Rising StarA New Way to Fund Medical Research: Member Chat with Consano

Molly Lindquist, Founder of Consano
Molly Lindquist, a breast cancer survivor, is hoping to prevent her two daughters from walking her same path.

Who doesn’t want to find a cure for cancer? For so long, few of us could do much more than hope that somewhere, someone, someday was going to find a solution.

Not anymore. The Portland-based nonprofit Consano, founded by breast cancer survivor Molly Lindquist, empowers ordinary people to fund medical research projects that matter to them. Now you can not only hope, but you can also honor and help heal.

Read on to to learn more about this groundbreaking crowdfunding platform for medical research, and the powerful story that started it all:

What was the spark that inspired you to start Consano?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October of 2011. I went through surgeries and chemotherapy, and came out really wanting to do something to prevent my two daughters (who were three and five-years-old at the time of my diagnosis) from walking my same path. I started to investigate ways to donate to specific medical research that might help my girls (genetics, vaccines), but found that the existing options lacked the transparency that I was looking for.

Fast-forward a couple of months to a Memorial Day barbecue with some of our close friends. I was lamenting about my inability to find a directed donation mechanism that gave me the connection to medical research that I was looking for, and the conversation shifted to crowdfunding. “Why isn’t there a Kickstarter for medical research?” asked my friend Matty. And that was the spark that led to the creation of Consano.

What problem does your business solve?

Consano is a platform that enables you to donate any amount (small or large!) directly to a medical research project that matters to you. Usually medical research is paid for by large grants from government or other large funding institutions. Consano is part of a new movement to connect individuals directly to specific medical research projects. You pick the specific research project that you’d like to support, make a donation and know exactly where your money is going and how it will be spent. Then you receive quarterly updates from the researcher throughout the life of the project to maintain visibility to the impact of your donation.

I never knew how much fun working so hard could be.” (Tweet this.)

What’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur?

It has been so exciting and gratifying to take an idea and turn it into an actual company, to put the pieces of the puzzle together and have something wonderful to show for it. To do that, I’ve had help from some amazing people, people who really went out on a limb to make introductions, give advice and also provide valuable critical feedback to give Consano the best chance of success. Meeting these amazing people, many of whom have become friends, has been a wonderful part of this adventure.

What has been the biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date?

I never knew how much fun working so hard could be. Having such a personal passion and investment in this work has propelled me to a new level of commitment. I’ve had jobs that I really enjoyed, where I learned a ton, and made some amazing friends, but I never felt like I had found my life’s work. Now that I have, I feel so invigorated each day when I wake up. And it has provided such a healing force in my life as well.

Molly Lindquist, Founder of Consano
Molly says that cancer showed her that life is too short to let fear win.

People tend to focus on success stories — do you have a failure story to share? What did you learn from this failure?

My personal belief is that you only fail when you don’t learn from your mistakes. I think my biggest failures in the past have come from succumbing to fear. The opportunities that I let pass by because I was too scared to take the risk or to get out of my comfort zone. Cancer really showed me that life is too short to let fear win.

As an entrepreneur, what keeps you up at night?

I often lie awake at night thinking about the stories that I hear of people who are living with chronic illnesses or who have lost someone to a disease. Every story I hear becomes a part of my own story, and each one really fuels my passion to keep pushing forward, especially on those challenging days. I worry about whether I’m doing enough to help them. Could I be working faster? Sourcing projects more quickly? Finding more opportunities to share their stories? That is my biggest worry: am I doing enough?

You might have the best day of your life on the same day that you have the worst day of your life.” (Tweet this.)

What is the best entrepreneurial advice you have received (and from whom)?

As I was embarking upon this entrepreneurial journey, one of my Stanford classmates, entrepreneur and investor Charles Hudson, told me that when you are running a start-up, you might have the best day of your life on the same day that you have the worst day of your life. The highs are high and the lows are low, but regardless, you must stay focused, remain true to your mission and keep moving forward.

What song best describes your work ethic?

As somewhat of a karaoke addict, it is difficult to pick just one. My life theme song after cancer would probably be Gloria Gaynor’s classic, “I Will Survive” or Katy Perry’s, “Roar.” I think the song that most reflects the intent behind Consano is probably Coldplay’s, “Fix You.” But I digress from the original question: the song that best describes my work ethic. That would have to be Survivor’s, “Eye of the Tiger” (and yes, there’s definitely “air boxing” involved).

Spellman Project on Consano
On Consano, members can find and fund the medical projects that matter to them.

Imagine your venture becomes wildly successful. What does that look like?

Wild success for me would mean that Consano directly helps to fund research projects that make things better for patients, whether that’s better care, treatments or ultimately (and hopefully!) cures. On a personal level, success would mean that my daughters don’t have to worry about breast cancer. Generally, I hope that Consano becomes a useful tool for people looking to support the research that matters to them, with a large number of research projects in a wide variety of health categories from a large number of academic institutions. I hope that crowdfunding becomes a meaningful way for researchers to not only raise funds, but to also connect with the people who are impacted by what they do.

Can you describe your typical day?

I think that’s the beauty of entrepreneurship – there’s definitely no “typical” day! Some days are comprised of conference calls with academic institutions, meetings with researchers or coffee dates with fellow entrepreneurs. Other days are full of emailing, answering inquiries, reaching out to the press and speaking engagements. And my favorite days are spent modeling in Excel (nerd alert!).

What’s your favorite local business and why?

I love my Handful girls! I first heard about Handful from the company’s COO, Survivor Relations, Cary Goldberg, who also leads the young breast cancer survivors support group that I attend and is a breast cancer survivor herself. Handful has created an amazing fitness product that is also a certified mastectomy bra. Handful has not only created a product that is a true necessity for the breast cancer market, but they give back to the cancer community in other (transparent!) ways as well. The icing on the cake: They are moving their manufacturing to the United States in 2014. I am a big fan of the amazing women running this fabulous company (and am the proud owner of a Handful tank in Booya Black!).

My personal belief is that you only fail when you don’t learn from your mistakes.” (Tweet this.)

As you think about the growth of Consano to date, what are you most thankful for?

I am so filled with gratitude for people’s belief in me. You can just imagine how odd it must have been for the academic institutions when this random breast cancer survivor called to discuss a new funding model. When we started to develop Consano, we didn’t even have a website to show the researchers, let alone a track record of success. Despite that, they took a chance on us. They believed in what we were doing, and they understood our vision. I am so thankful for that!

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an archaeologist for the longest time after one of my elementary school teachers put together a dig for our class. That is still one of my favorite memories – digging up random “artifacts” in some generous person’s backyard, cataloging our discoveries and then writing about them. After that, I wanted to be a writer. Then a teacher. Then a doctor. Then I ended up working in finance. And now I’m an entrepreneur supporting medical research. Go figure!

What else should we know about you?

  • If I had to pick one food to eat for the rest of my life, it would be macaroni and cheese. I love it so much that my husband proposed to me over a homemade batch (he knew the way to my heart).
  • I like the smell of skunk. It reminds me of my freshman year at Stanford, so I’ve always associated it with pleasant things. To this day, if I catch a whiff, I stop and smile.
  • I made it through my chemotherapy infusion times by watching old episodes of “Arrested Development” on my iPad with my husband Scott. The nurses commented that they had never heard people laugh so much during treatments.
  • My favorite family ritual is a nightly pre-bedtime dance party with my daughters. My rhythm “needs some work” so, as you can imagine, the choreography is a bit eclectic.
  • My favorite way to describe my journey from breast cancer to creating Consano: I took a couple of bad lemons (literally) and turned them into lemonade. And yes, I’ll be here all night.

Learn more:  Browse projects online, follow Consano on Twitter, and/or like Consano on Facebook.   

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