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You Have to Be Nimble Leading a Startup

A Slice on Diana Caldwell, Co-Founder, President and CEO of Amplified Sciences

Diana Caldwell began her career as a diagnostics intern at Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis, Indiana while in grad school. She went on to join them full-time, essentially “growing up” with the company and moving into the pharmaceutical side of things, overseeing multiple product launches. When Caldwell left Eli Lilly, it was with a “goal to be an entrepreneur and make things happen for patients more quickly.” She became a serial life sciences entrepreneur, founding a few companies before joining her current venture, Amplified Sciences, in 2019.  

From her time serving as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Purdue University, Caldwell was involved with multiple student and faculty-founded startups. There she met biochemist and co-founder (now Chief Scientific Officer) Dr. Jo Davisson, who developed the diagnostic technology now used by Amplified Sciences. They utilize this innovative diagnostics technology for the early detection of diseases, starting with pancreatic cancer (patients with cysts to be specific). The timing of detection with pancreatic cancer is critical because it’s “silent and asymptomatic until the later stages.” Many patients don’t realize they have it until it’s too late, which is what Caldwell and her team hope to change even though it’s a big feat.

With a goal to provide better early detection of life-threatening diseases, Caldwell and her team set out to raise the money they’d need to get there. Though she’s not a first-time founder, Caldwell is a first-time fundraiser with Amplified Sciences. “Other than raising my three daughters, it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Some investors won’t even look much at first-time fundraisers.” Fortunately, with Caldwell’s connections to academia, she was able to gain support from both Purdue Ventures and IU Ventures, while a smaller, tech-focused VC firm looking to expand into life sciences also got on board. This came with a lot of no’s along the way, though. Caldwell notes the importance of these rejections for any entrepreneur, “If you’re not getting at least two-to-four no’s a week you’re probably not doing enough fundraising.” She also points out that it’s a two-way judgment, “You really need to understand them [investors] and why you would be a good fit and help them assess that early on.”

Both the entrepreneurs, Caldwell and her team, and the investors took a big leap of faith. “For a startup in life sciences to be born, you have to take this leap of faith and take a risk to develop further. There are always going to be problems and there are going to be things about that technology that doesn’t translate as well when you scale up or go to someone else or a different clinical application. Sometimes the things you expect to go really well are the things that end up being the most challenging from a technical point… You have to make sure your investors understand this risk; where it is and how we’re trying to de-risk it.”

Despite the risk, Caldwell is motivated by the patients that benefit from Amplified Sciences’ work. “The patient is waiting. There are so many patients that suffer from diseases, and we all have family members that are patients at one point in their lives and we ourselves sometimes are patients. It’s a very humbling, important responsibility that we as leaders and shepherding startups in the life sciences industry have to focus on.”

As a serial life sciences entrepreneur, Caldwell has several overarching insights into entrepreneurship. “It’s multifaceted; it’s integrating all of the elements of a startup business, customer need and how you’re going to meet that need with your product. It’s all woven into a storyline that has to be compelling to others; you have to be able to sell it.” As for fundraising specifically, “Whatever time you think it’s going to take, it’s probably going to take at least twice that, and you probably need to talk to at least 10 times as many people as you thought you would. You have to find that one higher-profile, strategic investor that allows others to take notice of you. You never know where that door may open, but when it does, then there is a fear of missing out and others start coming in and are very interested in your startup. A lot of that just takes hard work in finding that right match.”

Caldwell looks to continue on her journey with Amplified Sciences, expanding into other diseases beyond pancreatic cancer. Later on down the road, she hopes to see an exit that will allow her investors to benefit from their leaps of faith and broaden the accessibility of their technology. As the CEO, she has specific 30-day and three-year timelines as well, but knows “it’s always going to be fluid and changing because you have to be nimble leading a startup. Caldwell keeps an ecosystem of CEOs to make the road less lonely and be the best leader she can be by learning from others. 

“You have to be nimble leading a startup.”

Founder Bio

Diana Caldwell is the President, CEO and Co-Founder of Amplified Sciences. Previously she worked for Eli Lilly and Company, founded Pensar Ideas and co-founded Pearl Pathways. She serves as an Entrepreneur in Residence for the Purdue Foundry and participates in various community organizations and not-for-profits including IHIF, IU Kelley School‘s Life Sciences Advisory Board, The ARC of Indiana Foundation and Butler University College of Business Marketing Board. Connect with Caldwell on LinkedIn.

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