. If there were more people in the business community like Eric, there would be a lot more successful small businesses out there.
What’s next for you?
Revenue! Seriously, it's all I think about, and anything beyond that would really be a distraction at this time. OK, there's a fantasy house in Buenos Aries, but for now --revenue!
Interview by Joe Baur