Entrepreneur Cathy Tie says starting a business is ‘an art’

Cathy Tie would consider herself an artist. But not the oil on canvas type.

The 26-year-old, from Toronto, Canada, founded her first company, Ranomics, at 18. provide health risk predictions based on people’s genetic data and has now raised more than $1 million, according to Crunchbase. She founded her second company, Locke Bio, a “Shopify” for pharmaceuticals and other companies that sell FDA-approved drugs, at 23.

For Tie, art and creativity are not exactly as on the nose as writing in iambic pentameter or dancing at Lincoln Center. It’s about seeing the big picture in the different industries she’s a part of and “being able to be interdisciplinary and marrying concepts from different industries,” she says.

“I’ve always loved bringing ideas together and seeing connections that other people don’t see,” she says, such as figuring out how science can be advanced within the world of startups and building business models accordingly. “It’s, I think, more of an art and creative process than something that’s technical.”

Here’s how the entrepreneur, now based in Los Angeles, leaned into her creative, big-picture thinking to find success in fields like technology and science.

Tie cold emailed professors at 14

Tie started learning about her industries at the beginning of her high school years.

“I’ve always loved science, especially biology and chemistry, loved hands-on building, since I was a very young child,” she says. But she noticed that the science curricula they were taught in school didn’t include much hands-on learning. Instead, it was a lot of memorization from textbooks.

Always a big-picture thinker, it was in her freshman year of high school that Tie decided to cold email professors at the University of Toronto to see if they would allow her to spend time in their labs, researching to do, and help them with a project here and there.

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Her work at the university led to her publishing her first paper at the age of 16 in a peer-reviewed journal in the field of immunology, which deals with the human immune system.

This also led her to a realization: “In research, especially academia, you are tied to a system of academic grants,” she says. That is, if she wanted to continue doing research in that world, she would be limited. But getting funding as an entrepreneur would give her freedom to do any kind of research she wanted.

She was accepted into young entrepreneur programs

As Tie began to connect the dots that the way she wanted to make an impact was through the startup world, she also began applying to programs that could help her make this concept a reality.

Tie had the basic idea for Ranomics, a way to solve some of the problems that companies like 23andMe faced with the accuracy of their genetic testing, when she was a freshman at the University of Toronto. She co-founded Leo Wan, a Ph.D. student at the university, through a startup competition, and the two were eventually accepted into IndieBio, a startup program that provides funding and guidance to entrepreneurs in the sciences.

Tie eventually dropped out of college and moved to San Francisco to pursue the opportunity and became CEO of Ranomics for its first three years. She was also invited to apply and subsequently enrolled The Thiel Fellowship, which gives young entrepreneurs skipping or dropping out of college a $100,000 grant directly (not to their businesses) over the course of two years.

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“Through the journey of building Ranomics, I learned so much about startups, selling to pharmaceuticals, how to build a profitable company,” she says. All of this will come into play in her next ventures.

Launch the Shopify for pharma

At 21, Tie was offered a position as a partner at Cervin Ventures, a venture capital fund focused on enterprise service as a software, or SaaS, technologies such as Salesforce and Slack.

After a year there, she felt the itch to build again, and decided to explore opportunities within the digital health space, combining the SaaS and science worlds she had come to know. And Tie realized that there was no simple way to build an online store for those who wanted to sell FDA-approved medicines in a way, like a Shopify for pharmaceutical companies.

“Shopify really had a problem where everyone had to build their websites, their [customer relationship management software]their payment processing from scratch, and made a platform where you don’t have to be technical,” she says, adding that, “We’re doing the same thing for the telehealth and online pharmacy industry.”

Locke Bio is now backed by three venture capital funds in the US and Canada, according to PitchBook, but is not currently sharing fundraising details publicly.

‘When you don’t have time to reflect, you don’t really see the bigger picture’

Tie is excited about the future of Locke Bio and the various product extensions that she and her team are planning. But the success of the company and all the success that preceded it did not come without obstacles.

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“I think very early in my career I definitely stepped on the gas very hard and worked those hard hours, like 100 hours a week,” she says. But, “I realized it was unsustainable because if you don’t have time to reflect, you don’t really see the bigger picture.”

That’s where that artist mentality came into play.

“Similar to how artists would make music, inspiration comes at a random hour of the day. It could be 2 a.m., it could be when you’re taking a shower,” she says. But she has to make time for those outside hours where ideas can flow freely.

These days, she’ll put in those long days on weeks when needed, but otherwise Tie makes sure to work at least around 40-hour weeks to get in that time off.

“It’s about taking those sprints, working really hard when I have to, and then being able to reflect on all the things I’ve learned,” she says.

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