Ralph Kauten is a true serial entrepreneur. He co-founded two life sciences companies that sold for a combined $200-plus million and was involved very early in three more. The biggest of those, Promega, has about $450 million of revenue and operations around the world.
Kauten’s entrepreneurial experience was built on a series of decisions that took him out of the comfort zone into the unknown. His inclination was to take calculated risks and his guiding philosophy was to understand where the market was going and find the best way his companies could fit in.
"If you're entrepreneurial you'll recognize the fact that, jee, maybe these people would buy those tools and they could spend their time focusing on research as opposed to making the tools they need to conduct the research," Kauten explains.
Madison, Wis., has become known in the last few decades as a startup-friendly town, and Kauten is one of the big contributors to that reputation.
Ralph's startup roster:
- Promega: Founded 1978; Helped set up the company and raise early funding; now 1,600 employees and revenue of around $450 million
- PanVera: Founded 1992; Co-founder; sold to Aurora Biosciences for $86 million
- Mirus: Founded 1996; Co-founder; sold to Hoffman-LaRoche for $125 million
- Quintessence: Founded 2002; one of the first employees; shuttered in 2016
- Lucigen: Founded 1998; Served as CEO; sold to LGC for $80 million
Ralph’s tips for other entrepreneurs:
- Sometimes you have to change your business model because what you’re doing isn’t working or new opportunities arise where your capabilities can play a role. Get a sense of where the market is going and make sure market trends aren't market fads.
- If you see where the market is going for certain and if you’ve got something that can contribute, consider focusing on that. Try to understand the process and where you may be able to fit in.
- You need to be truthful in identifying what your business has to contribute. There’s competition in the economy, so what makes you think you’re going to be successful?