On a typical day, Joe Morrison, a 2014 Venture for America Fellow in Philadelphia, can be found breaking things at the Biomeme office in Old City.
Not lab equipment, prototypes, or any concrete “things,” Morrison says — “breaking a given paradigm” about how scientific diagnoses are done. Biomeme is pioneering technology that enables users to perform molecular diagnostics on a smartphone — with the potential to transform the face of accessible healthcare both in the U.S. and abroad.
Biology is complicated, but it’s not as complicated as starting a business.
Humble wisdom and a bone-dry sense of humor characterize Morrison, a North Carolina native who attended Davidson College. At Davidson, he devoted himself to community service work, which led him to appreciate “a big hole in the way products were being marketed philanthropically,” Morrison said. The Tom’s Shoes one-for-one model, while successful, he said, represents an attitude of “taking a picture and walking away.”
So Joe started PAX, a backpack company with an underlying social mission. PAX backpacks were manufactured locally in North Carolina with recycled materials. For every PAX backpack sold, a percentage of the profit went to organizations supporting local education, organizations that were involved in the communities they served in a long-term, sustainable way.
When it came time for Morrison to think about post-graduation plans he realized he did not have enough experience to successfully do PAX full time. He knew that if he wanted to lead an impactful business in the future, he had to learn first-hand how a business was built. He also wanted to tap into a community of like-minded peers and mentors. When he learned about Venture for America, he knew he’d found his next step.
While Venture for America seemed an obvious choice, Morrison’s placement at Biomeme was not.
His humanities-heavy background made Biomeme cofounder Max Perelman perplexed as to why Morrison wanted to work for them. Morrison, however, was determined:
“It was a synergy,” he said. “Here is a company that I would be proud to work for.”
And while he didn’t have a biology or engineering background, Morrison did have experience starting a business and believed he could add value.
“Biology is complicated, but it’s not as complicated as starting a business,” said Morrison, who does business development at Biomeme. “I actually really enjoy the biology, it’s kind of the easiest thing to describe.”
From working in the trenches at a startup, Morrison says he’s come to appreciate that “the most important thing in terms of being a valuable asset to the company is not reinventing their model or figuring everything out for them, it’s weathering the storm that’s just figuring stuff out.”
Morrison’s attitude about his work, his belief in Biomeme’s mission and his background as a religion major at Davidson has led the Biomeme team to settle on an interesting job title for him: Evangelist.
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