Nanocopoeia Inc. was conceived at a party. Drawn into a conversation with University of Minnesota professor David Pui, scientist Bob Hoerr began to consider the medical applications of nanoparticles. This informal conversation was the catalyst to a dream: using technology invented by Pui to solve medical problems. Together with Karen Arnold, ’89 M.B.A., the businessperson on the team, they founded the company that became Nanocopoeia.
As CFO, Arnold is responsible for raising funds for the business and handling business development and markets, while Hoerr figures out how to use nanotechnology to meet customer needs. She calls the career path that led her to Nanocopoeia “eclectic.” She started down that path with a degree in engineering and a position at 3M as a process engineer. From there she moved to Onan, where she was involved in building plants. Her next step was working for Minnesota Technology, an economic development initiative. Here, she helped small companies, mostly medical businesses, become more competitive. After that she worked as a consultant, specializing in business development and company turnarounds. Her clients ranged from a company that produced aftermarket light-duty trucks to a software company. Nanocopoeia is the latest, but not the last, step on the path. “I’m good at the front end of a business,” Arnold said. She knows that someday Nanocopoeia will no longer need her skills in leading a start-up, and it will be time to move on.
Arnold chose the St. Thomas MBA program because she knew it would offer her more than just theory. She recalls how helpful it was to use what she was learning in the classroom on the job. Her capstone project was directly related to a work project at Onan, and in the end she was able to present the results to the board there.
In reflecting on her role models and mentors, Arnold begins with her mother: “She supported and challenged me from early on. When I decided to go into engineering, she said, “Of course you will.” She continued to find that challenge and support in her managers at 3M and Onan. More recently, two business partners stand out to her as the kind of people who help her grow. Bonnie Baskin of App Tec Labs serves on the Nanocopoeia board of directors. Arnold counts her as a friend and mentor who “never lets me get away with anything.” David Frauenshuh, a lead investor, is another key player in her work life. When the dot-com crash soured many investors, he stepped in to support Nanocopoeia, even though his field is real estate development. “He likes the management team and the health care implications, and he saw potential. This is more than an investment for him ” it will help people. He challenges me as a person, as well as a business owner, which is not typical.”
One challenge that Arnold constantly faces as a working mother is the temptation of trying to do it all. “You can’t do it all,” she states emphatically. “You need to quit trying. The best you can do is the best you can do. Strive for that every day, and pick up the pieces that you drop.”
Perhaps because she knows she can’t do it all, Arnold feels she has not yet fulfilled one of her goals for her life: to give back to women through mentoring them as she herself has been mentored. And that isn’t her only goal. “I grew up in northern Minnesota with my husband,” she said. “We’d like to move back there some day, and I’d like to have a business there.” Those who know her no doubt have faith that she’ll rise to the challenge and make a difference, no matter what her business involves.
Nanocopoeia Inc. uses nanotechnology therapeutically. In its early stages, the company used technology to deliver drugs in particles that the body can process well. Later the owners found they could make the nanoparticles stick to things and began using the technology to provide pharmaceutical coatings, such as coatings on stents. The company continues to explore ways to apply nanotechnology to its highest purpose.