Brian Williamson went from a 500-square-foot room to a company big enough to attract a global competitor.
Williamson founded JCB Laboratories, a maker of sterile compounded drugs and solutions, in 2002. He, pharmacist Kent Richardson and two unnamed partners sold the company to Dutch firm Fagron Sterile Services in 2014. He is now an investor and consultant.
He told how he became an entrepreneurial pharmacist and company builder at the second monthly Startup Grind on Thursday evening at the Lux apartments.
Williamson, who attended the University of Kansas, had a varied career as a pharmacist, usually with a strong entrepreneurial bent.
At each stop, he learned something new, never shying away from the tough stuff: He was at a pharmaceuticals start-up company in Amarillo, Texas, when it ran into trouble with the Food and Drug Administration. The owner said he would understand if Williamson left, that it was going to get ugly.
“I’m 28, and I’m like, are you kidding? I’m not going to miss out on an education like this. You can’t buy this kind of school.”
That grueling experience reinforced the culture of care he built in a company that manufactured custom-mixed sterile medicines that were sold to clinics and hospitals.
A few years ago, one of JCB Labs’ main competitors, New England Compounding, was accused of selling drugs that contained a fungus that led to 64 deaths and faced criminal charges. In 14 years, Williamson said, JCB has never been linked to any patient injuries.
“You’ve got to do it all the way, you go to do it right,” he said. “So (the company in Amarillo) was a failure, but it was the biggest failure of my life. It got us to where we are today. Failure is a really good thing to have.”
In 2002, Richardson, who had Custom RX, a compounding pharmacy, asked Williamson if he would lead the effort to build a compounding company.
Williamson said he’s an introvert and hates sales, particularly cold-calling potential customers.
“Anybody here like dialing for dollars? It’s a lot of fun. Cold-calling is the best,” he said with a rueful smile. “I’m pretty introverted. So getting out there and doing it was a really good thing for me. If you are doing something that you’re not comfortable with, just get out there and do it. Just break out of that box.”
Building a good team is absolutely critical; look for people who are good at things you’re not, he said.
“If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room,” he said.
He also praised the amount of support groups for entrepreneurs he has found in Wichita, a number that is growing all the time.
“I can’t tell you how much support there is out there,” he said. “You just have to go out and talk to people.”