Loana Baes, XP-84
Loana Baes, recent 2015 graduate of University of Chicago – Executive MBA, has founded moleCures (mol-e-cures), a crowdfunding platform for cancer and medical research. With 14 years of business experience, read to hear about Loana, her experience at Chicago Booth and journey in founding moleCures.
For some background, could you tell us a bit more about your company?
Loana: Sure, moleCures is a crowdfunding platform connecting medical researchers and donors. With a business background in healthcare, I realized a decreasing amount of funding going to medical innovation and research which includes cuts in government/NIH funding and other healthcare organizations having less than 10% of contributions going towards research. With less funding going to research, ultimately there will be less healthcare professionals becoming researchers, stifling innovation, which has been written about in the WSJ and Economist. Typically funding is granted to veteran researchers, where very talented young investigators to mid-veteran researchers have had issues gaining funding for new and novel approaches. Personally, I became concerned about the compounded impact socially and economically. What moleCures does is partner with accredited academic institutions undergoing medical research and connect them to donors using a proven crowdfunding method that has been successful in other industries.
When you say crowdfunding, would you say it’s similar to Kickstarter?
Loana: In some ways, yes. An apparent difference is seen with our focus in healthcare, specifically cancer and medical research. What really differentiates us is the effort we put into vetting all researchers and institutions. It’s important to circumvent potential fraudulent projects and make sure the donors’ money goes directly to research.
Currently, there are four research projects posted on moleCures looking for $1M total funding; all from Harvard and Brigham & Women’s hospital that spans Rare Cancers, Lung Cancer, and Mesothelioma using new innovation such as 3D Printing of the Human Chest Wall, RNA Sequencing, etc. Each with a target funding goal, moleCures provides a platform for interested donors to contribute directly or even campaign in behalf of a research project of their choice. Individuals or groups can get involved with the campaigning feature and create their own customized page that links to the research project, which is also different than other crowdfunding sites. We’ve partnered with events(like the Lifetime Fitness Miami Triathlon in Sept) to make it even easier for donors to campaign for a cause, and ultimately to generate more awareness.
Sounds amazing – personalizing medical innovation and giving everyday people a chance to invest in medical research. Also sounds pretty tough to tackle – establishing partnerships with pretty large established organizations. How did you do it?
Loana: It is tough because doing crowdfunding in healthcare is complex with many different stakeholders– but my domain experience in healthcare and Booth network helps. I have always aspired to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and throughout my career have made cross functional moves to take on challenges that would round out my skillset and build my network. In the Booth network, one of my colleagues is a physician who graduated from Harvard Medical School and was part of the XP-84 cohort. After connecting with his contact at Harvard, and the many different organizations affiliated with Harvard(Brigham and Women’s, Business administration), I was able to gain approval to pilot the 4 projects with the intention to scale up to approx. 300 different projects once complete. We learned that the crowdfunding platform offered an online solution for researchers that not only provided funding, but was a more efficient way of fundraising than traditional options helping academic institutions cut costs. We look forward to bringing this efficient solution to other academic institutions.
Sounds like an amazing benefit of Booth – the expansive network.
Loana: Yes, it has been. The team is made up of a few UChicago and Booth Alumni. I continue to reach out to network with Booth alums as well as the University of Chicago Hospital to increase the footprint of moleCures. I find my time at Booth beneficial –what I learned, the network I created, and also the opportunities. moleCures started out as a school project in the Social New Venture Challenge(SNVC) in 2014. As I continued to gain feedback on the need for our platform and secured partners like Harvard, it pushed me to make my vision of the company into a reality.
When you say vision – what is your vision of moleCures?
Loana: Our mission and vision is to accelerate innovation and get closer to a cure. This includes cancer and other disease states that have brought up from donors. Getting “closer to a cure” means the research needs to one day be a product available to patients. moleCures plans to first start with the funding in the early stages of research, and then support the researchers through each phase to help their research become an actual product. We plan to track outcomes to demonstrate to donors that their funding is making an impact and will yield an outcome. Crowdfunding has been able to raise over $12M for a “high concept smartphone” project-- why not in healthcare where it can make a tremendous difference?
This is a long-term journey, but it starts with funding and driving awareness to the masses which can be done through crowdfunding.
My vision is what keeps me going every day and inspires me to keep tackling the tough issues and problems that come up daily. I don’t see this just as an online platform, but as changing the healthcare landscape. Innovation is key in healthcare.
That’s a great lesson for me to take away. Finding your passion, and using what you have to make that happen.
Loana: Yes, that’s something I learned as well. My background and experience has been in bringing medical products to market –with strategy, sales and marketing. moleCures is a chance to leverage this into something bigger. In five or ten years, I‘d like to look back and say that I took advantage of every opportunity I was given and made the most of my skills. It’s been great to have people join our team or be early adopters of moleCures because they want to see something like this happen in healthcare.
Thanks for sharing your story Loana, and the story of moleCures. How can someone get involved?
There are many ways to get involved--you can learn more at www.moleCures.com.
For those that would like to be actively involved, they can donate directly to one of the research projects. If they are running in an event, they can create their own campaign page where all raised dollars go to a research project of their choice. We’re continually growing and adding more projects so the best way to stay connected is to follow us on social media.