Building New Paths From the Past: The Model of a Successful Serial Entrepreneur

A leadership consultant named Dr. Gayle Carson is credited with saying, “You must believe that your past is not your future.” While the gist is a cautionary tale about letting regrets hold you back, one highly successful serial entrepreneur offers a different take on channeling past experiences into one’s future story:

“Part of the power of having started so many companies is that you can bring approaches, culture, and best practices from different industries and companies and combine them in new ways,” said Thrive Bioscience CEO and co-founder Thomas Forest Farb-Horch. “And, it is amazing how you sometimes have to relearn what you know.”

Thrive Bioscience is Farb-Horch’s latest success in a string of entrepreneurial achievements. He has started 15 software and life science companies, leading seven of them to multi-billion exits – many of which are familiar to software and life sciences followers, such as Exact Sciences (well known for CologuardR which provides an alternative to the colonoscopy and is publicly traded on NASDAQ: EXAS), HNC Software (monitors 90% of credit and debit cards in the U.S. by using artificial intelligence; acquired by Fair Isaac), and Cytyc (which automates 90% of the cytology labs reading pap smears and is a principal reason for the 40% decline in cervical cancer deaths; acquired by Hologic for $6 billion). 

These businesses span the fields of artificial intelligence, analytics, imaging, and life sciences. It is no coincidence, then, that Thrive Bioscience is at the convergence of these four fields in which Farb-Horch has proven his ability to create immense value. As Farb-Horch states, “To solve the biggest problems we are facing from diseases requires the power of melding the best ideas from many fields that are too often silos.”

Thrive Bioscience delivers automated imaging instruments that allow researchers to see and record changes in live cells that they have never been able to see before. By combining AI, databases, analytics, robotics, microscopy, and fluidics, Thrive Bioscience solutions vastly improve the results from the $50 billion spent per year in the U.S. alone on pre-clinical stage drug discovery and development research. Farb-Horch’s company is already having a significant impact on research for infectious diseases, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases. 

This is life-changing work. What takes place in cell culture labs may be esoteric to most of the general public, but the tools Thrive Bioscience provides is transforming the speed and efficiency of bringing medicines from lab to patient. And to do this takes the power of the best ideas from multiple fields to solve the pervasive pain points and road blocks researchers in 80,000 labs around the world face. 

Cell culture, stem cell culture, and tissue culture are core research tools necessary for basic research and development of curative therapies. However, one of the roadblocks to studying diseases is the extraordinary variation across laboratories in the cells being studied as a result of mislabeling, contamination, and environmental stress. Thrive Bioscience solves this roadblock with instruments and software for consistently growing and studying healthy cells with accompanying data, documentation, and analytics. 

It’s a rare company that can genuinely bring change to the world, and while much could be written about what Thrive Bioscience does, it all started with one serial entrepreneur who has delivered impactful societal and financial value to customers, collaborators, investors, and employees 

The ‘serial entrepreneur’ is not uncommon, but neither are their failures. Farb-Horch, however, has taken his accumulated expertise across many fields to a new level. He has been directly involved in raising over $750 million of private company early-stage financing, $1.5 billion of public equity offerings and $2.4 billion of M&A transactions. 

Now, he led Thrive Bioscience to be named as one of the “50 Fastest Growing Companies in 2020” by Silicon Review, and one of the “20 Best Biotech Companies” in 2019 by CIO Review. The company has built an extensive patent portfolio, and actively collaborates with internationally recognized researchers in large pharmaceutical, academic, and independent research organizations. 

That’s notable, because patented innovation and research is one thing Farb-Horch credits with his and his team’s success in attracting capital – that, and despite his successful exits of the past, operating as though the company will succeed on its own. 

“Build the company with the plan to go it alone. Never assume you are going to have an exit by being bought or going public. The most important thing is to just keep building value with excellent products and increasing sales,” said Farb-Horch. “We invested in building an incredible patent portfolio, with 86 patent applications and 28 patents issued. Even independent of our success, I think our investors will win either way from that investment in intellectual property.”

Traits of these seemingly entrepreneurial “addicts” have long fascinated management researchers. Do they thrive on taking risks? Innovating? Achieving? 

All of those traits are probably true to some extent. Farb-Horch also credits his past – as well as his mistakes. “There is so much available in books and courses, but the power of learning through living through difficult situations is immense,” he said. 

Not that Dr. Carson’s quote is wrong, per se, but for Farb-Horch, believing in your past and applying it to your future has certainly seemed to be a more productive approach. 


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