By Scott Meacham
The worst thing that happens to you may be the best thing for you.
There is a quote attributed to humorist and philosopher Will Rogers that fits the experiences of the past year and a half (as Will might say) like a lasso around a steer. “The worst thing that happens to you may be the best thing for you if you don’t let it get the best of you,” Will observed.
Will’s “worst thing/best thing” dichotomy is ever-present in entrepreneurship — especially since early 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. MaxQ Research, a young company founded by three entrepreneurs from Oklahoma State University (OSU), is a case study in worst thing/best thing resilience.
MaxQ creates validated cold chain packaging and compliance automation solutions for the life sciences industry. MaxQ’s packaging systems are especially designed to hold and transfer refrigerated, controlled room temperature or frozen biological materials, such as red blood cells, whole blood, platelets, or plasma, as well as tissue specimens, cell and gene therapy materials and transplant organs.
We were the first outside investors in MaxQ and have continued, along with other venture capitalists and angels, to invest in the company—and their remarkable rebalancing and progress in the midst of a pandemic is one of the reasons why.
For MaxQ, like companies from the Fortune 100 to Main Street, the pandemic was a body blow that stopped their momentum in days not weeks. This is a business that delivers blood and tissue for hospitals. With hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, all but the most critical medical procedures were put on hold.
“Everything came to an abrupt halt,” said Saravan Kumar, CEO. “Like any company through this cycle, we didn’t know what we should be doing or where the market was going. People stopped donating blood. People didn’t want to be in donor centers. The blood supply chain shrunk. Over 2 million in our deal pipeline was put on hold, a significant hit, in the first two weeks.”
Kumar is transparent and honest (another reason investors have confidence in MaxQ).
“We didn’t know how long this was going to last or what changes our customers will be making to their purchasing plans,” he said. “The positive surprise was that the team we built stuck together. Every
employee in the company took a pay cut. We didn’t lose a single employee through COVID. Given that 95 percent of our employees are on their first job out of school, the level of maturity is a surprise. Without this team, MaxQ couldn’t have survived, but then that is a testament to our work culture”
As MaxQ honed variable costs to align the firm’s business plan to the new economic reality and future uncertainties of the pandemic, the team brainstormed new sources of revenue. When the vaccines were announced, MaxQ was ready.
The company was one of the first to design and launch an exclusive system for transporting Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J vaccines over the last mile of distribution. “Our team developed, validated and launched, a CDC-compliant vaccine transport solution with integrated monitoring, giving us relative control on our business goals,” Kumar said.
MaxQ is more than back-on-track. The company has doubled revenue and sales. “We approach innovation as our daily objective,” Kumar said. “We look to generate value for our customers through innovation. What does the market want? What are the pain points? Each vial of vaccine and each unit of blood is going to save someone’s life. We pride ourselves in providing cutting-edge tools and services to help our customers save lives.”
With MaxQ building a business on beliefs like these with competence and character, it is no wonder that this team turned “the worst” into “the best.”
As Will Rogers said, “The worst thing that happens to you may be the best thing for you.”
Scott Meacham CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.