#NEXTFounderChats: Erin Laidley

Erin Laidley is a Next Founders entrepreneur and the CMO of Innovative Protein Technologies.

Tell us a bit about you and your venture! What was your inspiration for creating Innovative Protein Technologies?

Innovative Protein Technologies is a biotechnology company that produces eco-friendly crop protection products. Our first product, Frost Armour, protects crops against all types of damage that occurs during the spring growing season, including frost, insects and fungus.

As researchers with strong backgrounds in synthetic biology, we wanted to use our research abilities to develop solutions for complex problems that the world faced. After hearing about how devastating the 2012 spring frost event was to Ontario apple orchards, we had finally found an important problem that our highly specialized skillsets could solve.

When you first started, what were your biggest hurdles in building IPT? How did you overcome them?

As a technical founder, I was so excited to be in the lab building tangible things that I would inadvertently neglect non-technical tasks, such as marketing and sales-related activities. I quickly learned that these tasks would fall by the wayside if I didn’t set aside dedicated blocks of time for them; now I dedicate at least 3 days per week to non-technical tasks, which has significantly improved my focus and productivity.

How did your undergraduate education in biology impact the creation of your venture?

During my final two years of my undergraduate degree, I was involved with the student-run genetic engineering (iGEM) team at the University of Waterloo. This was my first research experience outside of my lab-based courses and I quickly fell in love with being in the laboratory. After just a few weeks on the team, I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing research.

Through iGEM, I became involved in the local startup community and ultimately ended up joining Innovative Protein Technologies so that I could use my synthetic biology background to have a positive impact. While I spend the majority of my days doing marketing and fundraising activities, I always manage to find time to put on my tie-dyed lab coat for a quick experiment.

How did you build a positive customer experience around your products?

Our product, Frost Armour, is still in the prototyping/research and development phase. That being said, we firmly believe that a positive customer experience is integral for success and have many ways through which we intend to achieve that: from ensuring that we are always available to answer questions to building an online community where like-minded individuals can interact with and support one another.

What is the biggest mistake you’ve made as a founder?

While building my first startup company, I neglected many of my personal relationships to focus on my professional success. I consistently put in 60+ hour work weeks and prioritized deadlines over my own needs, and I quickly found myself burned out as a result.

A healthy work/life balance can be difficult to manage, especially during the early stages of a company, but it’s so important for both company success and individual health. Despite what many entrepreneurs think, “startup burnout” isn’t a badge of honor, and once I changed that mindset, I was much happier and more productive.

If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be?

I would love to talk to Rosalind Franklin, a scientist who used x-ray crystallography to determine the 3D helical structure of DNA, since I’d be interested in learning more about her research and her motivations. I’d also love to talk to Marcus Mumford, but that’s more because I adore his music than anything.

What influenced you to take the leap into entrepreneurship?

I entered university with the intent of becoming a veterinarian. I didn’t know that being an entrepreneur was even an option until my first year at the University of Waterloo, when I learned about the Velocity incubator program. I’m generally risk-averse (which seems to be a strange trait for a startup founder) so the deciding factor was less the notion of being an entrepreneur and more that people I trusted had presented me with a problem that I felt strongly about.

What company or founder do you admire the most?

One of the companies that I admire the most is Ginkgo Bioworks, an organism creation company backed by Y Combinator. I had the privilege of touring the Bioworks 1 space in 2015 and was able to see firsthand how their automated laboratory processes are revolutionizing the future of biotechnology. If I weren’t building my own company, I would love to work for them!

How do you believe evolving technology will impact the way we do business over the next 10 years?

The next 10 years will involve the advent of what I consider to be ‘Black Mirror’ technology (i.e. implantable microchips), and will likely result in decreased human-to-human interaction over time. As such, maintaining the balance between technology and human contact when doing business will be incredibly important.

Follow Erin’s journey on Twitter!