**This ongoing series profiles female powerhouses who are making their mark in their leadership roles. In the spirit of paying it forward, each profiled woman is asked to nominate another peer to fuel the series.**
Anne Lodge may be President of Astarte Biologics in Seattle, Washington—a bustling company dedicated to immune cell products and research services—but she is not afraid to admit that her journey came with a few bumps along the way. A veteran scientist and biologist, Anne set out to fix a hole in the marketplace almost 12 years ago and that path has taught her a great deal about inner confidence, leadership and introspection.
What follows is a glimpse of our conversation about entrepreneurialism, innovation and the importance of embracing trial-and-error…
Me: Anne, I am so excited to begin this conversation. Christine Slocumb, my good friend and your peer, nominated you for inclusion in this series and spoke so highly of you. To begin, how do you know Chris?
Anne: Chris and I were introduced through Cori Omundson, who works at Chris’s company, Clarity Quest Marketing. About a year ago, we enlisted the help of the team to bring to life a new website for Astarte Biologics and a few other marketing projects. We are a small shop of scientists so we have no idea about marketing whatsoever! I’ve been in business long enough to know that you have to be out there and visible and reminding others of what you have to offer and that means having a strong marketing presence. To be able to work with a group like Chris’s that can help us achieve our marketing goals has been wonderful!
Me: Yes, Chris is certainly such a talented entrepreneur and has a great team behind her supporting her! Now almost nine years ago, you decided to found Astarte Biologics, which provides characterized human cells and animal model systems for study of inflammation and immunity. As a marketer, this is a space I am none too familiar with, so can you tell me more about it and your decision to start the company?
Anne: Sure! I started the company in 2004. At the time, I was working at a more traditional, or more typical, biotech— Northwest Biotherapeutics—where we were developing treatments for prostate cancer and working on a cell-based vaccine. It was a very novel idea, especially at the time. The CEO mentored me into a position where I was overseeing the manufacture of that vaccine and I learned a great deal about drug regulation. As we were doing that, we had to train people and test out different methods and that meant we had a lot of leftover cells. So, as a way of offsetting the cost, we decided to sell the cells through a distributor. It quickly became clear to me that the process of selling cells through a distributor for research purposes was a business venture in itself. So I jumped ship, with their blessing, and took off to set up a company dedicated to selling the cells for research purposes rather than therapeutic purposes. I took all I had learned from manufacturing and made a consistent process to start the company.
Me: It seems you almost stumbled upon a hole in the marketplace and you were ready to seize it. Did this surprise you or did you always know you wanted to start your own company?
Anne: Starting my own company was certainly not something I ever expected to do because I never saw myself as a business person or capable of doing that. It was a big leap! To be frank, I had always liked the security of someone else worrying about the paycheck! I was perfectly happy to be given my tasks, do something interesting and collect my paycheck. I always knew I would do something interesting but I never saw myself in this kind of position but boy it was interesting and exciting in a whole new way! There was a lot to learn but thankfully, because of my science-based background, I am used to experimenting and figuring things out for myself. In science, you do nothing but trial and error—and sometimes it can feel like all error!—and I think that background lent itself well to this career path. It gave me the courage to try. I was not worried about making mistakes because I am used to working through those patches.
Me: That is interesting that because of your background, you were perhaps more poised to handle the inevitable complications and setbacks that come with starting your own business. Along those lines, what was one of your biggest challenges?
Anne: For me it was overcoming the initial fear that comes with starting your own business. When I started out, it was just me and through organic networking I was good with work for a while. I was able to work by myself successfully for two years. But then money became tight and I got financially scared, and I brought on two partners. I actually stepped away from the business for the next few years. While they did manage to keep the business going, in hindsight, I think I should have stuck through with it. When I came back I took the company back over and bought out the partners.
Me: Hindsight is always 20/20. Looking back now, why do you think you walked away?
Anne: Whether it’s just me—or common amongst women entrepreneurs—I always had this feeling that I was not qualified to do the job. That it was a bit too much. I think that self-doubt caused me to walk away. Today, I center myself around people who remind me that I am capable of running my own business and those are the voices I need to listen to—sometimes more than my own. I think for anyone in business, you need to be pretty tough, strong-willed and able to tough it out.
Me: Thank you for being so vulnerable in sharing your story of walking away from your business and the courage it took to return. With what you’ve learned in the process, what advice do you have for fellow or future entrepreneurs?
Anne: Surround yourself by good advisors and create your own personal board of advisors. That’s advice I received early on and it’s absolutely true. Today, I make sure to get opinion from various corners—from my attorney to a SCORE volunteer who knows entrepreneurialism. Having people around who can supplement your knowledge and get you up when things are tough is critically important. They keep you going when you need that confidence boost.
Me: That’s great advice; I’ve also heard create your own personal board of advisors. It’s something that I think it’s incredibly important especially because we need the varied perspectives. So fast forward to today… how big is Astarte Biologics?
Anne: Today, it’s just five of us but that’s a big change from the early days when it was just me! It’s good to have people I can trust to handoff things I used to do myself. It’s a good crew.
Me: What have you learned about leadership along the way?
Anne: Honestly, I think I am still learning about leadership. I have a tendency to be a bit of a softie, so my New Year’s resolution is to toughen up! My natural style is to let people go a bit and allow them the freedom to get the job done in a way that suits them. So long as we reach our objective, that’s what counts in my book. But when things aren’t quite going right, that is the harder part for me. To acknowledge it and to make those course corrections and really make them stick.
Me: OK, final question… what do you hope to accomplish in the next five years?
Anne: I am hoping for a lot of growth in the company. I’d love to be able to make some more hires and expand some, but I will also continue to fight my self-doubt that creeps in again. The next five years will be exciting especially when I imagine where we could be in five years. Will we swing to a more service-oriented business or will we grow in the products that we offer to help with medical research? But one focus area that I will always have is finding the right people and empowering a team of top talent.
Carrie Majewski is committed to affecting change. As Founder of the Women in Leadership Nexus, Carrie is fueled by a desire to create safe space for female luminaries to convene to redefine the notion of leadership. She has forged a career around strategic writing and storytelling, having led a digital marketing agency for almost three years and today working as Marketing Principal for Trilix. Carrie is a 2017 Rhode Island “40 Under 40” honoree and a 2016 Rhode Island Tech10 Winner. In her spare time you'll find her trying out a local hip-hop class, exploring parks with her rescue dog Tori, and sipping coffee with other powerhouse women.