My Summer Tackling the Opioid Crisis with Fiduscript: An Intern’s Perspective
by Victoria Constant - Metcalf Intern, University of Chicago Class of 2020
When my summer internship at Fiduscript began, I had no idea what to expect. I’d never worked at a startup before, let alone in an accelerator program. Fiduscript participated in the University of Chicago’s Polsky Summer Accelerator Program, which was a 10-week program designed to help the fourteen participating startups get off the ground by providing educational programming, mentoring, working space, and a $10,000 investment from the university.
I soon discovered that, as one of the leaders of the Accelerator had so eloquently put it, running a startup means “being both the CEO and the janitor.” Even though I had a few set tasks when I first started out, the flexibility of my position surprised me. After only a couple of weeks, I helped write a federal grant, and became subsequently involved with many aspects of the company’s development. I had a large degree of freedom, which had advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, I had a say in what projects I became involved with, which meant it was easy to stay engaged; on the other hand, having that freedom meant shouldering a lot more responsibility than I initially expected. All in all, the ability to contribute meaningfully to a company whose mission I am invested in was well worth it, and as someone who likes exploring and trying on new hats, I enjoyed it immensely.
I spent most of my summer with James, Fiduscript’s founder and CEO, in the Polsky Center (or in spirit, via Slack). As a former pharmacist, he has an endless supply of anecdotes and insights into the inner workings of the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. As one of the most heavily regulated spaces, healthcare is extremely difficult to break into. James’ decade of work experience is as invaluable to the company as his drive and passion. He decided to found Fiduscript after witnessing firsthand the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic on people’s lives long before it became the focus of national attention, and has extensive knowledge of the space we are navigating.
Almost every day, we would end up in one of Polsky’s “huddle rooms,” where he would draw diagrams on the whiteboard of anything from the hierarchy of pharmaceutical manufacturers to industry slang and policy issues. We would also have whiteboard brainstorming sessions, which typically led to strategic pivots and new projects to address the endless stream of complications which would inevitably arise. Sometimes it felt like we were all playing regulatory whack-a-mole. Fortunately, the small scale of the company allowed us to be versatile and responsive to a degree that most established companies can’t compete with. When it came to running the company, James’ combination of charisma and candor kept everyone dedicated and in line. No task or idea was too small for him to take on or consider, and he was extremely receptive to feedback, which made it even easier for the company to evolve and grow with experience.
Fiduscript has already developed a culture, which is a unique blend of relaxed familiarity, candor, and intensity. Because the company is small and people’s career backgrounds are fairly varied, everyone is able to contribute their own perspective, which gives the team a distinctly collaborative, synergistic spirit. All of the rules of conduct at our organization areunwritten, so getting a feel for the general behavioral expectations felt intimidating when I first started out .
The fact that we are mostly communicating with one another via Slack or Google Hangouts while wearing T-Shirts and jeans established a laid-back atmosphere that allowed for more honesty and blunt feedback than a corporate setting would likely permit. At the same time, while other Accelerator teams were developing software or new snack foods at a measured pace, we were scrambling to contribute to the national effort to save the lives of people at risk of dying from opiate overdoses. Our mission, though daunting, is highly inspiring, which keeps people motivated. James is extremely passionate, and his commitment to the mission additionally boosts everyone’s morale.
Fiduscript’s business model and the high-growth space it occupies are two factors that have extensively worked in our favor, as well as the issue we are trying to address. Fiduscript’s goal, in essence, is to improve the healthcare industry through innovation, beginning with the opioid epidemic. We hope to be an active member of the healthcare industry in the near future, and to benefit the healthcare community by collaborating with independent pharmacies, which are currently at risk in light of Amazon’s recent purchase of PillPack.
Some of the roadblocks we encountered were classic startup issues, but many were specific to the heavily regulated healthcare space. Working with the government was a slow, tedious, and overall agonizing process. Though some officials were incredibly helpful by offering letters of support and pointing us towards valuable resources, it often took several months to hear back after reaching out. Some of the more classic issues we faced were the difficulties of working with a large number of people living in different locations and time zones, some of whom had other jobs and children to attend to, and keeping track of the literal hundreds of tasks that needed to get done over the course of the summer.
I personally struggled during the middle of the summer, as I found it hard to stay focused while working from home for multi-day stretches. This taught me that I need to work in a social environment to stay motivated and productive.Another problem was that the way work was initially divided, in theory, everyone could have always been working. This definitely forced me to tune up my time management skills in order to evade the common enemy of college students and entrepreneurs: burnout.
By the end of the summer, I’d had experience working as a full stack web developer, realized that I want to go to business school, met many interesting people, and learned enough to found a startup myself. Though I would not like to pursue web development in my career, as someone pursuing a career in software development, I found the experience valuable. After getting a taste of what entrepreneurship is like, I also know that I would not choose to found a startup, unless I felt so invested in a viable idea that I felt like I had to. This summer provided me with a myriad of valuable experiences, and I would highly recommend working at a startup as a way to rapidly learn life lessons and figure out what interests you.