Innovation: Via a 5th Generation WI Life Science Company

I want to share three themes that struck me from the Dohmen Life Science Services Entrepreneur Summit in Milwaukee this week.

Is there an age or stage of company that doesn’t require innovation? 

Dohmen started as an apothecary in 1858 and is a private fifth generation company, which has reinvented itself over the last few years. Cynthia LaConte, CEO at Dohmen, started the conference with an overview of their process: Preserve – Destroy – Create. To become Dohmen Life Science Services, they have recently done eight acquisitions, two divestitures and multiple internal “builds”.

How do we develop products that people can be passionate about?


Tim Hoelter was one of a group of 13 people who pooled their savings and bought Harley Davidson from AMF in 1981. Hoelter talked about transforming Harley from a manufacturing to a customer centric company. At one point, Hoelter used a motorcycle hill climb to describe challenge of rebuilding Harley – you can’t slow down or stop or you fall over.

Hoelter discussed the ways that the company reached out and listened to customers as they improved quality and made other necessary changes. Perhaps of greatest interest as pharma/biotech works to engage patients is that Harley embraced the culture of their customers. One of the example ads shared was: Would you sell an unreliable motorcycle to these guys?

During his talk, Hoelter shared a note that was passed to him during a meeting at one of the company’s low points. The sentiment resonated with the entrepreneurs in the room, including Michael Gilman of Padlock Therapeutics.

Can We Talk More About the Twisting Path to Success? 

Perhaps the greatest resonance for me personally was during Geoffrey McDonough’s talk. McDonough, CEO of rare disease company Sobi, shared this cartoon about success. (McDonough also told us the source of the original: Demetri Martin’s This is a Book.) His next slide was an actual timeline with the events from start to now for the development of hemophilia drug ReFacto, which Sobi manufactures and is sold by Pfizer. In science (and often in business), our narratives are often the straight line versions, which may be technically correct but lack the lessons we learn during the squiggles.



Thanks to the team at Dohmen for the invitation to a great conference – in a neat environment.

You can find all of the #dlss14 tweets here.



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