Andrew Cottone was a passionate young chemist from Philadelphia when he learned his company would close its doors in 2004. Summoning courage and intuition, he and two partners put up the capital to buy the business that became Adesis, a contract research organization. Seventeen years later, it employs more than 120 people.
My company’s success didn’t emerge overnight; there were factors contributing to where the company is today. The first was my willingness to surround myself with believers. My wife Jennifer, also a Ph.D. chemist, has been a constant source of inspiration and courage. Jenn also helped me understand the inequality that exists in our industry and this core value is ingrained at Adesis.
Next was my willingness to take ‘my shot’ (thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton). When it became clear that my employer was floundering, I realized that at the same time Delaware was fertile ground for the business I envisioned. Though I realize now that I was literally putting our family’s lifestyle at risk, I didn’t waver in my commitment to building Adesis. I think I’ve always been an entrepreneur first and chemist second.
Because of Delaware’s history as a chemistry hub, I was confident Adesis would be well-received by the pharma and biotech industry. We were on their doorstep, and what’s not to love? A lot, apparently. Still, we stuck to our strategy and positioned ourselves as the chemistry problem solvers. Innovation must make sense, so go after your customers’ biggest pain points and work out a solution.
When the company was formed, Adesis was entirely dependent on its employees, who were hired from a diverse pool of talent from across the globe to share the company’s ideals. Our culture reflects my Italian family heritage – we look out for one other. I’m proud to know our chemists could get a job anywhere in the world, and they choose to stay at Adesis. That employee retention speaks volumes about our company culture.
Finding local talent was just one step to building our success. Finding local sources of capital was another. From the beginning, I worked on strengthening our client relationships, and Adesis was eventually purchased by our largest customer. Such relationships provide an example for Delaware to grow an economy rich in venture funding and collaboration opportunities for companies ready to enter the next level of growth.
Money alone, however, doesn’t make a company successful. It’s critical to remove any barriers that might limit innovation. As a result of this philosophy, Adesis is one of the few companies in the world that can turn a challenging whiteboard chemistry concept into a physical product.
Additionally, innovation comes from learning, which comes from being willing to explore other ideas. I usually read three books at a time that include biographies, which teach me about leadership and decision making – both good and bad – throughout history.
Success isn’t just about looking back, it’s focusing on what’s next, and I am relentless on that mission. I celebrate the milestones, reflect on our journey and then set the next goal. When we run out of space for our ideas, we build a bigger whiteboard!
Expanding our reach applies not just to the company itself, but to the community and our larger professional sphere. Especially during COVID, feeling a part of the community and contributing lifted our spirits. Our team formulated and donated hand sanitizer, PPE and holiday meals to the community and contributed to Stockings for Soldiers, a Delaware-based organization that provides Christmas stockings to American military personnel serving overseas.
The success of Adesis depends not just on where we are today, but on emerging talent. That’s why science needs to be part of our children’s educations beginning in kindergarten. Instead of, “Why should I do that?” I want kids asking, “Why not me?” That’s why I’m a founding member of Intern Delaware, and why Adesis maintains a robust internship program. But inspiring kids to get into chemistry and science, ask questions, solve problems, and develop that entrepreneurial spirit must start much earlier than you might think. This is something we should all get involved in. If we do, we can make Delaware and our region an exciting place to start and grow businesses, to live and give back, for generations.
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