Formula for growth

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1. Hired 14 new employees in a two-year span to develop six new products.
2. Ensures constant communication between the lab, sales and marketing and business development departments with monthly all-company meetings.
3. Altered the focus of the company from being service-oriented to being product development- and sales-oriented.
Tom Shannon does not have a science background. However, he know business and investments.
When he discovered Prodesse Inc., in Waukesha, he saw potential. Prodesse develops tests, or assays, that determine the specific strain of multi-platform viruses such as pneumonia or influenza, in an infected patient. Once the strain is detected, doctors can treat the patient accordingly.
Prodesse also has assays for viruses that if not diagnosed that can be fatal, such as the West Nile virus and SARS.
Shannon has greatly expanded the company since he became chief executive officer and director in 2002.
"The challenge was overlaying a business culture onto a scientific environment and then to put it into regulatory systems," Shannon said. "Business culture is more action- and systems-oriented, where science is more intellectually oriented."
Shannon said the best way to solve misunderstandings and segregation between the business and science sides of the company is constant communication.
Prodesse originally held brief daily meetings with the entire staff, which has grown from 6 to 20 since Shannon arrived. Lately, Shannon said monthly meetings are sufficient.
"It is important as systems are employed that we continue to meld business and science," Shannon said. "We need to have as much communication as possible."
Shannon coordinated a group of investors with Prodesse’s founder and chairman of the board, Dr. Kelly Henrickson. Henrickson founded Prodesse in 1993 after developing the technology while conducting research at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Between detection services that began in 1995 and sales that started in 1998, Hendrickson grew Prodesse to a $1 million company by 2000.
"The underlying science in the assays is difficult, but explaining it is easy," Shannon said. "That’s one of the reasons I got into this business. The customer is identifiable, the viruses are known and the assays are helping a lot of people."
When Shannon first started at Prodesse, the company focused on performing the assays for patients as a service and was only marketing an assay for influenza strains.
"We’re changing, and as we change things, we change our priorities," Shannon said. "For instance, testing as a service is time-consuming and intensive. We don’t want to be a global reference lab. We want to sell globally."
Prodesse recently was selected as one of the showcase companies for a recent tour by trade delegates from 16 nations. The consulates came to Milwaukee to learn more about high-tech companies in the Interstate 94 corridor.
Prodesse has developed seven assays that are for Hexaplex (tests for all seven strains of influenza), Pneumoplex (five strains of pneumonia), SARS/Coronaplex (tests for two strains of coronavirus and one for SARS, a version of coronavirus), Herpes Mplex (six strains of herpes), West Nile virus and Adenoplex (detects six different types of respiratory and gastrointestinal viruses).
"It is a fun race to do as much as we can as fast as we can," Shannon said. "We communicate and try to understand the whys of what we are doing. Science is difficult, hurdles are unknown and unexpected, and sometimes are not solvable. We don’t press a sense of urgency, and we don’t jam the structure."
Shannon’s office bulletin board consists of separated columns filled with white note cards. Although he uses the board for organization, it is a visual daily tracking of the path medical facilities take from being potential clients, to testing the assays, to signing on with Prodesse.
"We have a two-prong attack," Shannon said. "We can gain value based on sales and we can gain value based on science."
Currently, Prodesse is working on development of a bioterrorism multiplex assay that may include 20 organisms. The company plans to release an eighth assay later this year called Gastroplex, which will detect different gastrointestinal viruses that can be bacterial, viral or from a parasite.
Earlier this year, Prodesse was licensed to perform an assay for human metapneumovirus as part of the Hexaplex Plus assay.
The assays take an average of three to six months to develop, Shannon said.
When the SARS outbreak was announced last May, Prodesse had a multiplex assay ready by June. The assays are all 99% accurate, Shannon said.
The combination of Prodesse’s science and Shannon’s business savvy is a winning formula thus far. Shannon had held a series of senior level management positions in sales. He was a registered principal for Equitable and its subsidiaries, including Alliance Capital and Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette. Earlier in his career, he was president of Shannon Financial Associates.
"It is a win-win situation," Shannon said. "We have scientific problems that will have our end result, that people will buy. If people don’t buy it, we have still made something that is valuable."

May 28, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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