Farewell Isis Biopolymer

Tomorrow is my last “official” day at Isis Biopolymer–official in the sense I will no longer be on board in Providence, but still unofficially involved as an advisor and friend.  The past six months have been an adventure and a privilege.

It’s a rare opportunity to get to create and launch a brand from scratch.  Even rarer when it’s accomplished from an unknown company with limited resources.  Developing Biobliss has been such an opportunity.

I remember well the first board meeting I attended in mid-May of this year, presenting the “fast-fail” approach to taking a technologically advanced patch and turning it into a consumer product, in the very competitive arena of women’s skin care.  Well, we did go fast–and we didn’t fail.  The entire Isis team in Providence, together with the Board’s support, collaborated to bring our new brand Biobliss to life and launch it out in the world.  It’s our collective child.

The story of Isis Biopolymer is a book unto itself.  As one of my friends on the Board said to me, “I would like to write the history of Isis but it would have to be a novel because no one would believe it if non-fiction.”  The story begins with Emma Durand who founded Isis in 2006.  The company was established to exploit the emerging fields of conductive polymers, flexible circuits and advanced micro-electronics.  Isis’ first product area was in the development of intelligent transdermal drug delivery. This became the foundational technology of the Biobliss line of products.

Emma was no ordinary founder.  She had founded and sold other successful companies before Isis.  Educated at MIT, everyone said she was brilliant.  I regret never having known Emma.  She died in October 2010.  In her earlier life, up until her late 40″s, Emma wasn’t Emma, but David.  That change is a piece of her story.  Some of my colleagues here at Isis knew David, then David becoming Emma.  She loved fast cars and cool technology.

Isis initially focused its transdermal infusion process on the pharmaceutical industry.  They struck a deal with Novartis to apply their technology and manufacture Novartis’s nicotine patches.  At the 11th hour, Novartis pulled out of the nicotine patch market. Later, Isis signed a deal with a OTC company to manufacture anti-aging patches sold through the mass drug channel.  For complicated reasons that deal went south rapidly.

After Emma’s dramatic death in late 2010, two Isis Board members took over the reigns of the company and steered it toward the development of its own line of anti-aging products, and in the process saved the firm.  There should be a plaque commemorating this achievement at the front door.  The dedication of these two Board members, the patience and support of the investors, and the loyalty and commitment of the Isis employees is a miracle.

What have I learned from this experience: that a brand can be created in 90 days–from naming, to logo and package design, to an e-commerce website build, to a marketing and support program, to a direct channel sales operation, to a PR program implementation–all on very limited funds.  This wasn’t J&J launching a new product.  This was an unknown company with a weird technology, launching a new brand, in a category filled with doubt and suspicion. Our marketing budget was $30,000 a month.  Yes, you heard that correctly: $30,000 a month.

Today, though not entirely out of the weeds yet, Biobliss is an established brand with a growing following.  Skillful sales execution and product line development are the next chapter.  I’m proud of my involvement.

At the beginning of November I head back home to San Francisco.  I will miss Providence, a lovely small historic city.  If you’re passing through, be sure to visit the RISD Art Museum which has possibly the finest collection of any small museum in the country.  Walk down Benefit Street to see the longest continuous stretch of Federal Period houses in America. What I will not miss is my sketchy living situation.  Unable to sign an annual lease, I first lived in a hotel.  Then in August I rented a room from three Brown University students in their off-campus house.  They were, and are, very nice guys, but honestly, living in a room in a student house wasn’t my life dream.  Nor was moving for September and October into my office.  I was homeless in Providence.  All the students were back and there were no rooms available.  I still couldn’t sign a lease.  So here I am writing this post in my office/bedroom/sitting room.  Call it either a start-up mentality or lunacy.  Likely both.

Stay tuned for the next chapter.

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1 Comment

  1. Jasmine

     /  April 18, 2013

    Thank you so much for this! One of my classes required me to make a presentation on a start-up company of my choice. I chose Isis Biopolymer. Emma is a truly fascinating person. Its very unfortunate that I can’t seem to find more information about her life (I can’t even find how she died!). It also seems that the company has completely removed her from the new iontera website and the old isisbiochem.com site.


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