• WisBusiness

Mackie: TomoTherapy CEO offers tips for business success

The leader of one of Wisconsin's top high-tech start-ups has some rules for success and the rules have special meaning in these tough economic times.

Thomas Mackie -- the CEO of TomoTherapy, says his most important rules for success are: “plan for disaster and design for success, don’t give up, stay with it if reward trumps risk, do what you do well and ignore the competition, hire people better than yourself, and have them hire people better than themselves, share rewards and spare risks, network, and be skeptical, yet optimistic.”

Based on some of those rules, TomoTherapy has become a widely accepted brand based on its products' ability to treat many cancers without harming adjacent vital organs.

Mackie describes the process as “a DNA kill machine,'' adding it can kill up to 10 trillion cancer cells and compares favorably to chemotherapy due to its precision.

The company was founded by Mackie in 1997 when Waukesha-based General Electric Medical decided to leave the radio-therapy business. The company began as a spin-off using Mackie’s background as a radiology professor at the UW Medical School. He and a core group of scientists built the first prototype south of Madison, and started the company with $150,000 dollars garnered from the sale of an earlier start-up company.

Less than a decade later TomoTherapy shares trade on the Nasdaq exchange under the symbol “TOMO'' and has become a multi-million dollar enterprise with a three-building campus at the University Research Park in Madison.

Mackie spoke as part of a speaker series at Edgewood College in Madison.

During his talk, he offered business executives a variety of stories detailing his five rounds of fundraising to get TomoTherapy off the ground.

Mackie said the company used both venture capital and angel investors to get started. The first sales were to Canada before the company gained Federal Drug Administration approval. After the FDA approved the equipment, the first patient was treated in 2001.

Mackie said his experience suggested that the most important thing to know about raising money with venture capitalists was that they want a return on their investment, advising against so don’t use them if you want to grow a “mom-and-pop” business to hand down to your children.  

And he offered suggestions to promote creativity among staff in a highly technological setting. His experience: “Some of the best ideas come from unstructured Tomo meetings.”

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