Health Tech: Dennis Hancock Of Mountain Valley MD On How Their Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness
An Interview With David Leichner
Leadership isn’t always popular. There are many times in the evolution of a business when difficult decisions are made despite what could have been more popular. Leadership requires you to be unpopular sometimes.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course, many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact.” We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dennis Hancock.
Dennis is a senior sales and marketing executive with over 25 years of experience spanning automotive, pharmaceutical, tech, telco, retail and financial services sectors. Initially providing consulting services to Mountain Valley MD (MVMD) in 2018, Dennis transitioned to assume the President and CEO position in early 2019 to lead the Company’s go-public strategy and develop the business strategy to pursue broad health and wellness opportunities approach across human, animal and plant health applications. Dennis has established several start-ups, including PerformanceSPARK, an agency that works with leading organizations to identify and deliver on the key elements necessary to drive measurable performance growth, and is co-founder of SaveStation, an innovative initiative focused on saving lives through standardizing community response for cardiac arrest patients.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
Thank you. It’s great to be here, doing this interview.
I am the youngest of three sons, and I grew up in a smaller town north of Toronto, Canada with two incredible parents. You don’t realize it when you’re young, but my parents poured so much time and support into me over the years. I remember, later in life, my dad shared with me how he turned down some big promotion opportunities in his career based on maintaining his work-life balance.
This played a significant role in his ability to be there and understand the importance of a strong family unit, all while pouring time and effort into a successful marriage.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of the more recent events that jump out to me was linked to the recent COVID-19 pandemic. MVMD was working on a solubilized form of the drug Ivermectin, and I remember watching a video that was sent to me of the esteemed Dr. Pierre Kory presenting some breakthrough findings to the US Homeland Security Committee; they were regarding potential COVID treatment protocols.
I was blown away, as it was a huge validation of some of our work at MVMD, and our entire team was buzzing about this. Later that same day, at around 10:00 PM, I received a call from an unknown New York phone number, and I let it go to voicemail. After checking my voicemail, it turned out that it was Dr. Kory, who had heard of our work and was reaching out. I called him back immediately, and we had a great conversation about some of his work and the recent testimony he had given the previous day.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have often said that there is one person that I most admired as my boss over the years, and it is the fabulous Michelle Ubell. I worked with Michelle at Maritz, and she had an infectious energy and passion that she always brought to our work. What always struck me about Michelle, and is something I have always carried forward, was that every single time I had my one-on-one sessions with her, I always left the meetings feeling like I was capable of accomplishing more. It is very powerful to have a manager who is not putting up roadblocks or focusing only on the things that need improvement, but rather, encouraging you to dream bigger.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Our family has a sign in our dining room that simply says: “Where God guides, He provides,” and this is very powerful to understand. As doors open and close in your life, it’s critical to understand the context of what is truly important.
We can’t control everything all of the time, especially in entrepreneurial start-up environments. When I look back at every single thing I thought was a big deal — from a failure or delay perspective — it always works out… and often for the better. So, the idea of not stressing over the small stuff or overreacting to situations in the heat of the moment is something important to always work on, and has been very relevant for me.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The first trait that comes to mind immediately for me is having a problem-solving mindset. Business is quite literally all about solving problems and dealing with evolving discoveries and updates to the scientific community, despite having the best-laid plans when you initially began. Gathering all the facts, deciding on the best course forward and then committing to its execution has always been a core strength of mine.
Another trait that I believe has been instrumental in my success is learning about empathy early on in my career. Candidly, this is an area that I have had to consciously work on over my years in leadership. Understanding other people’s perspectives and where they come from is crucial, versus just directing output through the team.
Another trait that I would not have appreciated until this stage of my career is what I consider prophetic wisdom. Growing up in Canada and playing hockey as a kid, I was a huge fan of Wayne Gretzky. What the best coaches always said about Gretzky, and what truly made him great, was what he did when he didn’t have the puck.
It was always about knowing where to be before the puck got there. So, when I think about some of my successes in business, I can definitely see how my skill to foresee situations clearly and understand opportunities to incubate success, has been helpful.
Okay, super. Now, let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the technology or medical devices that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
When I look at our work at Mountain Valley MD, our mission is simple: More Life. This isn’t just preventing death or ending disease, but rather, looking at how we can help people live a better life, with more energy to tackle their day. We want people to have a great night’s sleep, to help them with weight loss goals, and to reduce pain that is holding them back.
In all of the technologies we have invested in, there are a couple of things that I am really proud of, as they tackle some really big problems. For example, how can we improve husbandry animal health outcomes to directly impact GDP in key third-world countries? Or how can we impact plant yields to transform the global food supply?
How do you think your technology can address this?
Well, if we zero in specifically on the investment we made in the plant yield biotech space a few years ago as an example, a product that has come to the marketplace as Agrarius, the idea was to create a technology that would be applied to crops. This would activate a plant’s defence mechanism at the cellular level, without delivering the actual stress factor. When Agrarius is applied to the plant, it triggers the plants to grow deeper roots and open up their foliage to optimize the effects of photosynthesis.
The outcome of this technology is that you can naturally create stronger, healthier plants, and we have seen a 10% to 50% yield increase across various major crops and plant types. In addition to more bountiful harvests, our recent testing has successfully demonstrated that you can drive increased crop yields while also reducing fertilizer usage by more than 30%. This is an extremely timely value proposition; as you know, with the global fertilizer shortages, skyrocketing fertilizer prices and climate change reduction targets that are mandating fertilizer reductions. So, this technology can help farmers do more with their existing land, and do so much more cost-effectively. This will certainly help to address some of the major food supply challenges we are seeing globally.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Interestingly, from my days at ZENN Motor Company, I learned a lot about urban sprawl and the pressure we were putting on farmland, soil degradation, and even how climate change was impacting the agricultural industry. ZENN was an electric car start-up company, and it was the first time in my career that I really shifted my mindset to think about the legacy of my work and the impact we as leaders can make with our time and focus.
How do you think this might change the world?
Fertilizer costs are up over 300% and are driving massive price hikes in fruits and vegetables, as well as food production in general. Recently, I read a report from the World Bank that projects a significant economic toll due to climate change impacting crop yields, especially in the world’s most food-insecure regions. We have seen this with extreme flooding and droughts, emphasizing the need for yield increases and overall plant resistance to climate change pressures.
The ability to leverage science to help eliminate harmful pesticides and chemicals often associated with agricultural practices aligns with our mission of More Life at MVMD.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks of this technology that people should think more deeply about?
This is a very interesting question. My initial reaction is to be dismissive of it, given how strong the value proposition of the Agrarius technology is and its positive impact on supporting the human populations’ reliance on the global food supply. However, any time you disrupt an industry with deep pockets and engrained approaches to stimulating crop growth, frankly, there is always a potential to see organized resistance.
A potential shift in employment sectors related to farming, chemical manufacturing, and distribution alone could create different unforeseen political challenges.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”?
There are so many moving parts to a business, but the first thing that comes to mind with this question is to not procrastinate when you have an idea. I remember reading something years ago that stated that when someone has a new idea for a product or service, one hundred other people also have the same idea. Of those one hundred people, only five of them take the concept further to write it down and consider actioning it. Of those five, only one or two truly put it in motion.
I also think it is important that you focus on the clear value proposition of the idea you are building out. Understand the problem you are solving and be sure that everything you build supports that value proposition. Too often, a good idea gets diluted from so much input, that the final scope has lost the power of the original problem that was being solved.
A third idea might be that you can’t be afraid to take risks. As I said earlier, every business will have challenges that force reviews and result in pivots as new information becomes available. This is normal, and taking risks is part of building a successful business.
I have also learned over the years that people are everything. A strong team aligned on the vision of what you are building is critical for attracting and retaining talent.
Finally, leadership isn’t always popular. There are many times in the evolution of a business when difficult decisions are made despite what could have been more popular. Leadership requires you to be unpopular sometimes.
Can you share a few best practices that you recommend to safeguard your technology or medical devices from hackers?
The way I always look at this type of question across our business is that although patents and trademarks have a role and place in the ecosystem of best practices, it is critical to operate from a point of protection in how information is shared both internally and externally across the organization. Many products can go to market without any patents, relying on the protection of trade secrets while ensuring that these products create a competitive advantage and are treated as such.
At MVMD, one of the things I have recently done was to update our licensing agreements to require one centralized manufacturer who holds our master technology secrets versus teaching each licensee how to replicate our technology. This gives us much more control and aligns our organizations with the benefit of protecting the technology. Nothing is perfect, of course, but understanding who is exposed to the technology and at which stage is always important.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Life goes by incredibly fast. When we are young, we don’t always appreciate the value of our work related to our legacies, including what we leave behind when we are gone. I would encourage young people to try to imagine themselves 20 or more years in the future, and think about how they would want their work described, including the impact they would like to truly make a difference in our world.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.. :-)
If I were really given an open ticket like this, my honest tendency would be to pay it forward to someone who might value that interaction more than me. People on my team, my friends, and my children all come to mind as those I would get more satisfaction from brokering a dream connection. My daughter Lily, for example, would do anything to have lunch with Taylor Swift, and the joy of knowing that happened would far outweigh any meeting I could have for myself.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can sign up for updates at MVMD.com to stay updated on our team’s progress or connect with me on LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.
Thank you for this opportunity.
About The Interviewer: David Leichner is a veteran of the Israeli high-tech industry with significant experience in the areas of cyber and security, enterprise software and communications. At Cybellum, a leading provider of Product Security Lifecycle Management, David is responsible for creating and executing the marketing strategy and managing the global marketing team that forms the foundation for Cybellum’s product and market penetration. Prior to Cybellum, David was CMO at SQream and VP Sales and Marketing at endpoint protection vendor, Cynet. David is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Jerusalem Technology College. He holds a BA in Information Systems Management and an MBA in International Business from the City University of New York.