This is the story of how frustration with inferior products or services can be the impetus for a business launch. It begins with three women working together at a large pharmaceutical manufacturer in Spokane.
Stephanie Bernards is a microbiologist. As part of her work in growing microorganisms, she used a great deal of culture media, which is a liquid or gel that has the nutrients for growing microorganisms or other cells – think back to petri dishes in high school biology lab.
Unfortunately, the quality of the media and the supplier’s customer service were not very good.
So Stephanie asked Sommer Teague, who was in the quality control group, to investigate the quality issues. Stephanie then took her complaints to Molly Paridon, who oversaw all of the culture media purchasing.
Despite their attempts to work with the vendor, the problems persisted.
“We eventually decided we could do it better ourselves,” says Stephanie, who founded S2 Media in November 2015 as Executive Director, along with Molly, who is Supply Chain Director and Sommer, who is Operations Director.
To start, they bought a book on writing business plans – then took the finished plan to apply for a Small Business Administration loan.
“We kept talking to people and no one told us ‘no’ so we kept going,” says Stephanie.
But expertise in a product or service is not the same as expertise in how to launch a new business.
“We knew exactly how to set up the production side, but found we had made poor assumptions on how quickly we could convert the product in our hands into actual sales. We didn’t take into account that many of our potential customers go through large purchasing conglomerates, and it’s very difficult for small startups to break into those.”
The business was not growing as anticipated and the owners wondered if they were going to make it.
Then Stephanie met Megan Hulsey, former Program Manager for StartUp Spokane, at a networking event. StartUp Spokane works with entrepreneurs and startups across a variety of industries, providing them with resources and helping them make connections in the community.
“We had no idea StartUp Spokane existed, but I made an appointment to meet with Megan the next day.”
Megan says, “We were able to open doors for S2 Media and bring them together with the research community, as well as with smaller biomedical companies that had more flexibility in their purchasing.” Megan also connected them to industries such as breweries and wineries that use culture media.
Then a wonderful opportunity to innovate and develop an entirely new product emerged.
“We were approached by a local cannabis lab,” says Stephanie. “They wondered if we could develop a single medium to replace the three separate tests they were doing, which were very labor intensive.”
S2 Media dove into research and development and has now patented a “one plate, one step” test that allows growers, within 48 hours, to do a single test using S2 Media’s “chameleon agar” to streamline their production process — saving time and money.
S2 Media has already sent samples of their chameleon agar to seven different states that have legalized marijuana. “They are testing our media and we are confident that sales will take off,” says Stephanie.
“A big piece of the pie when starting a business is who you know,” says Stephanie. “StartUp is able to provide those essential connections. Our journey would have been much easier if we had known about StartUp at the beginning. We could have used their co-working space instead of a dining room table, and had earlier access to their network of experts and resources.”