This year marks New Ventures BC’s 20th anniversary of supporting tech innovation in BC! We are celebrating our 20 years of impact by interviewing those who made the past two decades so special.
Since winning the New Ventures BC Competition in 2007, Augurex Life Sciences Corp. has successfully launched a fully commercialized product and has been growing by 50% year over year. For over a decade, Augurex has been developing biomarkers that help diagnose patients and allow doctors and patients to make more personal clinical health decisions that promote better disease outcomes, mainly for people living with Arthritis.
A successful company that has expertly navigated their share of challenges over the years, there is no end to Augurex’s growth in sight. To learn more about what makes the company so successful, we interviewed Augurex CEO & Co-Founder, Norma Biln, and asked her to reflect on her company’s success and lessons learned over the years.
What’s new with Augurex since winning the 2007 Competition?
When we won the 2007 Competition we were actually just forming Augurex. Receiving the $61,000 cash and in-kind prizes was a big boost to help get us off the ground. Now, we are revenue generating, growing 50% year over year and have a commercialized product used by hundreds of thousands of patients in the USA.
Our test has become core in clinical applications for arthritis, which is kind of neat. In fact, some doctors in the USA say they never make clinical management changes for rheumatoid arthritis patients without first using our blood test to find out the levels of the protein in their patients’ blood. We haven’t had an exit for shareholders yet but we are really at the cusp of something great, and it all started at NVBC!
It is important to remember that when you have tech that holds water and satisfies an unmet need in the market, you can hit speed bumps and still do well in the medium and long term.
What are some of Augurex’s milestones that you are particularly proud of?
We are proud of how well our company has done, even though we started in 2008, right before the recession. We were getting right into creating Augurex at a challenging economic time, but we stayed afloat and have a product that is commercialized and profitable. I would say this is a critical milestone!
We are also proud of delivering big benefits to patients and clinicians. We achieved this through the funding that shareholders provided and we will not rest until we see a shareholder return. I always tell NVBC competitors that you have to paint a picture for shareholders to show them how you are going to get their money back to them, in multiple. It is important not to lose sight of this, and although we have not achieved this milestone, it is a front and centre goal for us every day as we drive value growth.
What challenges has Augurex faced over the years?
There have been so many challenges over the last 12-13 years. I think the biggest challenge was starting a company during an economic downturn. In hindsight, if we raised more money earlier, we could have advanced our programs more aggressively with less cash flow pressures during a difficult market time. We also navigated early technical challenges and a changing patent landscape which was critical to our revenue model.
And now, of course, COVID poses another challenge. It is important to remember that when you have tech that holds water and satisfies an unmet need in the market, you can hit speed bumps and still do well in the medium and long term. We have good technology that is important to the world and this is something we can count on.
What is the most valuable thing you have learned?
To work big and work fast. When you are just starting out, you get a lot of mixed messages from people who are trying to help you and/or want to invest. You hear contradictory advice such as, “don’t worry about dilution” versus “make sure you don’t dilute your shareholders”! But there are so many schools of thought and you must do what’s right for your company at the time.
I actually think it would have been better for us to get as much funding as possible, early on, when it was available to help us to do as much as possible, as fast as possible. Otherwise, in my opinion, you are always underfunding things and living on a shoestring budget. This can teach you financial discipline, but you also forgo a lot of opportunity when you can’t move as quickly as you want to because you are always worried about cash. Looking back, I would have capitalized the heck out of the company and moved faster, but everything turned out okay in the end.
The quality of the Competition is so high and it benefits so many people; it’s like a mini entrepreneurial MBA.
What’s on the horizon for Augurex?
I want Augurex to have our cake and eat it too. I think we will soon be able to provide a large return to shareholders and still retain enough capital to keep growing. We have an opportunity to develop more tests and sell them through the same labs that we have been working with in the USA and Canada. We have built core competencies as a company with these established channels and have trusted relationships with our strategic partners.
Developing more tests with these established channels will be a great value proposition to shareholders, clinicians and patients. I think on the horizon there is a type of strategic alliance or deal that will provide both liquidity for shareholders and a lot more opportunity for Augurex to grow into the future.
What do you think NVBC Impact has been on the tech community over the past 20 years?
I think NVBC’s impact has been amazing. Many companies have benefited from the Competition by getting exposure to Angel investors, mentorship and cash prizes that come with winning. There have been more companies participating in the Competition now than ever before, which is great.
Having seen the Competition a few times now, I think this program is accreditation worthy. I could easily see it put together as an accredited university program because everyone giving the sessions are either working at major universities, leaders in their fields or entrepreneurs with academic affiliations. The quality of the Competition is so high and it benefits so many people; it’s like a mini entrepreneurial MBA.
Share your #2020nvbcimpact story!
This year marks our 20th anniversary of supporting tech innovation in BC! We are inviting NVBC Competition alumni, mentors, volunteers, accelerator participants, and ISI grant recipients to share your impact story by completing a short form on how you feel NVBC supported you and sparked innovation in the tech sector!