You may be an entrepreneur if you have a strong desire to be your own boss, are driven to succeed, believe you can change the world. (Think Donald Trump, Steve Jobs, or Thomas Edison.)
Or, you may be none of the above.
Instead, you’re a college graduate with a successful career working in healthcare who one day finds himself unable to shake the thought that there’s a better way to serve customers.
That’s how it unfolded for pharmaceutical and medical device salesman Tommy Lesperance (MGT ’00).
The business plan napkin
Stuck on the idea that not every surgical procedure requiring anesthesia had to be performed at a hospital, Lesperance found himself sitting in a café one day with long-time friend and mentor (and later business partner) Tony Vadella, drawing out a business plan on a paper napkin. Soon after, Anesthesia Connections was established, and the first sale was made.
Since that lunch-to-launch in 2010, Anesthesia Connections has experienced exponential growth, servicing multi-specialty clinics, including gynecology, gastroenterology, plastic surgery, reproductive endocrinology/in-vitro fertilization, oral surgery, urology, ophthalmology, and podiatry.
It has numerous facilities across the entire state of Virginia and a location in Colorado. Attributing the company’s success to its in-depth knowledge of the customer, Lesperance says “we excel by understanding the local markets we service and the challenges surgeons face by doing procedures in their own facility.”
A “background in business can never steer you wrong”
He also credits his Virginia Tech education for providing a foundation upon which to build and grow. “Having a degree in business management gave me the core fundamentals necessary to think creatively and look for opportunities in business.” Though he states that he enjoyed leadership and business communications classes the most, Lesperance emphasizes that “having a background in business can never steer you wrong regardless of what field you decide to pursue.”
For the future, Lesperance sees a balance of science and business in healthcare as an area that will be strengthened, suggesting “there is no reason why you can’t be well versed at both.”
“My strengths were never on the financial accounting side of things. I remember now retired Professor Larry Killough telling me (while I had to retake his class in summer school) to please make sure I surround myself with great accountants. That’s probably the best advice I received.”
From salesman to serial entrepreneur?
While at Virginia Tech, Lesperance never pictured himself as an entrepreneur. He assumed his path was get a college degree, get a good job, work hard, and have a good life. All those things did indeed happen, and yet, in the past five years, he started not one business, but two.
When timing is everything
In May 2015, his second startup with Vadella, EbitCreative, announced the release of a new wearable technology that is designed to establish a safety perimeter, monitored via a smartphone app, to protect children, pets, purses, wallets, or any valuable personal cargo.
The move from the healthcare service industry to a technology startup has been a big shift. Again, it was not a direction Lesperance ever saw himself heading.
“As the saying goes, timing is everything. I had recently read an article about how many children die each year as a result of being left in a hot vehicle. The vast majority of these cases happen because the parent or caregiver is outside the normal routine, and they inadvertently leave the child in the car. Everyone has seen the videos and the short amount of time it takes a car to heat up during a summer day. It is tragic and heartbreaking. If we could save one life, the investment is miniscule.”
The value of a good idea
Even now with the launch of LollipopPC (the PC stands for Precious Cargo), Lesperance is still not comfortable with the label of “entrepreneur.” He emphasizes that he is not an inventor: “I simply took concepts and technologies that already existed and changed the environment in which they were used or performed.”
Indeed, Lesperance may best be described as an “opportunity entrepreneur” — one driven by opportunity as opposed to necessity — a fast growing category of entrepreneurship.
According to the 2014 Kaufman Startup Activity Index, 79.6 percent of the total number of new entrepreneurs are opportunity entrepreneurs—those who were “not unemployed and not looking for a job.”
“What I’ve learned in this short period of time can be attributed to another friend and mentor, Brian Callaghan, co-founder of Apex Systems: You find your mousetrap, perfect what that is, and be the best that you can be versus everyone else.”
And then, of course, repeat.