Leonora O’Brien

Startup Salon July 2015 Panelist

I realise now that saying that people choose the divergent work life path called entrepreneurship simply because they don’t wish to conform to a conventional work life, is a simplistic argument.  The catalyst that causes some people to choose to set up a business can simply be the need to solve a problem that no-one else is solving; or they think they can do a superior job solving it.

Pharmapod, to me isn’t just a technology company; technology is the facilitator of a solution to a serious problem.   And Leonora O’Brien, Pharmapod’s founder and CEO, was lead down the entrepreneurship path by the need to solve it.

What’s the problem?

Accountability of pharmacists and the protection of patients against medical error, which sharing knowledge, co-ordinated thinking and identification of problems with medication would solve; all of which the Pharmapod platform was designed to facilitate.

When I asked Leonora if she always wanted to own her own business she laughed and said ‘no, never’.  There were many experiences in previous roles which made her aware of ‘what needs to be done to protect patients’.

What specifically are we talking about when we say medical error? It’s the kind of error whose effects could cause mothers to complain that their 2 year old’s hair has fallen out, or a women to suffer the loss of her husband due to medical error.

The Pharmapod platform is an example of tech being used smartly and ethically; harnessed in ways that really make a difference to people’s (and it could be any of us who need medication) quality of life.  That this is an Irish company, lead by a kick ass women like Leonora O’Brien, gives me a sense of pride.  And it strengthens my belief that companies built on a foundation of purpose are the ones really worth shouting loud about.

Breaking preconceived notions of the ‘kinds’ of people who do particular things, like start a business, is something I like to do. And cracking a notion (in my mind at least!) like: it is necessary to have a life low on fun, devoid of laughter and a spirit that is serious and stern, to set up a company like Pharmapod (which has quite a serious mission on its hands!), would be a feather in this writer’s/notion-hacker’s cap.

So if the above points were posed as questions…..what would the answer be?

Using Leonora’s story as the evidence, I’d say no.  Though I’ve no doubt about her battling abilities, tactical prowess and strategic brilliance to navigate the battlefield that is the international business environment, however, at various stages of our conversation levity was injected by a witty remark here and a wry joke there and I believe Leonora when she says ‘play is important’. She told me this when I asked her did she do anything in particular (like exercise, for example) to relax ‘no, nothing’ she said, but added that fun is her refuge from work.  She also engages in some sociable reading ‘I’m part of a book-club, we read biographies’, and she admits to a predilection for poetry, offering me one of her poems to publish in my blog….we didn’t shake on that though! However….perhaps there will come a time when you’ll see a selection of Leonora’s poetry on display in an exhibition of entrepreneurial art and literature curated by me on some other platform…. after all, entrepreneurship is inextricably linked to creativity.

Here’s some of the key things I learned from my evening chatting with Leonora:

  • Get out of your comfort zone: Surround yourself with people more experienced than you are, as Leonora said: ‘you can get comfortable in the startup scene‘ especially in Dublin where the community is so close-knit.
  • Be ambitious when seeking funding: ‘we need to ask for more, there’s not a huge difference in asking for700,000 and 2 million….that’s the level of funding that’s required to launch a global tech product’’.
  • Diversity: Build a diverse team around you, as Leonora said:    ’balance is very important in a team, we have heavy hitters on the professional side and the tech side’.
  • Self Praise: at each stage of your startup’s development ‘remind yourself where you were a year ago’ and give yourself praise.