Ex-Google executive Brad Chisum, who created a startup studio in San Diego earlier this year, has picked the first outsiders to join him in leading his debut tech company.

After a rigorous six-week hunt, Chisum’s foundry — called Launch Factory — chose two local scientists to lead its first venture. The result is unexpected, considering Launch Factory’s focus is software, not science.

Created earlier this year, Launch Factory is a hybrid between a business incubator and an investment firm, sinking $300,000 into startup ideas and helping the fledgling companies grow. For now, the business ideas are thought up by Chisum and his co-founder James Hereford. Once they land on a concept for a new startup, the duo hunts for outside talent to come in and lead the new company as co-founders and top executives.

The group put out a call in June for interested parties to apply to lead their first venture, which was initially named Vestra Solutions but recently renamed OmniSync. The startup plans to develop software that will take some of the tedious, time-consuming administrative work off the plates of startups and small businesses. The tech will handle things like setting up incorporation documents, payroll or human resource services, among other tasks. Essentially, the startup will act as a “general contractor” for all your startup needs.

After a grueling and ultra-competitive interview process that lasted six weeks (and included 80 applicants), local scientists Rupak Doshi and Norman Huang were selected.

Doshi, 34, will lead OmniSync as founder and CEO. He has no experience in software. Instead, he holds a Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Cambridge and has worked as a research scientist at UC San Diego and InhibRx. His new co-founder, 28-year-old Huang, will soon serve as chief operations officer at OmniSync. But for now, Huang is still a Ph.D. candidate at UC San Diego, where he’s studied bio-luminescent bacteria — those glowing critters in the ocean — and worked in the fields of antibody research and the early detection of cancer.

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These two men have been deeply entrenched in academia but have always loved the idea of being entrepreneurial. When Doshi saw a Union-Tribune article in June about Chisum’s new startup studio, he admired the ex-Google executive’s belief that executive talent can be found in unlikely places. Back in June, Chisum told the Union-Tribune that he was open to hiring someone who was still in “learning mode,” and who had not yet proven his or her ability as an entrepreneur.

“It was strange for me to read that he thought founders could be anyone — whoever could take their ideas up,” Doshi said. “They were looking for agnostic business founders, which means we could fit the bill.”

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Launch Factory is emphatically committed to making decisions based on data rather than allowing flawed human prejudices to influence their choices. (You should see the painfully detailed spreadsheet Hereford designed to rate and measure the qualities of different business names before choosing “OmniSync”). Rather than taking resumes and viewing LinkedIn profiles, Hereford and Chisum instead designed an application process that would measure a person’s aptitude for the role.

“We wanted to put an emphasis on their work product — what they actually can do instead of the impression you get from them during an interview,” Chisum said. “We didn’t want to dismiss somebody because their resume wasn’t as attractive as someone else’s.”

Applicants were required to apply in pairs because research suggests that co-founders are more successful than solo founders. As a preemptive screening process, candidates were asked to take lengthy personality tests, cognitive performance and logic tests, and even a typing assessment. Twenty-one teams made it through the screening and moved on to the first stage of the interview process.

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In phase one, the teams were asked to create a branding package for OmniSync. They designed logos, wrote company slogans, and were required to respond to a Harvard Business School case study.

Being bench scientists, Doshi and Huang were utterly out of their comfort zone. The teams weren’t allowed to hire any outside help for things like designing logos or choosing company color palettes.

“We were not good at any of those things,” Doshi said, laughing. “The feedback we got was, ‘You guys made it, but we’d like some more rigor moving forward.’”

In the next stages, teams were asked to do market research, then come up with a detailed plan for OmniSync’s business model and design a financial plan to support it. Here, Doshi and Huang excelled. With their science backgrounds, they came up with a unique business pitch. OmniSync would target the massive life science industry, serving biotech startups who have more nuanced needs than your average small business.

“Scientists are so engrossed in their product development that they often forget what else must be done,” Doshi said.

Biotech startups need to consider patent applications, health and safety regulations and a whole host of biotech-specific paperwork. But instead, they’re often knee-deep in scientific experiments. Doshi and Huang pitched that OmniSync could tailor their product and services to this niche rather than being a mass-market tool for all small businesses.

Chisum and Hereford said they had no intention of starting a tech company that would target the life science industry. “Quite the opposite, really,” Hereford said.

But Doshi and Huang had the most compelling business plan, and they even secured a customer before the interview process was complete.

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Candidates say process was wearying, but worth it

The duo said the entire interview process was draining, pushing them to their limits. Both Huang and Doshi have full-time jobs. Doshi has a two-year-old daughter at home.

“The last six weeks we basically operated on like four hours of sleep,” Doshi said.

Still, they both said the experience was rewarding and extremely helpful in understanding what they were getting into. Plus, Launch Factory is rewarding Doshi and Huang for their efforts. Unlike many startup incubators, Launch Factory actually awards the founders with money when they get in. The startup gets $300,000 total. Out of that, the founders can take $50,000 each for a salary, and use the rest to grow the business.

That’s critical, Doshi said. Most people can’t attend startup incubators or accelerators without taking time off from a real, paying job. Not everyone can do that.

“The only reason I’m able to do this is because there’s money so I can pay for bills,” Doshi said. “It’s such a rare opportunity. Where do you hear about an organization that pays you to start a company?”

Hereford and Chisum said their next round of applications will begin sometime around the first quarter of 2020. Follow Launch Factory through their website.





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