Think you're too young to start your own company? That starting a business and getting a degree at the same time don't mix? Shane Hubbell, one of the founders of Second Breath, Inc. and a junior at Union College is proof that, with the right mix of passion and know-how, college can be the perfect place for the young entrepreneur.
It all began when Shane participated in an independent study in which economics students were partnered with mechanical engineers who'd designed products they hoped to bring to market. When a friend introduced Shane to Gordon Single, an engineering student who'd designed a new biomedical product, the Cric-kit™, Shane had the perfect opportunity to apply his academic work to a real world scenario. Though the details of the Cric-Kit™ are still under wraps due to intellectual property rights, Shane says it is a device designed to help doctors and EMTs perform a less invasive cricothyroidotomy, a procedure used to open a patient's airway when it becomes obstructed by traumatic injury. Given the medical nature of the product, Shane brought in Jay Shah-a friend who had start-up experience and was studying medicine-to round out the team. "We formed the team and the class helped us to better organize our ideas and turn them into a working business model," Shane says.
"There was a point when we didn't know whether or not it was a school project anymore or an actual business-that was the point where we were surprised by how far it had gone."
Shane and the team set about determining whether such a product would be viable in the medical market. "We immediately started doing a market survey, basically calling around to ambulatory services," he says. They discovered that the procedure was relatively rare-it's done once or twice a year per ambulance on average-but that was enough to make the Cric-kit™ a viable addition to the medical marketplace.
As the team moved forward, what began as an academic project transitioned into a real world product. "There was a point when we didn't know whether or not it was a school project anymore or an actual business-that was the point where we were surprised by how far it had gone."
Encouragement and Support
Since the founding of Second Breath, Shane and his co-founders have received support from numerous sources. "We've only gotten encouragement up to this point," Shane says. "So far everybody's been really helpful. Even when we go talk to people in the business world, they're excited that we're starting so early."
To begin with, Shane and his colleagues turned to Union College's Business Incubator, which, in addition to providing them office space, helped with numerous aspects of starting up the company, including everything from calculating market size to packaging the device for sterility.
Shane has also received a lot of support and advice from his Economics professor, who, according to Shane, has been helping out young entrepreneurs for around ten years. For Shane, having a close working relationship with a professor proved "particularly helpful." For example, when the school was being unresponsive on a critical Intellectual Property issue, Shane contacted his professor for advice. "Within three days we had a meeting with him, the chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department, and other people who could approve or disapprove our project for school funding."
The team also had a lucky break. During their initial research process, they discovered that two of the doctors who most often perform this procedure are a general surgeon and an anesthesiologist. As luck would have it, Gordon's dad is a surgeon and Jay's is an anesthesiologist, and both doctors now provide a valuable perspective as members of the company's advisory board.
Making use of such varied sources of support and information has been invaluable to Second Breath. As Shane puts it, "the mixture of everybody's advice has been the best path that we've taken."
A Changing Role
There is no such thing as a typical work week for the Acting CFO of a new and growing company, so Shane's role in the business is constantly evolving. "It changes every day and week because, lately, we've been competing in tons of business plan competitions." This is another area where still being in school amounts to an advantage because, in addition to providing good practice at marketing presentations-"it's almost like pitching to a venture capitalist," Shane says-if you win you receive start-up capital to grow the business.
"You always underestimate how much time it's going to take."
In addition to participating in such competitions, and winning-Second Breath won Union College's business plan competition and has placed in numerous others-Shane spends most of his time these days on organization and development. Internally, there's a lot of communication with the team "to figure out what we can do next while we're still in school." And, on the marketing and development side, Shane interacts with many different types of people, which is his favorite part of the job. Recently, he's been calling US Army generals in an effort to get funding from the military. Shane says, "I've been talking to people who are higher up who I never thought I'd get to talk to. I've been shot down by a few, but some have been willing to talk."
More than anything, Shane has learned, starting a business takes time. "You always underestimate how much time it's going to take. Sometimes schoolwork takes a back seat; this is the most important thing for all of us." Still, getting Second Breath up and running while still in school has also been "the coolest part of the whole thing-something that you did in school can be carried on [in] the real world." In those terms, Shane hopes that over the next year the company will get FDA approval for the Cric-kit™--their biggest challenge, as it depends on clinical trials-and then get the device on the market. In the long run, Shane says, "we're all looking to help improve the emergency medicine market, to come up with other products and expand our line."
"Don't be intimidated. I wouldn't say it's easy, but it's definitely in the range of your capabilities."
Shane's best advice to others who plan to start their own business is two-fold. First, develop a clear business plan from the outset - you can get further faster if you know what each person needs to do and where the money should go when it comes in. Second, Shane says, "Don't be intimidated. I wouldn't say it's easy, but it's definitely in the range of your capabilities."