Cision, an industry-leading media and marketing platform, has announced its plan to acquire Brandwatch (formerly Crimson Hexagon), a Golden Seeds investment since 2008, the company announced today.
Golden Seeds was the lead investor in the initial funding round of Crimson Hexagon, which was founded in 2007 by Candace Fleming and Gary King, based on their work on quantitative social science at Harvard University. The company’s first products used statistical pattern recognition to analyze unstructured text, particularly in social media posts. The product range and scope expanded considerably over time and the company grew to be one of the largest players in its field of digital consumer research. In 2018, Crimson Hexagon merged with UK company Brandwatch, a leader in digital consumer intelligence and social media listening.
Cision, a private US company, is a global leader in PR, marketing and social media management technology and intelligence. This acquisition combines two leaders in their respective industries and will bring to customers the substantial benefits of their complementary capabilities.
Golden Seeds is proud to have identified the early potential of this technology and to have supported the company throughout its journey to this liquidation event.
“We are proud of our affiliation with Brandwatch, beginning with our early support of Crimson Hexagon, and we are pleased with this result,” said Jo Ann Corkran, Managing Partner of Golden Seeds and of Golden Seeds Funds, who serves on the Brandwatch Board of Directors.
Passion is everything to Oksana Sokolovsky, who left a successful Wall Street career to pursue a dream: creating a platform that bridges the physical and digital worlds. She realized her dream as the cofounder of ROAR Augmented Reality, a company that enables individuals, brands and businesses to monetize their own passions by creating immersive augmented reality (AR) experiences. Oksana is about to launch the newest iteration of her software-as-a-service product, PerformLive, which brings together live streaming, augmented reality and commerce in a single, unified marketplace that now serves more than 50,000 clients.
Oksana recently told Golden Seeds Managing Director and deal lead Janet DeFrino how she realized her vision of enabling the passion economy, how her business has evolved and where she sees it going. Her story offers inspiration for other entrepreneurs pursuing their own dreams.
JD:Tell us about the origins of your company. OS: Prior to starting my entrepreneurial journey, I led technology initiatives on Wall Street. I left because I wanted to create something innovative to merge physical and digital reality. In 2015, I cofounded an incubator that spun off several successful products. One of those products was ROAR.
ROAR started as a platform to augment the physical world with digital content viewed through the lens of a user’s device. Over the past year that has evolved into PerformLive, which helps individuals, brands and companies monetize their audience and give their followers an interactive live experience.
JD: What market need are you solving, and how is your approach different from how others have addressed this need? OS: We realized there was no end-to-end experience for people who wanted to reach a global audience and monetize their talent or product. They can attract tons of followers on social media, but it’s hard to make money when you’re limited to fractional income from thousands of likes. There was no single platform for both talent and product, or for streaming and commerce, that provided low commission income.
PerformLive brings together the gig and passion economy in one place, combining live shopping, live content, AR, commerce and social communities. Users can shop and try things on — for example, see how a watch looks on their wrist, play with makeup or place a physical item in their room. They may have live interactions, then complete a transaction all in the same live stream. PerformLive is a low commision and ad-free, so the person who is live streaming retains most of the earnings.
JD: What challenges have you encountered along the way? How have you overcome them? OS: For any startup, getting significant traction is a challenge. It’s also a challenge to position yourself as a reputable brand in an industry where everything is touched by big tech companies such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. What if they try to do the same thing? They can certainly build the same technology, but you must not let that scare you from building your own. You need to differentiate yourself and protect your intellectual property, believe in your vision and be driven by passion. Approach challenges as opportunities to learn. For example, when COVID-19 hit, it impacted our initial use case, so we accelerated our product vision and introduced features we’d planned to add much later on. The result is PerformLive.
JD: What’s coming up next for your company? What big milestones are on the horizon? OS: On February 15, 2021, we are launching PerformLive, the evolution of ROAR. We are going to beta test it with 100 or so customers, then scale it for viral growth over the next 12 months. Those interested in trying the platform can join our exclusive waitlist here.
JD: What advice do you have for early-stage founders? OS: Listen to feedback from customers, markets and investors, but stay true to your beliefs, and iterate and pivot if you have to. Stay lean and mean as a company — move fast, but keep expenses as modest as possible. Don’t give up even if it gets hard. Focus on traction and key performance indicators. You can’t be shy — instead, be bold and passionate. Passion is everything to me.
JD: Tell us about your experience with Golden Seeds. How has the Golden Seeds network been helpful to you? OS: Our experience with Golden Seeds has been incredible. We get so much support, personalized attention and advice that it feels like we’re working with family and friends who want to support us. This was our first official fundraise, and I’m happy Golden Seeds is our lead investor. We learned a lot from them. We iterated our pitch, strengthened our financial model, made great connections and gotten better along the way. The Golden Seeds network of women supporting women just blew me away.
For more wisdom like this from other incredible female leaders, read more on Golden Seeds’ blog.
Life today seems to be in a constant state of flux, but in 2020, the pace of change increased dramatically. COVID-19 and the resulting shutdowns and restrictions have accelerated trends that were slowly reshaping the way we live and work.
Consumers have new priorities and preferences, and businesses are reimagining everything from their products and services to the systems they use, the way they interact with their customers and their goals.
Though industries such as travel, hospitality, retail and food service have been hit hard by the pandemic, other sectors are thriving. Companies in both camps are weathering the storm by adapting to the new realities. Some of the innovations are likely to stay with us even after the pandemic ends. Contactless delivery, online conferencing, remote learning and telehealth have become part of the everyday routine for many consumers.
Here’s a look at some of Golden Seeds’ observations of the changes reshaping key business sectors and the impact they’re likely to have in the future.
New ways to dine
COVID-19 has caused major disruption in the restaurant business and overhauled the way Americans eat and cook. Some of these changes may disappear after the pandemic ends, but others are likely to become part of the new landscape.
Many people sharply curtailed dining out last spring; in fact, 45% of respondents in one survey said it was one of their biggest budget cuts. Some have since returned–especially to restaurants with outdoor seating—and polls show that safety and sanitation have become diners’ top priority. Three out of four consumers surveyed said cleanliness would continue to be more important to them in the future.
The desire to minimize personal interaction and touch points has popularized contactless ordering and deliveries, another development that may have lasting impact. Consumers prefer to order meals at a drive-through window or by phone, online or through an app, followed by contactless delivery or curbside pickup. They’re also opting for contactless options such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.
Americans have also embraced home cooking and baking. They’re not necessarily sticking with comfort foods but experimenting with new cuisines. To keep pantries stocked, they’re having groceries delivered, and when they do visit grocery stores — among the retail establishments where they feel most comfortable — they go off-hours to avoid crowds.
Other trends likely to persist include greater interest in tamper-proof and single-serve packaging, a preference for local and U.S. food sources, and a desire for greater transparency in the supply chain.
Though restaurants unquestionably face many challenges, the situation may not be as bleak as news coverage suggests. Industry experts are optimistic that the industry will bounce back, though it won’t look exactly the same. One encouraging sign is the fact that restaurants are continuing to lead the way in food and beverage innovation. And once conditions stabilize, consumers are likely to return to restaurants because the experience satisfies so much more than the simple need to eat.
Read more about how the pandemic is transforming the restaurant industry in this blog written by Marie Molde, a registered dietitian and food industry expert, who was a featured speaker last year at a Golden Seeds Trend Talk.
Another Golden Seeds Trend Talk featured Deborah Weinswig, CEO and Founder of Coresight Research, a leading retail and technology research firm, at which she explored “How, and when, will the world go shopping again?” Below are some of the highlights.
The new world of retailing looks a lot different than the old one. Mandated shutdowns and a sharp upturn in online shopping have taken a huge toll on brick-and-mortar stores. Some projections show as many as 25,000 stores went out of business in 2020. The survivors are overhauling their offerings and operations, resulting in more innovation in the retail industry in a few months than there’s been in the previous 10 years.
The move to online shopping has been the biggest game-changer. With all but essential stores required to close and consumers sheltering at home, buying has shifted to online, where much of it may remain now that shoppers have grown accustomed to the convenience.
Retailers have been forced to optimize their supply chain inventory, revamp their merchandise mix and forecast demand in an uncertain, fast-changing market. Unable to travel to suppliers and in-person markets, retailers are relying on technology and virtual showrooms to help them stay on top of fashion trends.
The shopping experience itself has evolved, and shoppers may find a different and leaner assortment of goods. Retailers have reconfigured their calendars for apparel and footwear, downplayed seasonality and fine-tuned their offerings to tighten up on inventory. Stores now display items on the floor but sell fresh, packaged items from the backroom.
Customer interactions with sales associates are becoming more personalized. With fitting rooms closed, some stores are offering “virtual try-ons.” Shoppers are likely to find specialty brand retailers based within department stores, and could be receiving more digital and social media outreach from retailers as well.
It’s likely there’ll be more shutdowns, acquisitions and consolidations in the retail industry, and online shopping will remain a major factor. But brick-and-mortar stores aren’t going away. Many are trying to win wary shoppers back with curbside or drive-through pickup and contactless delivery and payment.
Many shoppers want to see and touch products and take them home right away. In-person shopping will continue, but stores won’t look the same, and consumers will find a new shopping experience.
Healthcare goes high-tech online
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated a major shift in health care that has been under way for years, pushing new technology and innovative practices to the forefront.
This topic was explored in another Golden Seeds Trend Talk with Dr. Laura Forese, Executive Vice President and COO of New York-Presbyterian.
According to Dr. Forese, the rise of telemedicine is one of the most significant changes. With healthcare facilities overburdened and rising concern about the risk of in-person contact, virtual visits have become a popular alternative. Doctors and patients routinely meet in video conferences conducted over the Internet. Both clinicians and consumers have become more comfortable with telemedicine, which has proven not only to be safer, but also cost-effective, timesaving and convenient. That trend is likely to continue.
Technology is coming into play in other ways as well. Devices that communicate with hospital systems electronically enable doctors to monitor patients at home, providing accurate data that can guide treatment.
Artificial intelligence, too, will continue to play a growing role in medicine in the years ahead. Smart devices and machine learning can enable a layperson to take sophisticated measurements that normally require trained experts.
Looking for positive change
There’s no question that these are uncertain and challenging times. But society is resilient, and we’ve come through many crises in the past and emerged stronger and better. We’re seeing that now. The innovation taking place on many fronts holds promise for a brighter tomorrow.
Holly Rockweiler is a woman on a mission, and it’s an ambitious one: improving women’s health. Specifically, she wants to enhance the quality of life for the countless post-menopausal women and breast-cancer survivors who suffer from vaginal dryness. For decades, hormonal therapy has been the only truly effective treatment, but it’s one that many women can’t or won’t use. Her company, Madorra, aims to offer a non-pharmaceutical alternative using an innovative, in-home medical device.
Holly, CEO and co-founder, recently spoke with our team about Madorra’s start, its challenges and progress, and the lessons it can offer other entrepreneurs. William Whitaker, MD, Managing Director and Co-Chair of the Healthcare Sector Group at Golden Seeds, led the due diligence process for Golden Seeds’ investment in Madorra.
GS: Tell us about the origins of Madorra.
HR: After working as a biomedical engineer for a number of years, I became a Stanford Biodesign Fellow. The Stanford Biodesign program teaches medical device innovation in a very hands-on way. Madorra wouldn’t exist if not for that program, and it enabled us to become who we are today.
The program teaches students how to understand problems, how to frame them in new ways and how to decide which ones to work on. It provided unfettered access to Stanford Hospital, and one of the many problems we found was that women with vaginal dryness were looking for a solution other than hormonal replacement therapy (HRT). This has been the gold standard treatment for vaginal dryness for the past four or five decades, but a growing number of women don’t want to take hormones because of the risk profile associated with them or can’t take them because of their health histories.
Realizing there are a lot of women who would welcome an effective alternative to HRT, we spent a year on due diligence, interviewing patients and healthcare providers. With a lot of research under our belts, my Biodesign team and I then started Madorra in 2014.
GS: What market need are you solving, and how is your approach different from how others have addressed this need?
HR: We’re addressing the need for non-pharmaceutical treatments for vaginal atrophy. So far, the primary alternative to HRT has been over-the-counter lubricants and moisturizers, which aren’t very effective. There are also laser treatments designed to make structural changes to vaginal tissue in the same way they’re used to reduce wrinkles. This is an in-office procedure that hasn’t yet received FDA approval.
Our product differs in that it’s a device designed for in-home use. It uses therapeutic ultrasound to increase the vaginal temperature, stimulating blood flow and natural lubrication. We’re in the process of running clinical studies and seeking FDA approval.
GS: What challenges have you encountered along the way? How have you overcome them?
HR: As with most startups, the biggest challenge has been funding. In some ways, it’s a little harder in our space, as there has been a taboo about discussing the topic and less activity than in some other segments. That’s starting to change.
Through persistence, we’ve found investors who see the potential in the women’s intimate health market. We were also fortunate to get grants from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, along with some internal Stanford grants. The tide is starting to turn, and we’re seeing more interest in the field of “femtech.” I prefer to call it women’s health, but I’m grateful there’s a hashtag and a language we can use to talk about this.
GS: What’s coming up next for your company? Any big milestones on the horizon?
HR: We’re currently conducting a pilot study in Australia that’s almost fully enrolled, and we eagerly await those results. FDA approval is a slow process, but we’re working toward it.
GS: What advice do you have for early-stage founders about raising money, growing a team, fostering company culture or other issues you’ve had to address?
HR: I’d remind them to stay focused and keep their eyes on the prize, but don’t look too far uphill. It’s easy to get discouraged. Surround yourself with people who are excited and passionate about your mission, and they’ll buoy you up when the roller coaster is on a downswing.
Ultimately this is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, even on the days when it’s difficult. Remind yourself why you’re doing this when the going gets tough — and it will. I’ve got a file named: “Read this when you’re down.” It contains comments from participants in our trials about how meaningful this product has been to them. That means the world.
GS: Tell us about your experience with Golden Seeds. How has the Golden Seeds network been helpful to you?
HR: Most of our connections are West Coast-based, so it’s been very helpful to get involved with Golden Seeds’ chapters across the country. Golden Seeds has attracted a diverse group of people in all areas, and we’ve made connections where previously we didn’t have any. For example, one investor, a gynecologist who’s done research in similar fields, has been very helpful in building out our scientific advisory board.
Golden Seeds is helping us get the word out so women know they are not alone with this problem and that we are doing the R&D to bring them the product they’re hoping for. There’s no reason for them to suffer in silence. Talk to your friends, talk to your doctor. We want to start the dialog.
Electronics will never look the same again, thanks to Terecircuits. This startup has developed a process that completely transforms the landscape for electronics manufacturing, resulting in smaller, thinner and lighter devices, with faster and less expensive design cycles. It’s the brainchild of Jayna Sheats, Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Stanford University, and CTO of Terecircuits Corp., who worked in industrial R&D and technical business development for more than 30 years.
Jayna recently spoke with Iris Fujiura, the Golden Seeds deal leader for this investment, about her experiences as a technologist dealing with the financial and business needs of a startup. They also discussed the pivotal role that Golden Seeds has played in jump-starting Terecircuits into the future.
IF: Tell us about the origins of your company.
JS: I started this business after I left HP Labs following its merger with Compaq. I wasn’t comfortable with the bureaucracy and where things were going. Though my research there had contributed to some nice technological successes, I wanted to have more of an individual impact. I had ideas about what could be done to foster the Internet of Things — the spread of Internet technology into everyday life. I stumbled around a bit as an entrepreneur and then came up with this technology: a new way to place microelectronic objects to facilitate mass production.
IF: What market need are you solving and how is your approach different from how others have addressed this need?
JS: Micro LED displays have many advantages, but one very major disadvantage: placement of the light emitting parts on a backplane. The traditional pick and place machine, which uses a robot arm to move components from one place to another, runs into trouble when objects are very small or there are a large number of them. That’s the situation with micro LED displays. Instead of having an LED as a backlight behind liquid crystals, they require an LED at every pixel — millions of them.
It’s just not practical for a robot arm to handle that.
We developed a new technology that’s a much more efficient way to place these millions of tiny components. I realized a long time ago that you have to be at least 10 times better than the competition or your new technology won’t make it. With micro LED displays, there’s no other solution right now that comes close to ours. We’re much cheaper, faster and more efficient. So this market offers us an ideal entry point, and we think this is where it will be adopted first. But long term, this technology can be used with any kind of chip, on any kind of circuit board or substrate.
IF: What challenges have you encountered along the way? How have you overcome them?
JS: There have been tech challenges, of course, but we have clever people working here and they’ve solved these problems pretty quickly. One of the biggest challenges is financing. The investment world has shifted away from hardware and process tech investment and toward software and internet businesses. That’s made it hard to secure money to get to the demonstration stage. Potential investors want to see what they’re funding, so you need to demonstrate your technology — and that takes money.
By collaborating with universities and academic scientists, we’ve minimized the need for expensive infrastructure and gained access to government grants. We were also lucky enough to find a CEO, Wayne Rickard, who excels at fundraising. His presentation skills and personal credibility brought in a lot of our early money.
One caveat I’d offer based on past experience: Be careful about the investors you decide to work with. At a previous company, our investors pulled the plug for reasons many of us considered unwise. So make sure you’re teaming up with the right partners before you take the money.
IF: What advice do you have for early-stage founders about growing a team and building a culture?
JS: Finding the right co-founder is critical because you’ll work closely, and the quality of your partnership can make or break your company. In high-tech sectors, you need a business person to complement the technologist. Coming out of a lab research environment, I didn’t know how to find the right person and do human due diligence. Through networking, I found Wayne, who’s been the perfect match.
Company culture should be a priority right from the start because early hires define your culture. The more people you have, the harder it is to change your culture. It’s important to hire people who will foster the kind of environment you want.
IF: What’s coming up next for your company? Any big milestones on the horizon?
JS: We’re close to being able to demonstrate the basic operations of our process in a way that makes it tangible for strategic partners. Though the process is still too primitive for commercialization, we believe it’s enough to convince them to help us develop the technology further. We want to prove the concept and show this repeatability, then have our partners commercialize it using their own engineers and resources. It’s a bit of a challenge to define our company and put boundaries around it: We’ve developed an aid to the manufacturing process, but we’re not a hardware company and we don’t want to be in the business of manufacturing displays.
IF: Tell us about your experience with Golden Seeds. How has the Golden Seeds network been helpful to you?
JS: It has been fantastic and I’ve enjoyed the process. Golden Seeds has the best, most extensive due diligence process of any firm we’ve encountered. They have a deep technical expertise which elicited a strong understanding of the risk and the technology. It also led to thorough but very fair questions. We knew if we could get through that process, we’d have it made. The experience truly shaped our financial strategy, so it’s no wonder Golden Seeds remains our largest investor and a valued resource.
We currently find ourselves in an unprecedented time full of uncertainty, fear and confusion.
Now classified as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, COVID-19 cases have been reported in all U.S. states and in 152 countries across the globe. As a result, global markets are plummeting. Oil is below $30 a barrel. The Fed is slashing interest rates and the pandemic-related unemployment rate is hovering around 20% and will likely continue to grow as businesses are forced to shutter. Financially speaking, things look quite bleak.
But we’ve been here before and we survived it. During the previous recession, which lasted from 2007 to 2009, many institutions fell into crisis. Real estate and other markets that were typically accepted as reliable investments instead turned into a tailspin, and it was a difficult time for everyone. In the aftermath of a world that felt upside-down, we, as investors, and our companies learned plenty of hard lessons. Since the world now faces a similar squeeze, we hope to offer smoother navigation through these rough waters.
Recovery today could require a different course; however, there are some valuable lessons that can still apply.
Our 2008 recession playbook
At Golden Seeds, even before the global pandemic, we felt we might eventually deal with a different type of recession cycle that would be based more on inflationary forces as the increasing climate danger and its associated costs are starting to play out across every level of our economy. Tariffs have been inflationary to businesses and consumers. We felt that we’re continuing to see 2008-like conditions with the growing deficit, as well as extremely high-debt burdens on consumers. Instead we have been hit with a Black Swan event in the form of the global pandemic and its staggering toll on humanity and our global economies.
Thinking back to 2008, our Wall Street backgrounds instilled awareness and concern for the impending recession early on. We issued early warnings to our small group of companies at that time. We did not see this one coming.
Preparing for the 2020 uncertainty and beyond
Based on the struggles and successes we witnessed from the last financial crisis, there are several steps people can take. How should startups work with investors and stakeholders? What effect will a downturn have on the future roadmap? The following are some steps for young companies to take for more resilience:
Watch your cash. Even if you have a term sheet, things can change rapidly now. Companies have to be incredibly careful and cut spending if sales aren’t at a steady level. In 2008, we saw two VC term sheets break, each about $3 or $4 million. In one case, the company never recovered, and the other had a very difficult time before making it through until the end.
Be transparent with investors. They can provide the guidance the company needs to sustain; after all, they’re likely the ones who will hang on once this downturn passes. Our companies that maintained good communication with us were more likely to receive financial support in a down market.
Adjust your mindset. Companies that were forced to watch their burn rates to survive a downturn can struggle a bit to get back to a fast-growth mindset when the capital starts flowing again. As board members and investors who have seen such cycles, it’s key for us to help young companies navigate this.
Understand your vendors’ financial viability. Companies must make these efforts; we witnessed companies that relied on suppliers or vendors who themselves were unable to fulfill orders, which can cause setbacks and other negative ripple effects. For example, we saw consumer product companies that received purchase orders from larger retailers only to discover that they were cancelled or considerably cut back because of the recession.
Be pragmatic about your product. It’s important for companies to determine whether their products or services are “nice to have” or “have to have.” In a financial crisis, customers will likely hold off on ordering the “nice to have” items or services.
And what actions should investors take in such a rocky environment? How will they be able to spot the organizations that will outlast the hard times?
As the first generation of female angel investors, we were the first to experience angel investing in a recession. At the time, we had only been investing for a few years and still didn’t fully understand how to differentiate between a company that would have otherwise performed badly — regardless of the impending recession — versus a company that could have likely weathered the storm. Here are a few tips we think will help investors form a game plan:
Enlist seasoned expertise. We could have used a team member or a mentor that had faced economic struggle in the past to avoid certain pitfalls that cropped up with the recession. We relied on our Wall Street expertise to make the best calls we could with the information at hand, but the stall in global activity was uncharted territory for everyone.
Stick with true leaders. You need CEOs who are determined to stay alive and come up with survival plans. They need tenacity and persistence. Without those characteristics, they’re never going to make it through.
Look for transparent companies. The teams that stay upfront with investors and maintain transparency will help everyone plan accordingly, particularly when things aren’t going well.
Recessions aren’t all bad — here’s why
Recessions and uncertainty can be scary, as we are currently experiencing. But not everything has to be negative. In some ways, these environments force the companies to become real businesses and focus on breaking even, which can lead to some hard decisions. When talent becomes available during these cycles, good CEOs can really benefit from great hires.
Additionally, the landscape can really ignite innovation around the world. The downturn proved to be a great time for innovation — social media was basically born during the recession. People had the time (perhaps, unfortunately because of layoffs) to seek out their passion projects. Universities all around the world launched incubation hubs for entrepreneurship.
For anyone building an enduring company, this downturn is probably not the last they will see. The mark of a great company is one that has self-awareness about its position in the overall cycle. Each crisis is a real test of grit and resilience. For the ones that can withstand, there are new opportunities for inspiration, pivots and innovation.
For the first time ever, we have five generations in the workplace, ranging in age from 18 to 85 or more. This generational clash can lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding, but it also presents opportunities. To survive and thrive, we must adapt to the changing workplace. Though humans are hardwired to resist change, individuals and companies can learn to adapt and turn the differences between generations into fuel for innovation, creativity and growth.
The age range in today’s workplace is unprecedented, because people are living and working longer, so Gen X, Baby Boomer and Silent Generation workers are all still in the workforce. At the same time, young employees are entering the job market in huge numbers. Millennials, who currently range in age from 24 to 39, are the single-largest segment in the workforce today. Generation Z — ages 10 to 23 years old — are just starting to enter the workforce, widening the workforce’s age range even more.
Younger employees are transforming the workplace, affecting levels of change not seen since the hippie counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s.Dr. Massey’s overall message was thatdifferent perspectives on life and work between younger and older employees can lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding, but there are solutions.
Understanding how the generations differ
Members of each age group have had different experiences that shaped their attitudes and behaviors. With each generation, we see a rise in college graduates, working women and liberal political views, and a decline in the percentage who are Caucasian, Christian and married at a young age. In other words, the U.S. population is becoming better educated and more diverse in race, ethnicity and gender identification, as well as religious and political beliefs.
Often, we describe generations with broad generalizations that are informative, though not universally true of everyone:
● The Silent Generation, born from 1928–1945, has a reputation for conformity and civic-mindedness.
● The Baby Boomers, born from 1946–1964, identify themselves by what they do for a living and are goal-driven, disciplined and competitive.
● Generation X, born from 1965–1980, is one of the smallest generations. Nicknamed America’s middle child, because they are sandwiched between two larger generations — the Baby Boomers and Millennials — Gen Xers are known for being flexible. They can adapt to changes ushered in by Millennials and Gen Z, while also acting as a bridge between the oldest and youngest employees.
● Generation Y (better known as Millennials), born from 1981–1996, are the largest generation in the workplace. They expect to move up quickly, but they sometimes find themselves stuck in mid-tier jobs because Boomers aren’t retiring. Older generations have criticized them for “lacking drive,” but Dr. Massey encourages people to reframe their thinking around that moniker. Millennials don’t lack drive; their parents taught them to seek a healthy work/life balance, so the older generations need to understand that they taught these young adults to have different priorities.
● Generation Z, born from 1997–2010, is the largest generation in U.S. and the most diverse. In addition, they have only known a world that is digitally connected, and many are addicted to technology and social media. They’re extremely entrepreneurial.
How individuals can adapt to change
The major differences among these age groups can lead to misunderstandings. Both sides in an argument may have valid points but view things through different lenses. This is why Dr. Massey says it’s helpful to consider the generational background when negotiating conflict in the workplace. It’s also important for managers to avoid overcorrecting for minor issues.
The solution is not to assign blame, but to change the way we view each other. Change isn’t easy because the brain is hardwired to resist it. But thanks to neuroplasticity, the brain is also capable of learning, which means we can retrain ourselves to react differently.
When seeking to understand someone else, apply the generational lens. What was going on in the world when they were growing up and what lessons were they taught when they entered the workforce? This will have a lot to do with their opinions about work today.
What companies can do
Businesses can learn from organizations that are successfully integrating younger generations into a traditional workplace. Here are some tips based on their experiences:
● Focus on workplace well-being more than material benefits.
● Engage employees by providing meaningful opportunities on key projects. Workplace mobility and professional growth will reduce job hopping.
● Groom younger employees for leadership roles by giving them responsibility to suit their high levels of education and training.
● Allow flexible working conditions such as flex time, working at home and parental leave. Employees will be more focused and productive when not worried about their personal life.
● Make sure you have the most updated technology systems.
● Communicate clearly and often because transparency is key. Share as much as you can even if it’s not a lot.
● Promote reverse mentoring. Have younger employees help older ones with technology and youth culture. It ensures younger employees are valued and older employees continue to learn.
● Be fair about compensation. Employees are aware of pay scales as that information is often available online.
● Be intentional about diversity and inclusion.
Today’s workplace is vastly different, and in some ways much more challenging, than it was decades ago. But if we approach those challenges with an open mind and constructive attitude, we can make the workplace better than ever.
Dr. Massey is President & CEO of JDMA Inc., a communications consulting firm that advises clients on managing global brand reputation with an emphasis on communicating externally and internally with Millennial and Gen Z employees, consumers and investors.
Just because a medical problem is common and treatable, doesn’t mean it gets the attention it deserves. This was the case with pelvic floor disorders, which can cause a wealth of chronic health issues. Consortia Health & Wellness was founded to treat these issues and, “to help women and men of all ages regain pelvic strength, control and confidence.”
Lauren West joined the company over a year ago as Chief Operating Officer. During her time with the organization, she’s been helping Consortia Health expand to more markets, develop its app, and grow its partnerships. Lauren recently got together with Laura Baldwin, Managing Director of Golden Seeds to discuss the challenges Consortia Health faces, how it’s overcoming them and what’s next.
LB: Tell us about the origins of your company.
LW: Consortia Health was founded seven years ago by Jeff Oliva, who is based out of Austin, Texas. Jeff’s goal was to serve the unmet need of pelvic floor disorders. Even though these are an extremely common clinical problem — up to one-in-three women suffer from bladder leaks — these patients are extremely underserved. The company has since grown to approximately 100 employees.
LB: What market need are you solving, and how is your approach different from how others have addressed this need?
LW: We provide clinically-relevant individualized diagnosis, therapy and education to help physicians treat their patients with incontinence, pelvic pain, sexual dysfunction and other pelvic disorders.
The name Consortia Health really gets at what is different about us. A consortium is a partnership, and that really is our business model. We partner with a variety of different providers to address pelvic floor disorders. We partner with physicians, senior living communities and hospital-based medicine, as well. And, of course, we consider ourselves partners to our patients. Partnering with a variety of entities in the marketplace is really a differentiator.
We have a unique business model, which is a turnkey approach to address a large, underserved component of healthcare providers’ client base: patients suffering from pelvic floor disorders. We provide the clinicians, the appointments and the equipment so providers don’t need to focus on those elements.
Then, on the treatment side, we see approximately a 98% symptom improvement in our patient population. We are proud of that and it resonates with our team members, because they get that instant feedback about a patient’s improved quality of life. That is super rewarding for us as a leadership team, but also for our clinicians in the field.
LB: What challenges have you encountered along the way? How have you overcome them?
LW: Integrating a unique healthcare offering into a legacy healthcare system has been the biggest challenge we have faced. We are constantly working on ways to scale around that challenge every day so we can directly service consumers.
We do this through a variety of platforms. We started in the physician office space, but we have grown to providing this service in hospital settings and senior living facilities, as well. We have also launched a Consortia Health app to help us provide the service directly to consumers — to reach them when they are not able to access a clinic. The app provides a format so that when patients leave the exam room, they can now access tools and information at home. The app is available on iOS and Android platforms through the app stores.
Of course, there have been challenges around the app as well. Specifically, continuing to build and grow the app. We continue to look for partners to work with us on the app including vendors who want to place their products on our e-commerce site or to advertise on the site. Our goal is to leverage the app as a platform to bring devices, supplies and eventually therapy options directly to consumers. Our vision of what that can be over the next year or more is really exciting.
LB: What’s coming up next for your company? Any big milestones on the horizon?
LW: Right now, we are in the initial stages of rolling out in a brick-and-mortar space with a hospital group. We recently had a public announcement around a partnership with a rural healthcare hospital group, Ballad Health, which is a huge provider in many rural markets including 29 counties of Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Northwest North Carolina and Southeast Kentucky. We will be working together to improve healthcare and study the effectiveness of treatments for the elderly in the Appalachian Highlands region of Tennessee and Virginia.
We also continue to rapidly expand in the senior health and wellness arena. We are excited about a relationship with a very large national vendor in the space that operates both independent and assisted living facilities nationwide.
We are continuing to grow our footprint and expanding in physician partnerships, as well. We have a presence in nine states now, which is very exciting for us.
LB: What advice do you have for early-stage founders about raising money, growing a team, fostering company culture or other issues you’ve had to address?
LW: First and foremost, it is important to be resilient and nimble; it often takes longer than you think to gain traction and hold in the marketplace. For example, at Consortia Health, we are a unique offering that is trying to disrupt a system, so it takes longer to scale than you would anticipate.
As you grow as a company, the next step is putting the structure behind that, so you have a good corporate culture, a clear mission and values that people can invest in personally and feel connected to. We spent a good deal of time working on all those things, and for early stage founders those are key areas to think through: Why are you doing what you’re doing? What are your corporate values? How do you promote those as you grow and scale?
LB: Tell us about your experience with Golden Seeds. How has the Golden Seeds network been helpful to you?
LW: Since both Golden Seeds and Consortia Health are primarily female focused, there is a strong synergy between the two of us. Golden Seeds has given us a forum and platform to get our information out there, and through our relationship we had the fortune of being introduced to some wonderful investors.
We have also gained some great feedback and recommendations for how we should scale, which we have digested and synthesized to meet our objectives and goals. Having those resources, and people willing to give advice to a growing company, is greatly appreciated.
It’s everyone’s dream to go to work every day to do what we truly love. Amanda Drobnis, CEO and Co-Founder of Hilltop Biosciences, Inc., is one of the persistent few who has put in the work to make this happen.
For Amanda, Hilltop BioSciences combines her love of both horses and business. She created and grew a company that aims to improve the lives of equines through regenerative medicine. Laura Davis and Lori Langenhagen, who were Golden Seeds’ lead investors in the due diligence for this company, talked with Amanda about the science behind Hilltop BioSciences, the challenges she faced and how Golden Seeds has helped along the way.
LD and LL: Tell us about the origins of Hilltop BioSciences.
AD: I really have a passion for horses — I’ve been riding since I was a child — and it’s always been my dream to combine this passion with business. I worked for a regenerative therapy company selling both human and veterinary products for quite some time. While there, I had one of the first regenerative matrix injections in my hip, and I did phenomenally well with it. I was really excited about it, so we started selling it for humans.
About one year later a friend’s horse had an injury to its hind leg that was not responding to standard treatment. This made me realize there was an opportunity to bring this regenerative matrix product into the veterinary community.
It ended up taking us about five years, and exploring a lot of different paths, to finally make a product, beta test it, and build a company that was ready to go look for funding. We officially launched and incorporated as Hilltop Biosciences in 2018. Currently, we focus on horses but we plan to expand our treatment to dogs and cats, as well.
LD and LL: What market need are you solving, and how is your approach different from others in the field?
AD: Hilltop BioSciences provides veterinarians with a therapy to regenerate and restore full functionality after injury, as well as maintenance solutions for long-term animal health. We are unique in that we provide veterinarians with an easy way to provide regenerative therapy on the go.
Often equine veterinarians don’t have the luxury of a permanent clinic, they’re usually on the road visiting patients. But the current regenerative therapies on the market require specialized equipment or very low temperature freezing. We’ve worked to create a solution that can be stored and transported at room temperature. Our regenerative matrix is in an injectable or membrane form and works for a variety of veterinary indications. Additionally, this modernized therapeutic helps heal injuries quickly with minimal scar tissue, reduced inflammation and minimal chance of infection.
LD and LL: What challenges have you encountered while building the company and how have you overcome them?
AD: Our biggest challenge was taking an existing frozen product made for humans and re-developing it to be used for animals at refrigerated and room temperatures. We knew the need existed, but it took us more time than we anticipated to get the product just right.
Once we identified our need, and confirmed that our idea works, the next challenge was finding the funding to move forward and commercialize our product. Finding funding was difficult, but once we had a beta product and could show that our veterinarians were interested in using it, it was a little bit easier. It was also challenging to figure out what kind of funding we wanted. When we settled on angel funding, I quickly realized how fortunate I am to live in Boston because there are so many opportunities for entrepreneurs within the community.
We took advantage of The Capital Network, which provides seminars and classes about how to build your business to help you prepare for angel funding. At the end of the classes, you are introduced to various angel investors within the community. Those introductions led me to mentors who then introduced me to all sorts of people in the industry. That’s really how I started to grow and get funding.
LD and LL: What’s coming up next for Hilltop Biosciences?
AD: We recently moved our lab, which required us to do another round of beta testing to demonstrate that this new lab met all necessary qualifications. Now that we’ve completed that process, we’re working on finalizing a production run.
After that, we’ll be working to have our first few products out of the testing phase and available for sale in the next month or two. So we have a big commercialization push coming up that we’re preparing for.
In early 2020, we’ll be looking for funding again, and then we’ll be entering the canine market sometime after that, which is really exciting.
LD and LL: What advice do you have for early stage founders?
AD: Ask for help and look for mentors. Mentors can be your biggest promoters so make sure you utilize them — ask them questions, get their opinions, and so on. For me, having mentors, and a group of people that is encouraging me and pushing me forward has been important to keep my business moving in the right direction.
Also, be open to learning and be open to change. I don’t mean you should be open to changing your entire business idea, but sometimes you need to change how you approach it, and that’s really important. For example, we started with an idea that was fully thought out for our veterinary community, but it wasn’t fully thought out for our angel community. We needed to build the business slightly differently to get the angel community interested.
LD and LL: How has your experience with Golden Seeds and their network been helpful to you?
AD: I’m really excited to be one of Golden Seeds’ companies. One of my first mentors was you, Laura Davis. You became my champion and introduced me to Golden Seeds. When I first started, I didn’t know what I needed to build my company so I took advantage of Golden Seeds’ office hours and that was a huge help.
Golden Seeds also introduced me to a variety of other angels — not necessarily even within the organization, but all throughout the community. That was really helpful. It helped get my name out there and got the momentum going when we were looking for that first round of funding.
Anyone who suffers from allergies knows that sinus pain can make you quite miserable. Jennifer Ernst, CEO of Tivic Health, noticed that medical treatment was focused more on deadly diseases than on ailments that are making people suffer every day — like allergies. Seeing these gaps in treatment of many kinds of allergies — which affect millions of people — inspired her to bring evidence-based medicine to help solve the problem. The result is Tivic Health’s ClearUP, which offers a new way to treat sinus pain through gentle microcurrents.
Jennifer has a history of developing new products and markets in the technology space, starting at Xerox PARC and later at Thin Film Electronics ASA. In this Q&A, Jennifer chatted with Gwen Edwards, Managing Director of Golden Seeds, about how Tivic Health got started, challenges faced along the way, and offered some advice to early stage startups that are just getting off the ground.
GE: Tell us about the origins of your company.
JE: It started with a black box. John Claude, our co-founder and VP of engineering, saw a big microcurrent box being used in-office for treatment of sinus conditions and allergies. Having worked with microcurrents early in his career, he saw the potential for a portable, handheld solution. I came to know of John’s invention through shared connections in the Silicon Valley network. He’s a consummate medical device inventor, while my background is in building businesses.
Sinus cold and allergy treatments are a huge market. With millions of people suffering, over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceuticals are a $130 billion segment. Yet, we still saw gaps in treatment. The only thing recommended for regular sinus health maintenance is flushing your nose with saltwater. John’s invention represented a fundamental breakthrough that could improve the lives of millions of people who suffer from sinus conditions.
We started the business on Sept. 16, 2016. It took some soul searching, but at one point we looked at each other and I said, “It would be irresponsible not to try.” Some family and friends invested, we completed our FDA strategy, filed provisional patents and from there we just kept building. Three years later, we have completed clinical studies, secured FDA clearance, built a high-quality core team and brought a product to the market.
Coincidentally, we began shipping Sept. 16, 2019, exactly three years to the day from filing incorporation paperwork.
GE: What market need are you solving, and how is your approach different from how others have addressed this need?
JE: The broad market is more than 60 million people in the U.S. who suffer from sinus pain, pressure and congestion. Most doctors realize these symptoms go hand in hand though terminology varies by field. Some doctors call it atypical facial pain; some call it facial migraine.
Our product is FDA cleared for use on sinus pain associated with allergic rhinitis, and we’re working on getting approval for congestion. We also recently received our CE Mark allowance for “temporary relief of sinus pain, pressure and congestion.”
Sinus pain has a significant impact on quality of life, and unfortunately there haven’t been any good treatment options. This inability to treat sinus pain (or atypical facial pain) is also a pain point for physicians. Surgery can’t do anything because it’s related to the swelling of the tissue, and treatment options are primarily pharmaceutical. In fact, 13% of patients are prescribed opioids (though that is changing)!
So, we are new in this category and set up as a daily use product for one of the most pervasive chronic conditions. ClearUP® Sinus Pain Relief is a simple-to-use, home-use product that someone glides along the cheek, nose and browbone in a guided fashion. The device delivers a tiny amount of electrical stimulation in a proprietary waveform.
In a double-blind, controlled study, ClearUP had a fast-acting effect, and over 70% of people in the four-week, at-home study showed reduction in symptom severity and frequency. We’re showing fast-acting effects for a portion of users, efficacy as strong as the leading pharmaceutical on the market (Flonase) and no significant side effects. There’s not a single pharmaceutical that can make these claims.
GE: What challenges have you encountered along the way? How have you overcome them?
JE: I think every entrepreneur says financing is a big part of the challenge and our experience was similar.
We’ve bucked conventional wisdom in a lot of ways. Medical innovation has been largely focused on the things that can kill you, while often ignoring the conditions that make people’s lives miserable.
Investments in medical technology are often driven by large reimbursement opportunities rather than large intrinsic markets. When I looked at this market, though, products are primarily OTC and 40% of sufferers aren’t even seeing a doctor. Then I looked at electrical therapies and saw many were struggling to secure any form of reimbursement.
We decided to focus on bringing evidence-based, microcurrent to mass underserved populations. Thus, ClearUP Sinus Pain Relief — an OTC medical device — was born.
I was really surprised given the size of the market, the scale and the margins that the classic healthtech investors had a challenge seeing the opportunity. Health investors were used to seeing reimbursement as the business model. We can make a strong business case on a non-reimbursed basis. I eventually realized that funds have raised their money on models that have succeeded in the past, but we’re charting new territory. So, we had to work new angles. In fact, many of our early investors suffered from allergies, tried the product and loved it. This summer, we had a large investment from a group of ENT physicians.
As far as other challenges, the CE Mark presents both opportunity and challenges. With both CE Mark and FDA Clearance, we are positioned for global expansion in over 190 countries, even though we’re still on our Series Seed funding. Getting us positioned to take advantage of that opportunity, while not over-extending the team, will be a balancing act.
There are some big trends that bolster our growth potential. One is the consumerization of healthcare — we all know that we have much more of a stake in researching our own therapies and investigating our own outcomes. Our direct-to-consumer model, supported by physician education, fits the current healthcare model in the U.S.
Another is the explosive growth of bioelectronic medicine. It was recently declared by McKinsey to be an under appreciated, multi-billion dollar segment, and the peripheral nerve stimulation applications are forecast to grow at 35% CAGR over the next five years.
The third is growing rate of sinus and allergy diseases associated with climate change and pollution levels. This market is not going away any time soon.
GE: What’s coming up next for your company? Any big milestones on the horizon?
JE: We are doing online and in-store pilots with Walgreens, CVS and Best Buy. We are investigating some international partnerships that will be shaping up in 2020. We received our ISO 13485 certification in November. [ISO 13485 defines a comprehensive quality management system for the design and manufacture of medical devices.]
GE: What advice do you have for early stage founders about raising money, growing a team, fostering company culture or other issues you’ve had to address?
JE: Focus on your milestones with whatever capital you raise. That’s how you will be measured when you come back the next time. It’s also critical to have a basic infrastructure in place. You’re going to live with whatever you build for a long time, so it’s worth spending to get it right. This includes good legal counsel to get you set up, then keep everything clean as you go.
This is my second time around. I was CEO of a U.S. subsidiary and took it from eight people to a half-billion market cap in less than five years. Milestones and execution were everything.
GE: Tell us about your experience with Golden Seeds. How has the Golden Seeds network been helpful to you?
JE: There are some seriously smart investors at Golden Seeds! The amount I’ve learned, and continue to learn, is amazing. Golden Seeds has been really good about opening up their Rolodex. They have a reputation for being tough and standing by their companies. That is consistent with our experience.