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Maria Fagan & Lisa Casavant | Celebrating Female Co-founders on International Women’s Day

Celebrating Female Co-founders on International Women’s Day

What better way to celebrate Women’s International Day than by hosting 2 female co-founders? The dynamic duo of Maria Fagan and Lisa Casavant are co-founders of RQM+, formerly known as R&Q.

Maria and Lisa both had highly sought-after jobs at Medrad which was acquired by Bayer AG in 2006. For the longest time, Maria had wanted to start a company that would offer QA/RA support to startups in Pittsburgh, PA and Cleveland, Ohio but the demands of raising a family and working at a company that she loved made it hard for her to leave.

Eventually, after a nudge from her colleague, she pitched her idea to several of her workmates. It was only Lisa that ventured off with her. Both having young children at the time, it was a risky move.

In 2007, they launched R&Q and by 2020, R&Q had grown big enough to acquire Maetrics to form RQM+ giving them a more solid foothold on the international market.

Their journey is incredible and if you listen to the podcast, you’ll realize that it’s akin to a Business 101 class on the practical ways to start your own business, recruit a co-founder and grow it into a multinational company that can run independently from the co-founders, all the while maintaining its core values and family work culture.

Leaving a Cushy Job to Start a Company

With a degree in mechanical engineering, Maria joined QA/RA at Medrad in 1996 and worked her way up to Director of QA/RA for the Cardiovascular Business Unit and company lead for Europe, Middle East, and Africa. Prior to Medrad, she had always worked at large corporations but always had this strong desire to work in medical devices so that she could combine her engineering with helping people which is why she moved to Medrad.

In 2004, Lisa joined Medrad as a Project Manager. She had a Masters in mechanical engineering with a focus in Biomechanics because she also really wanted to work in medical devices. Within a couple of months, Maria had convinced her to switch to the QA/RA department.

Maria had wanted to start a company that supported medical device startups by providing them with QA/RA services. When she carried out her research, her hunch was confirmed; no one was offering local businesses QA/RA support.

Maria had been talking about starting her company for about a decade but never acted. She was sharing her desire to start her company, yet again, with a colleague of hers when he asked her whether she was ever going to do what she was talking about and start the company.

It was an aha moment for Maria when she realized that she had been talking about the same story for the last 10 years. She pitched the idea to a few of her colleagues and Lisa took a leap of faith with her and left Medrad to form R&Q.

“We did consulting work on nights and weekends for a year leading up to quitting our jobs at Medrad. It was hard, and also very stressful because on the day that we quit, I was also moving into a new house and hadn’t sold our old house yet. “

-Lisa Casavant, Co-founder and Executive VP, RQM+

How to NOT Start a Business from Scratch

“What’s the point in you going through all the same learnings that somebody else has been through and suffered?”

– Elena Kyria, Founder of Elemed

From the get-go, Maria and Lisa did not want to waste time trying to blindly figure out how a business is run or spend their time doing tasks that were not their strengths that they could delegate such as invoicing clients. They wanted to leverage the experience of people that had already founded and run startups and succeeded.

When they started their company, they visited a small business development centre at a university where they were assigned a counsellor to help them with their business plan. Bob Markley who was their counsellor had a wealth of experience starting up companies in the services industry. Within a short amount of time, they knew that he was the missing piece in their partnership and brought him on board as a third partner.

Recruiting a Startup Co-founder

Recruiting a business partner can happen naturally where you either happen to be friends or colleagues with the person and they fit into your plan for a business. Or you could actively search for one. In both cases, you’re looking for qualities that will help build a business with minimal friction.

Maria and Lisa Got along well and had the same priorities in life. Maria was attracted to Lisa because she’s strong. They both wanted a positive workplace where team members could thrive and grow.

“Well, first of all, we like each other. We like-like each other. So we really have not had any arguments. I mean, we don’t always agree, but we trust each other and know each other’s strengths, to allow the best person to make the final decision”

And I think it’s that and the way we spend money is the same.

Always select a business partner that spends money the same way you spend money.”

-Maria Fagan, Co-founder and President of RQM+

But since they had similar belief systems and priorities, they had strengths that were complementary. Maria is great with planning and systems while Lisa’s strength lies in sales and marketing. When they hired their third partner, Bob, he too was filling in a gap for skills neither of them had.

Interviewer Qualities that Startups are Interested In

Early on in running their startup, they hired business coaches who helped them define what they were looking for in team members.

They want to know whether interviewees are motivated, a good cultural fit and technically strong. Those are basic traits that they’re looking for irrespective of the field.

They’re not just looking for someone that’s accomplished. They also want someone that is easy to get along with, someone that they can joke with and have a good rapport with.

One characteristic they screen for heavily are givers vs takers. Givers are people that are more concerned about their colleagues and customers in contrast to takers who are less of team players and put themselves before everyone else.

“A question that I always ask that throws people off is, ‘What would your friend say about you?’ Not work. What would your friends say about you? I get the craziest answers to that one. That’s when people drop their guard and tell me the stuff that you’re like, ‘Oops, red flag.’”

-Lisa Casavant, Co-founder and Executive VP, RQM+

With time, the company matured to the point where they had a cultural statement, core values, and how they expected people to operate in the company.

Tactics to Quit Your Job and Start a Business

1

Hire a business coach or join an accelerator program

A business coach will save you a lot of time trying to figure out the business side of things. They’ll take a look at your business plan and guide you. They will help you figure out what rates you should charge. A business coach or mentor will make sure you don’t make mistakes that are avoidable.

Lisa and Maria are always looking for people to engage who have already been to the next level. They seek partners who are experienced because, with them, it’s not a guessing game.

As a QA/RA you probably don’t know how to run a business. So partner or hire someone that does and save yourself time and money.

2

Aim to delegate from day one

A lot of business founders are a one-man band wearing several hats. They’re the salesperson, account, driver, et cetera. This limits your company, frustrates you and you will probably work yourself to the bone. Have a plan B.

3

Research

Part of writing a business plan is verifying the market need. Before Maria left Medrad, she investigated whether there really was a need for the services she wanted to offer. Draft a business plan and have it reviewed by others that have experienced success. Follow your plan!

4

Have a Plan B income source

It may take some time for your business to be profitable and you need to figure out how you will earn an income that can sustain you in the meantime.

5

Utilize your support system

Lisa and Maria were fortunate to have very supportive spouses. They weren’t negative at any point and they gave them unconditional support even in the home so that they could tend to their young business.

A support system comes in different forms. It can be family, mentors, a community business network and more.

6

Be brave and go

“I talked about it for so long before I did it. And then I finally was realizing, what the heck? I mean, I’m going to be eighty years old thinking I should have done that.

So try it. I mean give yourself the time frame and try it. It can’t hurt. The worst thing is if you don’t do it and then regret it later. I never would have dreamt where this went for RQM+ in a million years.”

Running a Medical Devices Company During a Pandemic

When Covid-19 hit and the medical devices industry began to feel the effects of the pandemic, they worked on internal programs and corporate objectives. This period was used to strengthen the company internally.

A lot of companies were furloughing their staff but because their company was fiscally conservative, they weren’t cash short and were able to maintain their staff. But it was their commitment to their team members that was the driving force behind them keeping their staff.

The company had a four-pronged approach that they focused on during the pandemic of communicating and making sure that everyone paid attention to the financials and the company reduced expenses.

In February, before the onset of the pandemic, they met with the Maetrics team. Their chemistry was good and later on, the two companies merged in September, 2020.

Fortunately for the medical device industry, after experiencing a brief contraction at the beginning of the pandemic, it went on to experience an escalation.

How Will You Know When You Have Succeeded?

Lisa already feels like they’ve succeeded. The company is profitable and running perfectly and people love to work there.

For Maria, success to her is when the company is sustainable and can run without them. When the culture carries on and the company continues to provide services to the medical device industry that they are currently providing.

What is the Legacy You Want to Leave on the world?

My legacy really is about people. It’s improving people’s lives, helping people get to the next level of their life/or career, providing a great place to work, helping them in whatever way they need.

I feel like – to Lisa’s point about giver versus taker – it’s so ingrained in how we function, on how we operate, it’s really continuing that on to the next generation, making sure my kids are that way, making sure people that come into RQM+ experience that and feel that and are having a great place to work. So, when I look back on what I’ve done, that’s really what I want. I want people to say, ‘Oh, yeah, she was a good person, she did good things, and she helped a lot of people.’”

-Maria Fagan, Co-founder and President of RQM+

“Mine would be the same. I just want to be known as someone who helped people, pulled them up. And in reference to International Women’s Day, it’s always been important to me to help the women around me. We’re just here to help pull everybody up and be as successful as they can and then really trying to instil that into my kids.”

-Lisa Casavant, Co-founder and Executive VP, RQM+

You may also be interested by Advancing the Voice of Women in MedTech

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