The Data Challenger: Liz O’Day

Elizabeth “Liz” O’Day, Ph.D., founded Olaris Therapeutics in 2014 with an aim to change the game in how we diagnose and treat patients with life threatening diseases. Through innovative technology and customized algorithms, Liz and her team can understand the metabolomic profile of a patient to determine the most effective treatment option. The fundamental goal or mantra for Olaris is “getting the right drug to the right patient” according to Liz.

Liz is one of the inaugural awardees of the MLSC’s Massachusetts Next Generation Initiative (MassNextGen), a five year, more than $2 million commitment to ensure greater gender parity in the next generation of life science entrepreneurs. The MLSC recently closed its second round application call, receiving 30 applications from women-led life sciences companies.

During the call for applications, more than a few of Liz’s industry peers asked her whether MassNextGen was a worthwhile endeavor for female entrepreneurs. Her simple, but resounding response – “YES!”

Through MassNextGen, Olaris, in addition to Reveal Pharmaceuticals, received $62,500 in funding in addition to a year of access to a network of executive coaches. Overall, five women-led companies were selected as awardees for year one, representing a wide range of applications to improve human health.

The non-dilutive capital proved to be a catalyst for Liz and Olaris, in terms of growing the team and attracting follow-on private investment. The potential access to capital through MassNextGen is what stood out to Liz when it came to applying to the program. Liz has received a number of awards and various other types of recognition for her company and research. However, access to capital was never matched with these awards and industry honors.

There is a considerable disconnect,” noted Liz. “Recognizing women, but not giving them the resources to do something with their research and build upon initial successes, is not resolving the broader structural problem. The data shows this is a problem and a concerted effort is needed to take on this issue.

Specifically for entrepreneurs, there is well-documented bias against women-led ventures when raising funds. Female Founders got just two percent of venture capital dollars in 2017, according to recent data.

The MassNextGen coaching network has also been instrumental for Liz. She greatly appreciates the collective and individual investment of time from the participating coaches. The sincere investment of the coaches in the success of the MassNextGen entrepreneurs is clear. Their willingness to dig in, understand the challenges, and offer tangible feedback and insight has been invaluable, as has the willingness to open new doors for the entrepreneurs. The network extension is a real and intentional benefit of the coaching component of the program.

“The mentorship and coaching through MassNextGen has been nothing short of powerful,” said Liz. “Our coaches do not hesitate to get on the ground level of your company to talk through the tactical side, providing real world experience examples that apply to my own path as an entrepreneur. Plus, there is a solid mix of coaches who each bring their own know-how of the industry.”

With now eight full-time staff, Liz is shifting her energy outside of the lab, a new, but exciting experience for her as she continues to grow Olaris. The company’s mission and focus on precision medicine intersects with the burgeoning area of Big Data. The medical community is at a crossroads in how to leverage large datasets and technological innovation to treat patients in ways never thought possible.

“Data is the currency of the future,” said Liz. “It’s no doubt an exciting time for human health as we continue to unlock new potential in our understanding of human biology. However, we need to walk down this path with caution and care, balancing the technological innovation with practice and principle.”

Increasing the number of successful female entrepreneurs is in the best interest of the entire life science industry and as such, MassNextGen is a public-private partnership between the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and our corporate sponsors Takeda, King Street Properties, and Sanofi. The applications for the second round of the program are currently under review and awardees will be announced in spring 2019.