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Laid off? This entrepreneur says, "start a business"

Mike Hooven, Serial Entrepreneur. Photos | Ben French
Mike Hooven, Serial Entrepreneur. Photos | Ben French

Are you laid off from work in the middle of the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression?

Start a business.

That's some of the advice given by entrepreneur Mike Hooven, who in 1994 at the age of 38, took $22,000 in stock options from his comfortable position at Ethicon (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) in Cincinnati to start his first company.

"I cannot overestimate how difficult that is for someone to do. There is a large percentage of new entrepreneurs right now because the decision is forced on them -- basically they get laid off. You're going to find the greatest innovation in the areas of the country where you see large layoffs."

That means that Rustbelt nation could expect a spike in innovative companies within the next decade, as a direct result of a lagging economy.

"Desperation is a key motivator for being successful," Hooven says. "You've got to have a degree of desperation."

Hooven's move was more about taking a risk, rather than falling victim to the economy. His risk paid off. Since 1994 -- when Hooven left his job as product development director -- he has founded three successful companies and has 58 patents to his name.

But it's his latest venture, Enable Injections, that gets his juices flowing right now. The company is developing a painless injection for children's vaccinations, focused on developing "safer, faster and lower-cost" methods of drug injections.

"The days of the big scary needles are coming to an end," Hooven says.
He concedes that he cannot disclose too much about the product, as the work is still in the development stages. But Hooven says the project is moving "very fast." Within a year, there should be serious buzz around Enable Injections.

Hooven is what's become known in business parlance as a serial entrepreneur — and part of the fast-growing biomedical industry in the state. Hooven says the environment in Ohio is improving for start-up biomedical companies "largely because of the poor economy and its impact on existing businesses."

Hooven has spent a decent portion of his life devoted to getting innovative products onto the market. One of the companies he founded, AtriCure, went public in 2005 and three years later had more than $55 million in annual revenue and 200 employees.

The idea for the company is the stuff of legend -- fit for a getaway scene in "MacGyver": Hooven wired his wife's nail clippers to a generator as a new way to cut and seal wounds in one step.

Hooven says he knew he needed to surround himself with knowledgeable people. At AtriCure, he teamed up with Dr. Donald Harrison -- a senior vice president and provost for health affairs emeritus at the University of Cincinnati and managing partner of Charter Life Sciences venture capital firm.

"I'm a cardiologist," Harrison says. "Mike came to see me and asked 'What are some of the major problems in cardiology?' And we talked for a while about two major issues: heart failure and atrial fibrillation… He came back to me and said that he could not find a solution for heart failure. But he said 'Here's something that I think can work for atrial fibrillation.'"

Years later, Hooven and Harrison served together on the AtriCure's board of directors.

"He's out developing new ideas," Harrison says of Hooven. "He's out being an entrepreneur again."

Rick D'Augustine, an executive-in-residence in life sciences for CincyTech, met Hooven in 1987. He was a part of the team that hired Hooven at Ethicon two years later. During Hooven's job interview, D'Augustine recalls Hooven setting a goal to begin his own company within five years.

It took him six.

"He still surprises me to this day." D'Augustine says. "Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur and inventor. In addition to hard work, it takes a lot of confidence in yourself and a willingness to change direction. You've got to be willing to drop things and move on to another idea."

D'Augustine remembers Hooven as the person who walked in to the operating room and asking the surgeon what kind of problems he was having.

"He's a very inspiring guy."

Being a start-up entrepreneur can be scary, Hooven says -- but not quite as scary as the prospect of doing nothing at all. Hooven calls his decision to leave Johnson & Johnson almost 17 years ago the "the most difficult decision of my life."

"That was the point of no return," Hooven says. "There are a large number of people out there who want to start a business and would. They have a job -- and that's their comfort zone."

Now that he has achieved many of goals, what's next?

"I think it's really important for people who have been successful, to get out there and relate with people who want to get started."

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