Allison London Brown began her career at Johnson & Johnson and GE Healthcare. Comfortable and successful in positions at some of the biggest corporations in the world, she thought she’d spend her career with that kind of company. “At J&J, I loved my job, I loved our people, our products and our company.”
But it turned out that she had other skills that took her in the opposite direction.
To date, she has launched over 90 products and services, including building or founding nine startup companies, the latest of which is UVision360, developer of the LUMINELLE DTx Hysteroscopy System. This is a fully integrated hysteroscopy and cystoscopy system that is changing diagnostic & therapeutic procedures for the modern office. Allison is also the author of three publications and co-inventor of six patents.
How did she take all these turns? We’ll get to her advice in a little while.
Allison credits J&J and GE with teaching her some of the important lessons that contributed to her amazing career. “J&J was about sticking to the plan. GE was about working within budgets,” she says. Both of these skills would be vital to what came next.
What propelled her in other directions was her unusual networking ability. She is fascinated by people’s stories, and gets excited when they explain ideas to her that could be viable. It’s turning those ideas into marketable products that is the trick Allison has mastered.
“So you think you have a great idea that you know would make lots of money in the market. Sounds like it would be great to start your own company! You certainly have the experience, the pedigree and the business sense to start from concept and go to launch. And you know people that will help you,” she says.
“But 95% of the people who come out of corporate America with the intent of becoming entrepreneurs fail because they have no idea what entrepreneurship really means,” Allison explains. “It’s very hard work, you wear a lot of hats, you start out with little or no support staff, and you have to learn on the fly and trust your intuition. It’s also really hard to leave the support of a big company behind.”
She calls startup land the most challenging, rewarding and life changing professional event you may encounter. It’s filled with risks and pitfalls, but for the right individual can be an amazing growth opportunity.
She experienced some of those pitfalls in the 2008 recession. “I learned about downsizing, rightsizing, strategic pivots and failures—lots of failures. But these much harder personal lessons also taught me perseverance and prepared me for the life of a start-up CEO. And perseverance is probably the most important trait for start-up executives”
Mainly, startups are a labor of love requiring passion for what you do. Allison describes the UVision360 process. “I made probably 150 presentations in the first six months for our Series A fundraise—and loved telling our story over and over.”
Those presentations had their own special challenges. She was in board rooms not with healthcare experts, but with angel investors and small cap VCs, who are mostly men. “Speaking to them about women’s products, particularly hysteroscopy equipment, can be a delicate matter. You have to stick to the need, the potential and the differentiation, even though the ultimate goal is helping the physician and the patient.” Yet it’s that human side that drives Allison all the time.
STEPS TO SUCCESS
As a long-term advisor to many companies in addition to the ones she has started, Allison has some very specific advice for those who want to make the jump to an entrepreneurial role.
1. People are the most important asset
“Yes, it’s a cliché. Yes, everyone says it. But it’s true! I was able to recruit a great partner and corporate refugee, Erich Dreyer, out of Teleflex to join me on this adventure with UVision360. We talk about resources and development and trust and team building all the time in succession planning and corporate outings.” Erich and Allison were the whole team for the first two years, along with their CMO, Dr. David Robinson, until they knew they had their funding and could bring in other vital players. This is where her networking skills paid off. “My first call after accepting this role, was to Dr. Dave, my former CMO at Ethicon Women’s Health. I knew a lot of valuable professionals from my J&J days. That was a start. And I remembered others I had met along the way who I knew would be the right fit for UVision.”
All of that is important because of the immense pressure on each participant. “Every day Erich and I make very quick decisions, without committees or lengthy presentations. That might sound like a dream for corporate people tired of long meetings, but consider the impact of a bad decision. Did we consider all the parameters? Do we have the expertise to flip this switch? There is no crying in baseball and there is no pity party in a start-up. Making the right call is the difference between a commercial launch and an investor write-off.”
This principle shows up in rewarding the contributions of her people. Almost all of the people involved with UVision360 have equity in the company. They all have a stake in the value creation for the company.
2. Know your value proposition FIRST!
All too often, we are presented with great technology that is looking for a home. And while R&D, regulatory strategy and operational excellence are so important, if you don’t know how to sell it, you won’t make money. “I have seen numerous companies fail because they start down a regulatory path without knowing what claims or marketing messages they want to use. It is even more important in a start-up to know these things, because you don’t have extra cash to waste on a pivot to a new message.” Allison had long experience with women’s health, dating back to when she worked in the Gynecare business at J&J. So she understood the landscape of the sector, and what the value proposition was for LUMINELLE.
3. Your device is not the whole business model
It’s just one item in your bag. Can you wrap it around other programs or services or sustaining reoccurring revenue items that not only improve your bottom line but can be very impactful to your customers? “For UVision360, the razor/razor blade is inherent in the system itself, but helping our customers transition hysteroscopy into the office by offering a full service is key. Things like instrumentation or even something as simple as a fluid collection bag, are important to our customers. Our system is a reusable scope, plus a portfolio of sterile sheaths that allow a physician to move procedures into their office, allowing them to practice where and how they want, and choosing the right approach for their patients. And it comes in at a very affordable price point.” Which takes us to. . .
4. Changing the point-of-care
“You must know where, how and when your customer will utilize your product. In the case of LUMINELLE, the device is not only smaller, lighter and easier to use than the competition, it is a game changer in terms of point of care. The system allows the physician to move from the OR to the office setting, speed up the procedure, do it less expensively…but it also does not require the doctor to have to overly adapt to this new way of doing things.” Allison told us “Docs don’t like difficult change. And they do like having the support staff available in the OR. So we had to sell on the proposition that this was accomplishing the goal for the patient and the HCP, in 75% less time, less expensively, with all the safety, versatility and comfort necessary, and faster recovery times.” Allison notes that this is especially important with hysteroscopy—the only type of diagnostic and therapeutic procedure that allows the HCP to share decision-making with a fully-awake patient.
This change also impacts your regulatory filing, human factors, marketing plan and overall economic value proposition. Our system is allowing access to office hysteroscopy to a much broader physician base—ones who couldn’t afford it in the past or ones who were concerned with the ability to set-up their office to manage patients. Thinking about every detail from set-up and cleaning, physician ergonomics, and to patient comfort due to demographics (like size and BMI), changed much of our design.”
5. Your patients, physicians and people come first
Another point of view that many people express but few adhere to. “I started at J&J in 1997, back in the days of yearly courses on the Credo. The notion that customers come first did not seem like a novel or strange concept to me at the time. But over the years I have seen that most companies, and certainly most people, have a hard time relying on that belief when the bottom line or EPS or EBITDA is challenged. Our team thinks first about what is important for our patients and docs. I have found time and time again, that the money and investor value creation can follow. It is not always easy to do, but taking short-cuts can have major patient impact later.
PASSION IS PROGRESS
That last point is central to everything Allison has done. “If you’re in it for the money, you’re likely to fail. If you’re in it because you believe in what you’re doing, you will succeed,” she says.
She has plenty of impressive metrics in her background. Her work for Bioventus resulted in 27.5M touchpoints and 8000 HCPs trained on their content. She created the first orthopedic personalized medical education portal. For Stanley Healthcare she implemented a $274M healthcare technology acquisition.
Proof that she has learned the launch lessons is in the numbers for UVision360, too: she and Erich funded their entire development program for $1.7M, got it done in 18 months, submitted it to the FDA and got clearance last August—for a dual indication.
But what she’s proudest of—again a common ideal often honored in the breach—is doing the right thing. That applies to serving the needs of patients and physicians, working with people who share her vision, and applying her skills where they’re needed most. Today, in addition to her duties at UVision360, Allison helps non-profits and government organizations that need her kind of experience and caring, and she is on the board of the Council for Entrepreneurial Development, as well as Plakous Therapeutics
“I believe in this industry, and in what so many brilliant people are doing. What’s often lacking is the understanding of the marketplace over and above the genius that goes into a valuable product that fills a need. Sometimes it just needs another viewpoint to unlock the value, and I’m here to support that.” And she does.