At Micronoma, we turn to science first to guide us down the road to delivering the first diagnostic platform technology using the microbiome to detect early-stage cancer. At the same time, we keep a watchful eye on our resources so we can steer clear of the unexpected, unpredictable potholes that have cropped up because of the current stormy financial climate.
With a dedicated team committed to taking the ride with her, our co-founder, chief executive officer, and board member Sandrine Miller-Montgomery, Pharm.D., Ph.D., is providing a steady hand on the wheel, determined to drive the company where it needs to go, and to navigate around the pitfalls.
She takes the view that while there is a time for cheerleading the team successes, there are trying times when the best strategy is to lead more and cheer less, to spot and point out the real-world challenges that weren’t on the map when the trip started so we can navigate around them.
A wealth of experience in large biotech and multinational companies in the life sciences, as well as start-ups, has taught Sandrine some valuable lessons that are proving useful now as the investor community has grown anxious about making new investments and our company needs to be more fiscally/financially responsible than ever but still maintaining the needed fast pace of our scientific work.
“Being fiscally responsible is always a tricky balance between ‘you’re doing great, let me give you even more support to continue fast progress,’ and ‘the economic times are hard, we need to be really conservative with our resources,’” Sandrine said.
This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. This is a market where we face other providers with different financial means that may have started on a similar path a few years ahead of our own breakthrough discovery.
“The challenge is here,” Sandrine said. “And in an industry full of companies claiming they have the next silver bullet, you need to remain focused on delivering a solution with rock-solid science. When all the buzz of other companies subsides, the strength of the data and not playing marketing tricks will ultimately be the key differentiator leading to broad adoption.”
To that end, our team is triple-checking every finding at every stage, with the goal of trying to break the science behind co-founder Greg Sepich-Poore’s initial discovery, first published in Nature. The science behind that discovery continues to hold up, and, in fact, has proven even stronger than expected, as we will shortly report in a peer-reviewed article about our CODICES cohort of more than a 1,000 patient and control samples
“I keep reminding the team that if achieving the hard goal of stage I cancer detection was easy, someone would have already done it,” Sandrine said. “For the recent work done on the CODICES cohort for lung cancer early detection, we probably each lost 10 years of our lives in the process of making sure the science is so solid it will hold up to real world situations. What keeps us motivated are the many lives this will save… It is worth it!”
The news is full of stories about start-ups embroiled in controversy and litigation over things they couldn’t deliver. That’s not who we are at Micronoma. Until the strong results are in, the press releases designed to generate a quick buzz can wait.
“But don’t misjudge us,” Sandrine said. “We are not just scientists that want to build a company without understanding the market in which we evolve. We are also a team of savvy business people that use science to deliver profound improvements for the diagnostics industry and patients.”
This multi-talented team is truly the thing getting Micronoma through the fog of the current economic environment, rising to the challenge to do more with less; and importantly, remaining steadfast despite hiring fewer team members than they were expecting.
The clear, honest message communicated by leadership about the state of play has motivated the team to buckle up and press ahead while trusting that their jobs are secure as the business side of the house keeps its eye on maximizing the financial gas Micronoma has in the tank.
“We assembled a team that doesn’t spend their time panicking when hard times happen,” Sandrine said. “We are people who say, ‘It’s not comfortable right now, but we are going to go through it together and not freeze in terror.”
Even in normal conditions, working in a start-up is not for the faint of heart, so finding dynamic and resilient teammates is essential.
“My mum raised me with a motto: There are no problems, only solutions! And I naturally surround myself with people with the same mentality,” Sandrine added.
Typically, investors are looking to invest in companies that have a broad set of projects. But now is the time for start-ups to focus most resources on their key differentiators and strengths. All other projects can resume at full speed once the global economic challenges have quieted a bit.
Persuading potential new investors that you have the team in place to be able to handle these rapid and necessary gear changes is essential. Meanwhile, we are amazingly fortunate to have investors who truly believe in our adaptability and are on board to accommodate our development needs.
“This nimbleness is essential when you raise money. You have to be financially stable for long enough that you don’t have to accept whatever deal is going to be thrown at you by someone trying to profit from your desperation,” Sandrine said. “Our existing investors are here for the long run and ensure that we do the right thing to grow their assets without cutting corners on the quality of our science. This supportive mindset is what will enable us to continue focusing on the right financial partners and ensure we are all in a win-win situation for our coming fundraising activities.”