How did she do it? A Q&A with Amanda Drobnis, CEO and Co-Founder of Hilltop Biosciences, Inc.
Laura Davis and Lori Langenhagen, Managing Directors of Golden SeedsJanuary 9, 2020
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.
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