I had a client not too long ago name Sally*, she ran a small startup. While we were working together she hired an employee, Linda*, to run all daily operations and create an internal training and strategy department. There were two things that Linda was responsible for #1 being the CEO's right-hand man and #2 communicating and teaching employees what the CEO truly wanted to do.
The biggest issue we kept running into was Sally's unwillingness to delegate and empower others to take on new responsibility. In one of our sessions, Sally admitted that she was worried that the pieces of her company were going to be given away by sharing the inner workings of her mind. "But Nikki, this is my baby! I have to run everything to make sure things go as I plan- I don't have time to train the employees!" So she'd be up all hours of the night and then complain about how little money she was making for how hard she was working.
Linda was the first to go. After that one by one employees began to quit, clients left her, and she felt like she was back at square one. Sally never took the time to teach her employees. She never took the time to understand their strengths so that she could delegate tasks in the business in order to scale it.
John Maxwell says, "Good leadership isn't about advancing yourself. It's about advancing your team," and Ashley Kalinauskas, CEO/Founder of Torigen does precisely that. She shares in our FFS feature how a team is EVERYTHING to getting a startup off the ground. Ashley tells us that some of her favorite moments while growing Torigen is watching her employees become more confident taking on new tasks which in turn creates growth for everyone!
Torigen is an incredible and innovate company that provides a personalized cancer vaccine to veterinary clinics around the country. After a lump or bump is felt by a veterinarian, they send the tumor sample in to their labs. If the tumor comes back from pathology as malignant, then they move forward and create a series of vaccines that are designed to stimulate the immune system against the cancer by isolating the tumor cells and providing a specific CD8+ cytotoxic T cell adjuvant.
Torigen found that 8 million companion animals are diagnosed each year with cancer, and nearly 90% of them do not get further cancer care by an oncologist. Which is why Torigen was created! Their goal is to create a safe, effective and affordable treatment option that can be provided by local veterinarians and in turn help millions of patients.
So many times inventions or companies emerge from immediate need, loss, or convenience. It is clear that there are so many dogs that could benefit from this treatment! Torigen works exclusively through veterinarians, but if you know a pet with cancer, or have a pet recently diagnosed, Torigen would love to be put in contact with your veterinarian to see if this therapy can be applicable for your pet.
What is YOUR story!? Tell us a bit about your background both personally and professionally.
Torigen is the result of my graduate research at Notre Dame where my former professor and I launched the company in 2013. Since then, we have been focused on helping the millions of companion animals that have been diagnosed with cancer. I have a mini-goldendoodle named Dave, who can be Pax's twin, and he always keeps me on my toes!
How did you get your idea or concept for your business?
My former PI was focused on researching personalized cancer immunotherapies for use treating human prostate, ovarian and breast cancer. He had been working on this technology through multiple iterations when his own yellow lab, Sadie developed oral squamous cell carcinoma.
Sadie was only given less than a month to live because the cancer had extensively metastasized. He was a veterinarian by degree, but a research professor by trade when he decided to utilize the personalized cancer vaccine on Sadie. Sadie was the first clinical patient after nearly a decade refining our process with mice and rats-- she was also the inspiration after she was successfully treated for us to research how many dogs develop cancer each year.
Looking back would you do anything different?
Running a company is difficult! I think that every step helped build us to where we are today, but looking back, I wish we would have moved a bit faster and raised additional capital earlier in the company's formation.
What is your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur?
I love being able to do it all! Everyone at Torigen wears multiple hats-- I can go from financial planning, to cell culture and business development in one afternoon. I like to dream big, but then to put down attainable goals as to how we will accomplish each of these tasks. I also enjoy leading a team that is focused on making a difference!
Share your favorite moment or moments while growing your business.
In August, 2018 we were named the top animal health innovation! That was a huge achievement and milestone for our company! I think that some of my favorite moments involve seeing my employees progress and be confident taking on more tasks. When you help an employee grow, that is the best feeling!
What are some of the challenges of being an entrepreneur?
So many! I describe every day as being thrown from a plane without a parachute and having to assemble it before you hit the ground. You never know what is coming your way-- but hard work and planning ahead can really help prevent any mishaps or surprises!
Another big challenge is financing. There are so many angel and early stage VC groups that are looking for great technologies to fund. However, we probably pitched to over 30 groups before we received our first term sheet. You have to find individuals that are willing to take on risk, but who will be your partners moving forward.
Advice for other other female entrepreneurs or those looking to get started?
START! A lot of great ideas never get off the ground floor because they do not have a dedicated team pushing them to succeed. Its important to get things going. If you have an idea and a team that believes in what you do-- the capital will follow!
Thank you Ashley for all the incredible work you are doing! We all want our furry babies to live as long as possible! The work you do is truly inspiring.
Do you have something you’d like to share? Are you a female founder that would love to inspire others? Message us in the form below to get started!