Build Your Business For More Than Money

David Hangauer | Upstate Venture Connect

One year ago, UVC published the first volume of the Upstate Founders Playbook, a compilation of stories and lessons learned from thirteen amazing entrepreneurs. Just a year later, we are all living in a world none of us could have foreseen. So we went back to these founders and asked what they are doing to manage in this times and the advice they have for other entrepreneurs. In these short missives, you will see how these founders are managing to stay focused, yet flexible, while recognizing that extraordinary challenges often bring extraordinary opportunities with them. –Jennifer Sertl

By David Hangauer, Founder of Athenex (Buffalo, NY)

In the biotech industry you are looking at a decade long commitment to do something significant. You need to be willing to go for the long view and do it for more than just money. The founding team members at Athenex were each committed for personal reasons. Our philosophy was that if we focused on drugs that benefited patients, business would follow. I learned this lesson from Merck CEO P. Roy Vagelos in the 1980’s. Merck was the most admired company in the United States for three years in a row. He was always saying, “Look, put the patients first and this business will prosper.” This is true in good times and in bad times.


With the onset of the COVID pandemic and its impact on business activities across the globe, below are a few points that I emphasize with the founders I am mentoring:

  • In spite of the current economic, health, and social challenges in the US the fundamentals for building most fast growing companies have not really changed that much.
  • You must have products/services, or a potential products/services, for which there are real unmet needs of substantial market size.
  • You need to have a realistic analysis of the market potential for your company’s products/services
  • You need to remain highly focused on the core value you company can bring to the markets.
  • Your company messaging needs to be concise, clear, and compelling regarding what you are doing, and intend to do.
  • You need to surround yourself with highly motivated and talented co-Founders and employees.  Generously sharing equity with them is a key motivator.
  • You need extreme determination and resilience in the face of the many disappointments you will likely endure.

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