In This Episode
The majority of organizations innovate by creating new products from scratch. However, some of the most useful innovations in history have been when an existing product has been given a new application.
This week on the Veterinary Innovation Podcast, Shawn and Ivan talk with Dr. Stephanie Morley, the President and COO of Zomedica, about the entrepreneur’s journey, differentiating yourself by focusing on a specific sector, and driving innovation by seeking ways to fill in the gaps.
- Applying Innovations in Human Medicine to the Veterinary Field
- Focusing on Innovation
- The Entrepreneur’s Journey
Shawn: Ivan, why don’t you go ahead and introduce today’s guest.
Ivan: Hi, I’m Ivan Zak, and I’m happy to introduce Dr. Stephanie Morley. We are gonna talk about innovation in the field of diagnostics. Stephanie is a president and CEO at Zoomedica. It’s a diagnostics organization that has some innovative ways of bringing the products from human market to veterinary medicine. And we’re gonna talk about that. She’s previously an associative director of business development at the university of Michigan’s Medical School, office of research. She holds a degree of a DVM with honors from Michigan State University. She also has a degree in hospitality, and has a family with 5 kids. Welcome to the show, Stephanie, thank you for joining us.
Stephanie: Thank you.
Ivan: So, we started, I was trying to fully get a merce into what you do, and it became so confusing that we decided let’s just tell our listeners because it’s fascinating but I don’t think that I can capture the entire model. So from what I understood, you are finding the technologies that are under development in the human space, that are related to diagnostics. And then you’re finding the opportunities in the veterinary space where you can implement them before they’re implemented in human model. Is that correct?
Stephanie: That’s correct. See, it may sound simple.
Ivan: That’s..That’s all I’ve got. (Stephanie laughs) So if you can explain us how does that work, how do you find these companies, and what inspired you to actually do this?
Shawn: And just wait, I got to dig in. Occasionally, he does smart things like this, so it’s good. And at the same time while you’re answering that, how have you blended your hospitality DVM degree to find yourself where you are today? So just to make it hard to get started. Three questions to get started.
Stephanie: (laughs) Sure. So it does actually sound a little confusing sometimes when you try to talk about Zomedica and what it is we’re doing, and how we got here. If you go back to the beginning, a lot of people ask about my background in hospitality business, and how I ever ended up in veterinary medicine. And there is really no romantic answer to that, other than I wasn’t very excited about what job opportunities I had. I was downhill skier, I was really interested being in the ski industry, and when I wasn’t finding anything that got me excited, I thought “Well, being a veterinarian can be cool”. So I literally went back to school and went to veterinary medicine. But what I found in veterinary medicine was that what I loved about hospitality was managing the experience and really providing customer service to my customers. It’s a service basedindustry where you don’t have a widget yourself, you have to help someone find value in their experience. And I feel like animal practice particularly is the same. We are a cash based business, there is a lot of bedside manner that comes to maintaining and attracting customers, and ultimately you’re a reluctant salesperson, where you’re trying to sell your expertises and your recommendation to an owner who ultimately is going to make the determination on the economic the pet who is your patient. So there was a lot of actual similarities in the two, I just didn’t realize that until I got to the vet school. When I was in vet school, I was really interested in the business side of veterinary medicine, and primarily I just genuinely have a love for business. I love the concept of creating value for someone, and they find worth in that. And pay you for that worth, and you continue to find value, and they continue to find the worth. It’s just a really simple, but fantastic concept to me. And that’s what makes the work around. So I practice veterinary medicine in Albuquerque and Kalamazoo, Michigan. And then, I experienced the significance of burnout, and for the whole that a lot of people leave veterinary medicine, I left practice and went into the lab animal medicine. And again, never expected to be a lab animal vet, but I got into management in aminal medicine very quickly because of mine business interest. And I ended up being responsible for significant number of animals, and people, and revenue. And enjoyed everything I learned there, but I missed the customer service aspect, and so I ended up in business about Michigan medical school and the program called “medical innovation”. And that’s sort of medical innovation was really a program set up to connect researchers and the medical school, so MD phD researchers who has product that had commercial value. And really educating the 3000+ medical faculties in university of Michigan what the commercialisation process looks like, and then I was helping to identify industry partners for funding and co-developemnt to take those concepts from bench to bedside. And so in my time in university of Michigan, I saw lot of technologies from pharmaceutical device, IT you know, digital health solutions, where the focus was on human medicine, where I saw complete application in veterinary medicine. And Michigan is known is kind of fly-over state for innovation, and everything happens on the coast, and everyone flies over to the state of Michigan. And doing business development, I had to find ways to encourage people to stop in the Detroit area and say “there is probably some good tech here”. University of Michigan is one of the top NIH funded research facilities in the country, and so there is a lot of really fantastic innovation going on around here. So when my co-founder got ahold of me through various you know neighbours, husband’s husband kind of concept. We didn’t know each other, but he had an innovation of his own to use a Canadian capital market to take a company public to access the public capital pre revenue. And so, he knew he wanted to start an animal health company, but he wasn’t a veterinarian, and he found me. And so together, he focused on some money side, and I focused on the pipe plan. So we did go public on side exchange in 2015, we cooperated in 2015, went public in 2015, and then two years later we crossed exchange American. And that’s the end of it all was innovation. But what I was challenged to do is to say “What product would veterinarians use?”. And what’s gonna add value. And a lot of this was organic, but what I learned from a lot of the tech companies that I worked with in the university of Michigan, and a lot of people that were more on the digital health side. Technology companies, and you two know this very well, are very very good at adapting to customer needs – you have to be. And a lot of that adapting comes from regular interaction with potential customers – you beta test something, you’ll give it to ten friends and get feedback. And then you’ll iterate, and then you’ll give it to ten more friends, and beta-test again, etc. It’s hard to do in a live sciences because it’s a big very costly road. And it’s also hard to put things up where you couldn’t potentially risk your intellectual property. And so what we did, we started with voices one vet being me, saying use that, reach up to my classmates, that kind of thing and say yep, that would make sense. But then we also developed something called the veterinarian, where by we had ten veterinary professionals that are technicians, veterinarians, practice managers from across the country who receive a weekly survey from us, so we asked them everything from helping us decide on our marketing approaches to the form of our devices, to which aspect we’re gonna develop. And then we also developed a program called “Voices of vets”, which was really the concept as I know it’s hard to sell to, we don’t trust the corporations very easily, we don’t trust sales people very easily, and we’re very slow to change. We make decisions based on what our mentors have taught us, what our friends are doing, and so I wanted to create a platform where people would recognize our brand, so that they would trust us, when we had something come to market. And I wanted to bring those people into the product development process, and say you are a customer, so come help us do this. So we created the voice of the vet program in 2015, I think it was, over 3000 members strong. So we have a voice of customer based on potential users from when we launched our first products, and when we’re ready to iterate once we get out there and do our beta, we’re gonna be in our first official beta-test this year, we’ll have people who are ready to be part of that feedback. So that’s kind of how we approached – how do we find technologies and how do we make sure it’s really spitting, and after being developed with an actual end-user in mind. And not just from one veterinarian perspective. Which I think is really innovative, and a lot more about making veterinarian a customer. And that’s the pet or the pet owner
Ivan: So I think that just where I would start is probably the last time I’ve seen someone wanting to go from downhill skiing to improve customer experience looking for a job at ‘Four Seasons’. That’s probably the best scenario, not go the full circle through the medical education and then creating an IPO company to run and then move to stock exchange in New York. And then loop back in veterinary medicine. That’s not the first correlation between hospitality and DVM that we expected to hear. (laughs)
Shawn: Yeah, thanks for making it really simple story, that was super easy to follow, but unbelievably complex.
Ivan: Yeah, no, wow, it’s super interesting. So are there products that I don’t know, that you are under no disclosure on any of these things? Are any of these come to market that we all are gonna hear about that is gonna be a product the one that you said is gonna be a beta coming out that we can talk about?
Stephanie: Yep. So we have three platforms. Three diagnostic platforms that we have licensed from companies focused on the human market. Two of them pointed at human technologies, and one of them reference lab technology. Two out of the three are actually Michigan based companies. So when I talked about the fly-over state, we took advantage of the connections we had and found technologies that were perfect for what it is we were building. And fortunately just made a really good made in Michigan story. So our first market product is actually the latest product we’ve licensed is product is calling true forma, and it’s supportive care technology that we licensed from the company called “Corro Technology’. Their parent company is a large, large company that creates frequency technology for communication industry, and what they identified was that they had a little sensor for the bulb acoustic wave sensor that they used for iPhones and other communication devices. They identified that it’s to be used as a biosensor and so they developed a point of care technology whereby instead of using obstacle detection, where typically let’s say you have antizyme antibody interaction, and there is associated with that. And that camera is gonna pick up whatever that light is, to say is something present or not. There is limit to obstacle detection, when you talk about very very small quantities of analytes that you’re trying to detect. What the bulb acoustic wave sensor does it is moving at a no frequency and when there is a change in math based on the that engine antibody reaction, it detects that change and frequency. And therefore, it’s significantly more sensitive then an optical detection. And so being that this is a point of care device now what you’re able to do it detect, analyse that are normally requiring a reference lamp because of the level of sensitivity needed. You can now do a point of care. So it’s a first assess for developing that platform are focused on thyroid and adrenal disorders. So we are developing TSH, including T-line TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone. T-4, and free T-4. And then for endocrine we’re developing a cortisol. So really what that allows, the reason we focused on thyroid and adrenal is that it allows for actual diagnosis for thyroid and adrenal disorders in one disease versus requiring samples being sent to the reference lab and having to wait on the answers.
Shawn: It’s really interesting, and it’s obviously a very complex field. The one question that comes to mind for me, is how do the large diagnostic companies look at an organization like yours. It seems like your approach to customers feedback and launching products is more aligned with a startup, and in a lot of cases, those large organizations are much different. So what’s the view, what’s the legup that you have on the competition?
Stephanie: Any startup, any small company, one of the things that they have that larger companies doesn’t have is the ability to be nimble and react quickly. So, you know, I think our ability to reach out to customers and really truly bring a voice of customers that much closer to the product development process is just cause we’re small. And, you know, we’re 22 people strong, as co-founder and president CEO I’m way delierly on social media and interacting with veterinarians and many of them are friends and colleagues. So, that really allows us to make decisions quickly and pivot. As far as the competition goes, there are very few small startup diagnostic companies in animal health that have pipe plan or product. But you’ll notice that in our pipeline we don’t have chemistry and we don’t have hymothology. We’re not trying to be another large diagnostic company. We’re trying to fill hole and gaps that we see. Nobody has agent, particularly in the point of care. No one has a freeline TSH that’s validated for a cat in reference or point of care. So we’re really complimentary to those diagnostic services that have chemistry and hematology in point of care. And as well as those that have reference lab, we have the potential to bring some additional work for new biomarkers etc. So we have been very careful not to come across as major competition, but instead how can we use our ability to be nimble and our ability to be very innovative, and to work with these diagnostic companies on the human side, in a way that will spill gaps that they are currently able to solve. I often call it David and Gallaya, right? We’re definitely the David, and the world is full of Gallyas right now. We just have to be smart and make sure we’re filling user needs without creating any undo competition that could beat that from getting to the customer.
Ivan: So if I understand correctly, your end product. Are you creating a product that could be used at the hospital level, or you are creating the product that these large companies can use and become your customer? Who is your end customer from these products?
Stephanie: So our end customer is the practicing veterinarian.
Ivan: Okay, so you are in a way competing with larger Antechs and Idexx’s of this world, if they don’t see you as a complimentary, which a lot of times as startups, when we come up with a very niche-e product, we say “No, no, we’re not completing with you, and I’ve been in this several times. And then they just don’t see bigger picture for very long time until they realize that you are, that you’re actually doing something really focused. They’re always see it as black and white – either you’re competitor or not. That’s probably the space where you are at right now.
Stephanie: Maybe. But our goal is we’re 100% focused on creating value to the veterinarian. And so you know, like I said, chemistry, hematology there are plenty of companies doing that. They are doing it very, very well. We’re just focusing on accessing the point of care that we believe veterinarian will find utility and value, and our development. The opportunity for us to add value where others aren’t currently adding it. So that’s definitely the thing that’s competitive. But again, if we stay focused on our end user. Will end up complimenting anyone in diagnostic sector, because test leads to more test, and the whole reason I actually wanted to go in diagnostics and pivot in diagnostic, is because when I was in practice, you know, it wasn’t always about getting the best treatment for a pet. It was about getting the best answer for the owner. When you’re trying to convince an owner that they need to take your recommendation for treatment or additional diagnostics for their pet, the more that you’re able to give them the right answers, the more they trust you further down the road. And particularly, people who are involved in medicine, it’s not always easy to get the right answer right off for vet. And so if we can get better answers faster that helps veterinarian to do additional tests, and also help to do the additional treatment, and for their business health, it helps them retain those customers. And develop that trust that’s necessary to insure that pet gonna say the patient of yours for the lifetime.
Shawn: It’s really interesting. So the other question that comes to my mind, Stephanie, just the whole innovation, you know, like going public being on the stock exchange, and then experiencing quite a bit of rapid approach. What’s the journey been like for you as a veterinarian that had a key interest in business? It seems like you had the hell of an interesting ride over the last couple of years.
Stephanie: Yeah, you can’t see the grey hairs, but there’s couple of them up there. It’s been a really interesting ride. I think sometimes particularly as an entrepreneur, good to not easy end first. No that we’re at the end, but if you knew what you’re getting into, then you may not do it. You.. It’s funny. I’ve been using something earlier in my career about coming full circle, actually coming full circle. And there are bunch of reasons for that from a branding perspective. But it resonated with me significantly, because when I look back on my career and all the new ones experiences that had and the ability to have opportunity to see so many different parts of business, and different types of business, etc, and stages of development of technology. It kind of all went to this universal moment for me. It was like “Oh, that’s why we’re all in this stuff”. And it really allowed me to kind of pivot my perspective of even career journey as just kind of let go and learn. And I’ve had to use that mentality a lot through that process, is just say “There is obviously something important supposed to be learning from this moment, because it’s otherwise getting to cut up in the stress,loose sight of the end game . And so for me, the journey has been one of the biggest things that I had to really be disciplined about is never forget what your goal is. And my goal, above anything else, is to get this product to the market. I want my friends to use these products. I want these products in the market when my dog gets sick. I want veterinarians to graduating in the next decade to change how they practice because of something we brought to market. And what the health of their patient to be positively impacted, based on what we’ve done here at Zomedica. Being focused on that, allows me to kind of ride the waves that comes to entrepreneurship to one day to get super super high and then next day is super super low. But I’m very very proud to have the opportunity to you know lead the charge on that, and to be able to have a team of people who all believe in that same mission, and kind of trust it’s all happening for a reason.
Shawn: That’s awesome
Ivan: There is couple things there that made me feel the same way. Being through the company that end to end and exit. At the end of it, a lot of people would say “Oh, and they you sold the company and that’s you know a success” Yes, for the most part, yes. But then what was missing after is the feeling of that journey. And that’s what you’re describing is the way that’s you get there and the line to everybody outside is the straight line is the hockey stick from bottom up, which was for you, down, really down, up a little bit, again down, further down then it was, and then up. And if you connect all the dots, it is “Oh, all of that experiences really what enterpeneurers really get infected with. They basically can’t stay away from that journey.And I think that this is what phenomenal and that’s what I heard you say. It’s fascinating and definitely an interesting way of how you get there, and I hate to say this, but I think that we’re our of time.
Shawn: We are
Ivan continues: It’s quite a story. I really appreciate you coming to our show. We have two questions that we’re asking. So, Stephanie, if you’re would recommend some resource, ted talk, blog, something that inspired you recently that you would recommend to the listeners that would be great to share.
Stephanie: Yeah, so I have two. One is I think it goes back to a “What’s my why” and that’s what keeps me going every day. But the other ted talk , I can’t remember, it was 10 years ago I first saw it, but it was Moment dancing on the hill, I don’t remember the exact name of it, but if you look up, it’s basically talks about that, it’s not necessarily the person who leads that charge who’s really is the true innovator, it’s person who’s not afraid to follow that person. It shows that’s the power of first follower that really leads to major change and adoption and I feel like what we’re trying to do it’s great if me and all the people medicare leading, but we’re really the whole industry to start following and be excited about what we’re doing.
Ivan: Wow. And the second question we ask, is who else you think would be great to have on our show, that we could invite on your behalf and with your reference?
Stephanie: I can give you may that you’ve already talked to. But one of my most favorite people in the world, but also in veterinary medicine, that I don’t think you’ve talked to, is Dr. Mia Kary. As many people know Mia, but what she’s done, she has a very similar trajectory of just following passion and excitement what got her going in her career, but what she has done to bring excitement and genuinely love and positivity to veterinary medicine is this beautiful, and she’s a good person just to feel good.