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Alum Q+A: Using big data analytics to boost Life Science sales


Group of Tufts University alumni

Acenna was founded by Ethan Kopit, Ian Leaman, and Jon Arbaugh, all members of Tufts’ class of 2017. They competed in the 2016 Tufts 100k Competition and captured the first place prize in the General/High-Tech Ventures track.

Acenna is using machine learning to help companies that sell lab equipment and supplies provide a better customer experience and simultaneously increase revenue. By combining scientific research data with internal company data, Acenna builds robust customer profiles that increase engagement from prospects and align sales and marketing around the best potential customers.

Tufts Entrepreneurship Leadership Program recently spoke with Kopit about the organization and what they have been doing since their time at Tufts.

Q: What kind of traction you’ve had since graduation? What are your current goals?

A: The short story is that this summer has been an extraordinary time for Acenna. Not only have we launched a new product, but we’re onboarding four companies to the product and raised a pre-Seed round of funding. We’ve surpassed almost every goal/deadline we set for ourselves.

We’re basically building a Life Science sales productivity tool that uses machine learning to help Life Science sales teams have more meaningful conversations with their most qualified potential customers. We’re basically making it a little easier to be a better Life Science salesperson, more consistently. For our purposes, Life Science encompasses a bunch of markets including Biotech, Medical Device and (some) Pharma.

That said – we had to make some pretty tough decisions right before we left Tufts. We were actually working on a different product (for which we had paying customers), but we took a hard look at the market and realized that it wasn’t where we wanted to be in the long term.

After we made that realization, we conducted about 150 market research interviews, mocked up 10 different products, and cut that down to one after another 45 interviews. This was all in the three months leading up to the summer.

Our summer has really consisted of us executing on that new product and pulling together the support we need to build and distribute it effectively. The summer was definitely a success, but a hard-earned one.

Q: What are some of your goals moving forward?

A: As we look to the Fall, our big goals are two-fold:

First, we need to continue to get good data from our pilot deployments. Pilot data will drive most early improvements of the product, as well as the marketing material I will be using to sell our product.

Second, we’re getting our marketing engine rolling with a gigantic content blitz over the next two months. Keep an eye out. We’ll be producing lots of blogs, white papers, as well as some podcasts and videos.

Q: What are the major trends and opportunities in the life sciences space you’re most excited about?

A: Life Science, and Healthcare also, are pretty widely regarded as a late-comer to digital maturity. I think right now we’re seeing an intersection of two trends that are exciting to me.

First, companies are coming to see sales productivity as a challenge worthy of their focused attention. After all, salespeople are often one of (if not the) best compensated team members, but turnover rates are high and many salespeople don’t consistently meet their goals. We believe that is in large part because they don’t have the information and support they need to to succeed.

Second, we’re seeing an extraordinary proliferation of customer data (both internal and external), but also an explosion in our capacity to analyze it. If we can deploy sales insights in a prescriptive, personalized, daily way, we can drive real sales productivity.

Q: What do you know now that you wish you would have known earlier?

A: The biggest thing I wish I knew earlier was the importance of being patient and thoughtful as an entrepreneur. My co-founders and I have learned so much over our time at Tufts, but that’s mostly due to the extraordinary number of mistakes we’ve made. The best way we’ve found to avoid those kinds of mistakes is to work with a small number of trusted mentors. With their help, we’ve managed to avoid some pretty serious issues.

Q: What is one piece of advice you have for Tufts students who are interested in or are starting their venture now?

A: My best advice for someone who wants to get into Entrepreneurship at Tufts? Follow me and my co-founders on LinkedIn! We’re going to be publishing some blog posts about how to do student entrepreneurship. My first article is going to be on the top three mistakes people make when they start a company as a student.