Cathy Tie would consider herself an artist. Not the oil paintings on canvas, however.
The 26-year-old from Toronto, Canada co-founded her first company, Ranomics, when she was 18. provides health risk predictions based on people’s genetic data and has now raised over $1 million, according to Crunchbase. She founded her second company, Locke Bio, a “Shopify” for pharmaceutical and other companies selling FDA-approved drugs, at age 23.
For Tie, art and creativity aren’t as obvious as writing in iambic pentameter or dancing at Lincoln Center. It’s about having an overview of the different industries it is part of and “being able to be interdisciplinary and marrying concepts from different industries,” she says.
“I’ve always loved bringing ideas together and seeing connections that others don’t,” she says, like understanding how science can be advanced in the startup world and building business models accordingly. “It’s, I think, more of an artistic and creative process than something technical.”
Here’s how the now Los Angeles-based entrepreneur leaned into his creative, big-picture thinking to succeed in fields like technology and science.
Tie was cold emailing teachers at 14
Tie started learning more about his industries in his very early high school years.
“I’ve always loved science, especially biology and chemistry, I’ve loved manual construction, ever since I was very young,” she says. But she noticed that the science curricula they were taught in school didn’t include much hands-on learning. Instead, it was a lot of memorization from textbooks.
Always a big thinker, it was during her freshman year of high school that Tie decided to start cold emailing professors at the University of Toronto to see if they would allow her to spend time in their labs, to do research and help them with a project here and there.
Her work at university led her to publish her first article in a peer-reviewed journal in the field of immunology, which deals with the human immune system, at the age of 16.
It also made her realize: “In research, especially in academia, you are bound by a system of university grants,” she says. In other words, if she wanted to continue researching this world, she would be limited. But getting funding as an entrepreneur would give her the freedom to do the kind of research she wanted.
She was accepted into programs for young entrepreneurs
As Tie began to make connections between how she wanted to make an impact in the startup world, she also began to apply for programs that could help her make this concept a reality.
Tie came up with the basic idea for Ranomics, a way to solve some of the problems companies like 23andMe had with the accuracy of their genetic testing, when she was a freshman at the University of Toronto. She met co-founder Leo Wan, a Ph.D. student at the university, through a startup competition, and the two ended up being accepted into IndieBio, a startup program providing funding and advice for science entrepreneurs.
Tie eventually dropped out of college and moved to San Francisco to seize the opportunity and became CEO of Ranomics for its first three years. She was also invited to apply and later joined The Thiel Scholarship, which provides young entrepreneurs skipping or leaving college with a $100,000 grant directly (not to their company) over a two-year period.
“Through the journey of creating Ranomics, I learned a lot about startups, selling to the pharmaceutical industry, how to build a profitable business,” she says. All of this would come into play in his next ventures.
Starting Shopify for the Pharmaceutical Industry
At 21, Tie was offered a partner position at Matterhorn Ventures, a venture capital fund focused on enterprise service as software, or SaaS, technology like Salesforce and Slack.
After a year there, she felt the need to rebuild and decided to explore opportunities in digital health, combining the SaaS and scientific worlds she had come to know. And Tie realized that there was no easy way to create an online store for those who wanted to sell FDA-approved drugs in a compliant way, a Shopify for pharmaceutical companies, so to speak.
“Shopify really took on a problem where everyone had to build their website, their [customer relationship management software]their payment processing from the ground up, and created a platform where you don’t have to be technical,” she says, adding that “we’re doing the same for the telehealth and the online pharmacy.
Locke Bio is now backed by three venture capital funds in the United States and Canada, according to PitchBook, but does not currently share fundraising details publicly.
“When you don’t have time to think, you don’t really see the big picture”
Tie is excited about the future of Locke Bio and the various product expansions she and her team are planning. But the success of the company and all the successes that preceded it did not come without obstacles.
“I think early in my career I really stepped on the gas and worked those hard hours, like 100 hours a week,” she says. But, “I realized it was unsustainable because when you don’t have time to reflect, you don’t really see the big picture.”
That’s where that artist mentality came in.
“Similar to how artists would make music, inspiration comes at a random time of day. It might be 2 a.m., it might be when you’re taking a shower,” she says. But she has to find time for those off hours when ideas can flow freely.
These days, she’ll put in those long days on weeks when it’s needed, but if not, Tie makes sure to work at least 40 hours a week to get that time off.
“It’s about taking those sprints, working really hard when I have to, and then being able to reflect on everything I’ve learned,” she says.
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