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VOL. 40 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 15, 2016

Cancer survivor Scott builds Narus on lessons learned

By Jeannie Naujeck

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Narus gives Sloane Scott the “opportunity to take all of these years of being a professional patient” and help those facing similar issues.

-- Lyle Graves | The Ledger

Whether it was building models from an erector set, writing a cookbook at age 10 or starting a catering company at age 13, Sloane Scott’s parents knew early on that she was “made of different stuff” and, to their credit, never sought to tame it.

That “stuff” has served Scott well through a diverse and accomplished career encompassing the technology, media, entertainment, furnishings and food and beverage industries.

In 2011 she leveraged that experience as one of five partners in Flo Thinkery, a venture studio that launched several companies including Blue Chair Bay Rum, a liquor company in partnership with Kenny Chesney, and advised many others.

Last year, Scott left the day-to-day work at Flo to join startup Narus Health, a palliative care company formed by health care entrepreneur Michael Burcham that helps maximize the quality of life for people who have been given a life-limiting diagnosis. (The Latin word narus means skilled or expert.)

For Scott, the business is very personal. In tandem with her diverse and accomplished career, she’s fought back recurrences of cancer since her first diagnosis at age 23.

Scott sat down to talk with The Ledger about mission-driven entrepreneurship, managing time and relationships amid the pace of a startup, what opportunities lie ahead for Nashville, and how Narus Health can help patients and their families make the most of whatever time they have.

Q: What prompted you to leave the day-to-day of Flo and move to Narus Health? Were you looking for a challenge?

“Early on, Michael (Burcham) said to me, “What do you want to do for the rest of your life?” Like most entrepreneurs, I had no idea. The only thing I can tell you is I wanted to do something mission-driven. I wanted to do something that’s really personal. I was looking for something fulfilling.

“Flo still has the same mission as the day we started it. Flo was designed to create and build and add value to the market. The goal was that we could scale up or down, whatever way we needed to.

“It scaled way up when we started Blue Chair Bay Rum and the Made In Network, and now they’re both their own companies and it’s time to figure out what the next move is. But it was very much designed to expand and contract because the company was based on the passions of the five partners and what that looked like.

“What I really learned during the whole process was – and this goes back to me as a young girl – I like to build and create, but I don’t like to operate. The vision, the creation, the execution, yes, but once it’s up and out in the world, I want to move on to the next thing. I was always like that.

“So Narus Health was a unique opportunity to take all of these years of being a professional patient and pull that forward and make the path easier for one patient, one family, one loved one, one caregiver. That to me is, at this stage in my life, incredibly important.

“I focus on the legacy I leave in the world, how I can take what I’ve learned and make the journey easier for someone else, and do that work with people I respect and admire. I believe those opportunities don’t come to you that often.’’

Q: What does Narus Health do for patients and their families?

“Palliative care is defined as a service of support, designed to improve the quality of life for people facing a life-limiting illness. When you’re sitting across from a doctor and you receive the news that you have this illness, whatever it is, the first thing that comes into your head is time.

“The doctor might keep talking but you don’t hear a thing. It’s like the teacher in Peanuts – “Wah wah wah.” You hear nothing. And you’re sent home and you’re put in this timeframe of what I call limbo-land.

“Is it a week before my treatment starts or is it two weeks? What’s the impact, and can I keep working, and what does that mean to my family, and will I lose my hair?’

“There are 8,000 things that go through your head, but they’re all time-based. Everything becomes time-based and in that limbo period, you should have answers. You should understand what your choices are. You should understand that there are resources out there that can help you and help your family.

“That’s where Narus Health comes in. Think of it as having a giant support system behind you from the moment you receive that news. Someone who will help you understand all the options in front of you throughout the whole continuum of care. And someone who will help coordinate all of that care, and keep everyone informed so you can spend the rest of your time on the things that matter to you.

“Because what defines that time is what’s important to you. It’s about milestones: ‘I want to live to see my granddaughter graduate.’ ‘I want to live to see my daughter have her first child.’ ‘I want to live to graduate from high school.’ ‘I want to live to my fifth birthday.’ Whatever the milestone, that’s what that time becomes.’’

Q: Do you see a shift in the way we think about health and quality of life issues, especially at the end?

“There is a cultural shift across health care. We’ve moved into an era where people have more control over decisions that affect their health and their life. And the two are intertwined. Quality of life and focusing on the person as a whole, not just their illness, is what matters. It’s about putting the humanness back in health care, making it human care.’’

Q: Did you always have an entrepreneurial spirit?

“I started my first company at the age of 13. I wanted to go to Europe for my 16th birthday and travel the continent for the summer. My parents told me I could go, but I had to pay for it. So I started a catering company and made enough money for both Europe and college.

“From a very early age, there were two things that really stood out for me as a kid. The first is, I was always thinking about great ideas, creating and building. I used to steal my brother’s erector sets and build prototypes and have them stacked up on my windowsill. They would have labels – first prototype, second prototype.

“And I always had what I call a wanderer spirit. My parents moved around a lot because of my dad’s job, and I loved that. I wasn’t the kid who said, ‘Oh no, are we uprooting again?’ I understood for myself at a very early age that I could take this creativity and determination and use it wherever I wanted.

“I could move around, and I didn’t have to stay in one place. Wings are way more important to me than roots ever were.’’

Q: What are the biggest mistakes would-be entrepreneurs make?

“Where I see entrepreneurs take a little bit of a misstep is in not doing their homework. What will the market bear? What does the competitive landscape look like? What’s working? What’s not? You have the Internet at your fingertips. Doing a little bit of homework helps you frame the idea, and when you’re sitting in front of someone talking about it for the first time, it also shows that you’ve thought about it, you’ve taken a little bit more time to understand whether it works or not.

“People want to understand that you’ve taken some steps. And it’s also really important that you intently listen.’’

Q: Between the demands of a startup and going through treatment, have your priorities changed on how you manage your time and relationships?

“This whole journey – and some of it I chalk up to age too – has taught me to look at life through a very different lens. My grandmother once told me, “Honey, you really only need six friends in your life: three for one side of the casket, and three for the other.”

“As funny as that is, it’s true. Our circles are so large because of social media and technology and connectedness. I believe real connectedness has been lost because everyone thinks of that definition as friendship. And it’s not. To me, the definition of friendship is having a conversation sitting across from someone.

“What I’ve had to do in my life, both from being an entrepreneur because there just isn’t time, and everything else on a personal level, is focus. Focus on spending time with people that are important and things that will add value. There was a time in my life when relationships were more about quantity. Now it’s more about quality.

“As an entrepreneur, and especially as a female entrepreneur, those of us who have been in the market have a responsibility to pay what we’ve learned forward to the younger generation. So I always try to make time for someone who wants to get connected. If you look at my calendar, there’s always one day that’s filled with sitting across from someone and having coffee. It’s about honoring that responsibility.’’

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you ever received from a mentor?

“I was told really early on by my first mentor, “You can go as far as you want as fast as you want.” It’s something I carry with me always.’’

Q: Narus Health is in startup mode. Is there a timeframe for scaling up?

“One of the things that’s really great about having a founder like Michael Burcham is he knows how to do this; he knows the market-timing of it and he understands we’re tackling a huge challenge and it’s better to do it right than to rush it to market.

“So we are focused on doing it right. We’re going to be one of the first to really consider the role that mobile and technology play in everyone’s lives. Instead of trying to teach someone a new way to do something, we’re looking at how they already interact and how we can play a role, to deliver care and service in a familiar way.

Q: What opportunities do you see opening up in Nashville for the next generation?

“Kids who are just graduating high school have more opportunity ahead of them than any other generation. They will have 20 careers. They no longer have to worry about being rooted somewhere. They can move and go and do and be anything they want. It’s amazing, and it’s great to see Nashville become one of those places that attracts people.

“We have come so far. We have been very blessed with incredible leadership, and we have a new mayor who is going to change the complexion of the city. We have the EC, we have Google Fiber, we have companies like Warby Parker and others looking at moving their headquarters here and the talent that brings into the market.

“There is a ton of great investment happening in the market. All you have to do is look at the acquisitions happening here every day. That is great for the marketplace; it just keeps bringing things up and up and up.

“I believe what we need to start seeing – and the market is starting to move that way – is more diverse capital. We’ve traditionally been fairly risk-averse, safe, and now we’re starting to see more diverse capital come into the market. I’d love to see that trend continue.’’

Q: You’re an avid reader. What are you currently reading and what books would you want with you on a desert island?

“I’m currently reading “Go Set a Watchman,’’ by Harper Lee. My desert island list is just two books: “It’s Always Something,’’ by Gilda Radner and “Let My People Go Surfing,’’ by Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia.

“Personal disclosure: my brother works for them. It’s one of the best books about business and life. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, want to be an entrepreneur, or you are leading a very busy, active professional life, it’s the mission-driven things that return tenfold.

Q: Your name is immortalized in pop culture. What’s the story?

“I was a checker in a grocery store in Northbrook (a suburb of Chicago). This lady used to come through my checkout line and loved my name. One day she handed me a business card and said she kept telling her husband he ought to use my name in a movie.

“My dad called her husband, John Hughes. He told my dad he was in the process of writing a script and wanted to use my name as the female lead. I AM the real Sloane Peterson from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.’’

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