Entrepreneur of the Week - William Walker
Pictured above: (from the left) Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, Steve Case, William Walker, and Secretary of Technology Jim Duffey
CIT: Tell us about you.
William: I am a creator. I am at my best when I am creating new technologies, insights, and organizations. I’ve been fortunate to find different opportunities to stretch this side of my personality. My undergraduate and graduate degrees in Biomedical Engineering from Duke University set a great foundation for innovation. I was surrounded by incredibly talented people and had the opportunity to learn from experts across a range of areas. While working on my PhD I became really excited about invention and entrepreneurship. Together with another student I founded my first company, NovaSon Corporation. We intended to develop an instrument that would use ultrasound to repair detached retinas non-invasively. Although the technology was promising, we decided that the market would not support the cost of developing the product, and shuttered the company.
In 1997 I joined the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering at UVA. This was another great opportunity to innovate. I built a world class research lab and developed a number of really exciting ultrasound technologies. During my time at UVA I worked closely with Tom Skalak to develop and implement the undergraduate curriculum in Biomedical Engineering. We went from no undergraduate program to one that was Nationally ranked in just a few years.
Once my research lab reached maturity we started to achieve innovations with commercial potential. One project was dedicated to building an ultrasound scanner the size of a TV remote control. I co-founded PocketSonics to commercialize this platform and in 2010 I helped to negotiate a commercial partnership with a major player in the space. I look forward to seeing this product enter the market in the near future.
Another project in my lab led to the formation of HemoSonics. The opportunities around that company were so great that in 2010 I gave up tenure and quit UVA to pursue it full-time.
CIT: Tell us about your current venture.
William: HemoSonics is a development stage medical device company. Our platform will revolutionize the treatment of bleeding and clotting by providing rapid, actionable diagnostic information at the point of care.
Blood clots are the number one cause of death in the developed world. Bleeding is the number one cause of death for young people. These problems represent two sides of the same coin: the balance between bleeding and clotting. Clinicians have a range of treatments to restore this balance, but they lack rapid diagnostics to guide that treatment. Our test will change that. Our early markets are in surgery and trauma, but ultimately I believe that this will become a screening tool, like a cholesterol test, to reduce the 300,000 deaths in this country each year from pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs).
CIT: What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?
William: Get comfortable with contradiction. Believe in your vision, but look constantly for weaknesses. Appreciate your funding, but recognize that you never have enough capital. Be glad you’ve got a great team, but recognize that you’re missing key players. Listen when one of your key advisors says to go left while another says to go right. Startups are a world of contradictions and change. I believe that managing these contradictions is the key to success.
CIT: What events/meetup groups are essential for startups?
William: There is no silver bullet in my experience. Look for smart people who ask good questions. If they have relevant experience then that’s even better. Make sure that people know you and know what you’re doing.
CIT: How important is collaboration and knowledge sharing to you?
William: Collaboration is critical to success. I find that I’m surrounded by win-win opportunities when I look for them. The key to strong collaboration is to recognize that collaboration is driven by relationships. Look for ways to help others and they’ll look for ways to help you.
CIT: What makes your city's tech scene unique?
William: Charlottesville is changing rapidly. We have an incredible University and all the intellectual talent that goes with that. At the same time we have a rapidly growing entrepreneurial community that is vibrant and passionate. I think that these two communities are beginning to blend and both are benefiting. I believe that in twenty years we’ll look back and say that this was the time that it all really began to happen in Charlottesville.
William F. Walker, Ph.D.
President and Founder, HemoSonics, LLC