What it means to be a Social Entrepreneur.

OmniVis
6 min readSep 23, 2021

OmniVis will be attending SOCAP Global for the third time as a Virtual Scholarship Entrepreneur Winner! In the past, we have had the opportunity to attend interesting keynote speaker sessions, make new connections, grow our network, and create partnerships with other attendees. We are excited to be sharing our knowledge and learning from and with other Social Entrepreneurs.

Being a social enterprise and raising capital as a social entrepreneur is not always an easy road to take. We are talking to Katherine Clayton, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of OmniVis, and Michelle Florian, Finance Manager at OmniVis, about their experiences at a social enterprise and raising capital.

We would love to learn more about the experiences of Katherine and Michelle on the important topics and themes that will be highlighted during the SOCAP Global event.

Katherine Clayton and Michelle Florian

Some background information on OmniVis:
Annually, 41 countries and 5 million people are affected by cholera, leading to $2B in treatment costs that could be avoidable through early detection. Water-based cholera pathogens detection takes 5 days, is costly and imprecise, exacerbating wide-scale disease outbreaks. OmniVis developed a technology to reduce the cholera detection process, down to 30 minutes, accurately and affordably. Additionally, their data gathering and reporting tools provide insights into disease hotspots.

Dr. Katherine Clayton, born and raised in San Francisco, is the co-founder and CEO of OmniVis.

Michelle Florian joined OmniVis 2 years ago as the Finance Manager for OmniVis.

How are you doing?
Katherine: Doing great! Enjoying another beautiful week in South San Francisco (where OmniVis is headquartered).
Michelle: I’m doing well! This is my first September living in the Bay Area and I feel like it’s been an endless summer (no complaints there).

Katherine, how did you start your journey, creating OmniVis?
Katherine: I was a Ph.D. student at Purdue University, working with professors and co-founders, Steven Wereley, Tamara Kinzer-Ursem, and Jacqueline Linnes. My dissertation project was translated to detect pathogen presence from nucleic acid amplification reactions. After participating in several pitch and innovation competitions, OmniVis was founded by those three professors and myself in October 2017.

What does it mean to you to be a social entrepreneur?
Katherine: Social entrepreneurs are driven by both profit and purpose. I started OmniVis because I believed that we could make healthcare and diagnostics far more accessible. I also saw that creating a for-profit model could lead to sustainability and scale. Being able to come to work and have a dream to make healthcare more equitable is what keeps me coming back each and every day.

How can innovation impact social inequity within the world, and which role does OmniVis want to play in this?
Katherine: If we keep using only typical methods, we can’t instigate fundamental change. Inequities don’t have to exist and new problems will continue to arise. However, we need to continually face issues head-on and find strong methodologies to combat them.

In the past 10 years, the number of social entrepreneurs has multiplied. Why do you think that is?
Katherine: I think Millennials and Gen Z are coming into (or have been in) the workforce more predominantly in the last decade. In general, these generations have shown significant shifts in making purchasing and employment decisions based on double or triple bottom line organizations. It’s more likely these generations will want to partake in efforts that advance the world for the better. Now, as for entrepreneurs, I think there has been more awareness and guidance in what it means to start a company, though it’s always been woven into American tradition.

What were the biggest challenges you experienced while creating OmniVis?
Katherine:

  1. Learning how to transition out of STEM-focused academia and into a startup mindset
  2. Balancing social enterprise with traditional entrepreneurship and funding
  3. Understanding the capital intensity it takes for Medtech to take off
Katherine Clayton and Michelle Florian

What does it take to be a successful social entrepreneur?
Katherine: I am not sure, as I am not there yet! But from other social entrepreneurs that I see, some thoughts I have are:

  • Be absolutely passionate about the problem you are solving and what impact it can have on society.
  • Make sure your team reflects the values and vision of the company and what you are building. Team is everything.
  • Do the legwork to make sure you’re solving a real problem. Talk to people!
  • Figure out how to make your company sustainable — albeit hard work, it’s easier to solve big issues if you know your business model will sustain and scale.
  • As a social entrepreneur, you have to realize you’re going to solve really hard problems. Don’t shy away from doing something because it’s tough. Hard problems are worth solving.

If you could give prospective social entrepreneurs 2 pieces of advice, what would those be?

Katherine:

  • Know at the end of the day that you’re only human. I get it, the journey of the entrepreneur can feel lonely. There will be days that are incredibly difficult and it feels like you’re trying to balance so many aspects of your work life, team dynamic, and personal issues. Figure out how you can take a break and be kind to yourself when there are so many things going on at once. Do you have a team member you can lean on a bit in that difficult moment? How can you share your vulnerabilities in a way that pushes you and your business forward? Who can you depend on in your support network when you feel a little low?
  • They’re called hard problems because they’re difficult to solve. That sentence is clearly redundant, but for good reason. I think social entrepreneurs tend to get so frustrated at the complex problems they are solving, because there are so many facets — potentially economic, political, societal, etc. But we need to remember that we chose to work on something that is really hard because we believe that we have an opportunity to make a positive fundamental change. If it were easy, I would wonder if we are really going to make a lasting impact or just put a bandaid over the issue.

OmniVis has been raising capital to accelerate our go-to-market efforts.

Why does OmniVis consider impact investors to partner with the company?
Michelle: OmniVis is seeking value-aligned investors who believe and back the OmniVis mission: to equip communities around the globe with the power and knowledge to protect their health. Impact investors naturally have an alignment with OmniVis’ focus because saving lives is what drives us forward together in an investor-entrepreneurship relationship.

What do you think are the potential disadvantages of working with impact investors?
Michelle: As a for-profit social enterprise, OmniVis strives to hit KPIs in more areas than one. While keeping an eye on impact metrics, it’s also necessary to have a sustainable, profitable business model. For an early-stage startup, focus is key. Therefore, one potential disadvantage of working with impact investors is the tendency to be pulled in multiple directions.

How do you prepare for these meetings?
Michelle: As the Finance Manager, I study lots of figures (burn rate, runway, revenue forecasts, COGs, etc.) before a call with an investor. I also stay up-to-date on outbreaks and keep a pulse on the spread of COVID-19.
Katherine: Additionally, Michelle and I will brainstorm potential questions that individuals may ask in the meeting and prepare by thinking them through. As a CEO, I also practice different pitches and storylines that would be of interest to the audience. We want to make sure people are as passionate as we are about the problems we are solving.

Why is OmniVis a good fit for impact investment?
Michelle: OmniVis wants to enable better health outcomes for communities around the globe by providing technologies that are rapid and require no scientific knowledge to operate. Impact investors intend to generate positive, measurable impact as well as a financial return, which aligns with OmniVis’ position at the intersection of profit and purpose.

Katherine: To Michelle’s point, OmniVis has a double-bottom line of profit and purpose. We combine social entrepreneurship with Medtech and want to create business models and product solutions that can have a real impact on proactive medical care.

Thank you Katherine and Michelle for your time!

Want to learn more about OmniVis and our focus on MedTech and social entrepreneurship? Contact Lotte Vandewalle (lotte@omnivistech.com) with any questions or inquiries.

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OmniVis

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