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cater to all the players in the growing movement of “systems biology”—the effort to study entire biological networks rather than just zeroing in on specific genes or disease-causing proteins. “There’s a greater push now to look at protein and genomic biomarkers in concert with each other, to better promote patient health,” Brian says. “So having both technologies—protein diagnostics and genomic sequencing—just made a lot of sense to us.”
Finding the right path to merging the technologies will require the brothers to work together in harmony—a talent they’ve honed over the last decade. Brian says it helps that they all have different strengths that are essential to running a science-based business. Brian is an MBA with a background in finance and management. Kevin is a trained biologist, who early in his career managed R&D for the human genome project at MIT’s Whitehead Institute. Brendan, on the other hand, is an operations whiz, Brian says. “He likes to put process to chaos,” Brian says. “He sees DNA as just another widget in the pipeline.”
When the brothers first started working together in 2000, Brian says, they developed a conflict-resolution strategy that they rely upon to this day. “We sit down and talk. We don’t use e-mail,” says Brian, adding that the brothers spend a lot of time hanging out after hours. “We do our best to leave business out of the Thanksgiving dinners,” he says.
The adjustment was hardest for Brian, the first born of the four McKernan siblings. (Their sister, Melissa, a cardiologist, is the second born, with Brendan and Kevin the next in line). Brian says trading in his big-brother hat for his CEO hat every time he stepped into the office was hard at first. “As CEO, I had to learn to treat my brothers as professionals, not as younger siblings. I couldn’t just say, ‘Look, go get this done.’ I had to listen to them and understand their vantage point. I probably went through the biggest learning curve of anyone.”
That ability to communicate and problem-solve will be vital as the McKernan brothers work with their father to build Courtagen. The company has raised about $16 million from unnamed institutional and individual investors. Brian says he’s out looking for acquisitions “on the protein-diagnostics side,” but that Courtagen is being choosy about what technologies it brings in to round out the business plan.
When asked about the future of Courtagen, Brian quotes his idol (and fellow family-business guy) Warren Buffet. “He has this saying that in order to finish first, you must first finish,” Brian says. “That phrase couldn’t be more applicable to young companies in this business. We have to be adaptive and flexible. There will be turns and navigations along the way for us.”
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