Joining Matt on this week's episode is Cara Osborne, Assistant Professor within the Walton College in the Strategy, Entrepreneurship, Venture and Innovation Department. Cara is also the founder and Chief Clinical Officer at Baby+Co, founder at Blaize & Brooks Bourbon, owner of the Butcher Rose bed and breakfast and a former nursing professor for the University of Arkansas. In the episode Cara highlights her entrepreneurial journey and her use of human centered design/design thinking when it comes to developing a company and product.
Cara Osborne 0:00
Don't be afraid to look around and explore and try a few things on and see what fits and make the decision that's right for you at the time.
Matt Waller 0:11
Excellent, professionalism, innovation and collegiality. These are the values the Sam M. Walton College of Business explores in education, business and the lives of people we meet every day. I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Walton College, and welcome to the be epic podcast. I have with me today, Professor Cara Osborne. She's in the Walton College department of strategy, entrepreneurship and venture innovation. We call it SEVI for short. She's also been a nursing professor at the University of Arkansas, which is quite unusual to have a nursing professor moved to the College of Business. She is co founder of Baby and company. And she is also co founder of a bourbon company and a bed and breakfast. But thank you, Cara, for being willing to do this podcast recording with me.
Cara Osborne 1:09
Sure, thanks so much for having me.
Matt Waller 1:12
Cara, you have a really unusual educational background, where you majored in Biology. You got a master's in nursing, from Vanderbilt. And you also have a Doctorate in Public Health. And you got your Doctorate in Public Health in 2007. At what point did you start getting involved in entrepreneurship?
Cara Osborne 1:40
For me, entrepreneur always seemed like a strange sort of moniker. And so I've always thought of it really as a problem solver, solving problems with business solutions. And I would say that I got involved in the problem solving part since I was a kid. I was on the like, future problem solving team at school, you know, the like academic team that looked at big problems. And that was always a really appealing thing to me. But my first real entrepreneurial venture myself was in 2013. And it was really a translational research project, it was taking academic work that I had done and making it real.
Matt Waller 2:19
What was that company called?
Cara Osborne 2:22
Baby and Company. So it started as birth center of Northwest Arkansas, it was in Rogers and was a freestanding birth center, I had published a paper called the National Birth Center study, that was a huge cross sectional study of birth outcomes and freestanding birth centers looking at sort of both the safety and maternal and infant health outcomes, but also the cost effectiveness of non hospital birth. And so the birth center is really saying like, this all looks good on paper, but can it be done? And what does it look like to do it in a place like Arkansas?
Matt Waller 2:59
Then you formed baby and company in 2014? Correct?
Cara Osborne 3:04
Right. So we teamed up with some private equity guys in New York from a group called Fortress Investment Group that's now been sold this off Bank of Japan, but it was a part of their partners fund. And they came alongside and said, this seems like a great thing. And interestingly, they got interested in maternal health, because when the Affordable Care Act came out, also known as Obamacare, right, when that happened, they'd done a review of where their primary health care expenditures were. And their employee base was largely pretty young, pretty healthy people. And so maternity care was their top spend, as it is for a lot of companies. So they started looking around at innovative solutions found us and so then we replicated what we had done in Arkansas, six or seven more times, depending on how you want to count them in five other states.
Matt Waller 3:59
Didn't you come back then to the University of Arkansas School of Nursing?
Cara Osborne 4:03
I did so I had a five year commitment with them after we sold the concept as the Chief Clinical Officer for the sort of expanded baby and company platform. And then the business was largely based in New York, I wasn't about to move my little kids full time to New York, even though I was spending a lot of time there. So it had always been my intention to sort of do that and then come back and I came back to the nursing school and reengaged there and then really worked my way toward the newly forming SEVI department to sort of put that experience of having started and sold the business into practice.
Matt Waller 4:43
Well, that's great. You know, you talk about you don't think of it as entrepreneurship but problem solving and it's so true. You know, because entrepreneurs are always looking at problems and saying how can we create a product or service that solves this problem. You know, one big challenge with that always is morphing your solution to the problem to the point that customers really want it.
Cara Osborne 5:10
Matt Waller 5:11
Would you mind speaking a little bit to that with baby and company how that process worked?
Cara Osborne 5:16
Sure. So I'm a big fan of human centered design, and the guy's out at the D school at Stanford and audio and sort of starting from not my problem, but whatever the problem of my intended user is, and working backwards. So it's true of many entrepreneurs. But I was really solving the problems of mad like friends and family who had had really unfortunate birth experiences and listening to them talk about what was bad, and what could have been different and sort of working from what their wants and needs, and sort of mismanaged care was backward into a solution.
Matt Waller 5:57
And then, of course, once you come to that point of getting what they call product market fit, you know, a lot of people say you can tell when you got it, because customers start pulling you and you get product market fit, but then you many times still have to modify the business model
Cara Osborne 6:16
Matt Waller 6:17
Did you experience that at baby and company as well?
Cara Osborne 6:21
Certainly, certainly. And you know, health care, because it's so heavily regulated, and it's triangulated. Right, if a third party payer, with health insurance companies, we had to make all kinds of tweaks along the way both to fit within the payment environment. Because if you've got a solution that works, and customers don't want it, but it doesn't make money, that's a hobby. So we had to figure out ways to make the actual business model work, which ended up being, you know, a joint venture with hospitals, in some markets, we often offered both birth center based birth and also hospital birth, so they could have prenatal care in the birth center, and still ultimately deliver the baby in the hospital. You know, it started with nurse midwives, leading most of the care, we ultimately created options for patients to choose a midwife or a physician, or both. So yes, there were lots of twists and turns and pivots along the way to make the business model work.
Matt Waller 7:25
So you saw the problem, it was pretty personal to you, you knew people that had it, you used a design, thinking kind of D school kind of an approach to the solution, that solution, then you got product market fit, it's easier to get product market fit when you use a design thinking approach, because you're getting input from some of the people that would use the service. And then you adjusted your business model as you started moving forward, to make it work and to make money.
Cara Osborne 7:59
Matt Waller 7:59
And then the next thing that comes up usually is if you're lucky, you scale the business. And that's really tricky, too. These are all very different in terms of how they're, they're tricky. But at that point, the challenge, then is if you want to scale it up, you need people, you need processes and technology and you need capital. So tell me a little bit about how that worked with baby and company.
Cara Osborne 8:25
Yeah, and it all happened really quickly. So we started the first center here in Arkansas, and six months later, it was acquired, and we started replicating. So it was all super fast. And the way that worked was relationships, you know, the as soon as it started sort of getting traction, and it was very much a pull experience of we started working and there was more demand, both in terms of potential hospital partners and actual patients than we could possibly meet. And we started looking at other markets. I had been the user and I'd also been the provider, I'm a nurse midwife, by initial clinical training. So you know, had been in the personal experience of both the provider and the patient in that scenario, which helped me kind of play different parts and roles as we were thinking through how to do things. But, you know, as is often the case, I started recruiting people that I'd worked with, in other places, a woman that I had initially worked with years before at the Clinton Foundation's HIV and AIDS Initiative, who had pretty recently finished her MBA at Harvard Business School became our COO. We recruited a lot of midwives. I ended up helping develop an EHR because there wasn't something off the shelf that worked for us. Sarah had a little
Matt Waller 9:50
What is an EHR?
Cara Osborne 9:51
An electronic health record. So the actual health record, because I had a little bit of programming experience from my doctoral program, I couldn't use the EHRs that were available. So we ended up writing a whole tech solution with a partner and sort of co-developing the technology. So yeah, I had no idea when I got started that I would need to learn so many things.
Matt Waller 10:18
One of the things I really like about this interview is students listen to this from all different disciplines, not just in the Walton College. And this shows the benefit of this minor that we're providing. Right, because we've got a minor in entrepreneurship that's open to anyone on campus, doesn't matter what your major is. But it's probably worth getting to know a little bit about entrepreneurship, before you get into whatever you're getting into. Because no matter what you go into, you're actually in business.
Cara Osborne 10:50
Matt Waller 10:51
And no matter what you go into, you're going to observe problems. And when you observe problems, some of those problems are going to be opportunities to start your own business at some point, or buy an existing business, and then modify it to address whatever the problem is. But you've gone through all these different steps yourself, we now have this minor in entrepreneurship that anyone can take. And I think that sometimes people will major in something they may graduate, and think, gosh, I wish I would have had more business.
Cara Osborne 11:25
Yeah, well, you're given a great pitch for the course that I teach called Intro to venture and value creation. So it's kind of the gateway drug, or at least that's how I like to think about it for people to come, you know, learn more about entrepreneurship as the sort of toolbox to go alongside whatever your underlying discipline might be. So a deep ginger adventure and value creation for undergrads. We've got people from all kinds of disciplines and a lot of business students, but we talk about intrapreneurship, corporate innovation, social entrepreneurship, so solving big problems with often not for profit solutions, and then direct entrepreneurship sort of set of exercises about sort of more stereotypical startup experience, but then they can kind of pursue which ever fits their needs and interests most. But I also teach a class for the occupational therapy doctoral students, where I teach them that in fact, no matter what version of occupational therapy they're doing, they're also doing business and what that means to them and how things like ICD 10 codes are going to apply to their practice in a way that programs that are focused on training, healthcare professionals often just don't have that content, you know, you have to kind of learn it on the job after you've taken your first job. And I think I give a lot of credit to Sherry Muir the program director who wrote it into the curriculum, because she felt like it was important for her students. But yes, I would very much say that entrepreneurship training applies to whatever it is you're going to do.
Matt Waller 13:09
How is it different to be a business professor compared to being a nursing professor?
Cara Osborne 13:14
Well, it's a lot more diverse in all the ways in the students, in the thinking, in the you know, topics that I cover, in nursing school, you know, high stakes, often taught pathophysiology, which is one of the toughest courses in the curriculum, it's very tense. The part that I love about what I do now is it's all very creative. And I'm teaching the students that they are creative, even if they don't think of themselves as creative. And that creativity is a muscle that you exercise and grow just like your actual physical muscles. And I use the book creative confidence that the two brothers who started Ideo wrote, and that is what's so engaging and interesting for me. So it's different every time because we use whatever the problems that the class comes up with as our sort of fuel for learning the process. And I'm really just teaching them process that can be applied to whatever problem they run into, and sort of variations on a theme of problem solving. How do you solve it inside an existing structure? How do you start something? And how do you look at big social problems from an entrepreneurial lens?
Matt Waller 14:32
Kara, you're a professor of practice and entrepreneurship here in our college. And since you have been a professor here, you've started a business called Blaize and Brooks Bourbon.
Cara Osborne 14:47
Matt Waller 14:48
Would you mind talking a little bit about how you got into that business and then how it helps you from a teaching perspective?
Cara Osborne 14:55
Sure. So I've always been a practitioner of some sort. So when I taught in the nursing school, I had a practice and my practice was as a nurse midwife. And now my practice is as an entrepreneur. So as a professor of practice, it's really saying, I'm teaching from a place of doing it myself. So I think that working in startups and advising startups and starting things myself is necessary for me to really be able to speak with any credibility to the process and to how students can think about the process. So at the beginning of the pandemic, for the first time in my life I got homesick. I grew up in Eastern Kentucky. I haven't lived in Kentucky since I was in undergrad, but Kentuckians tend to take our bourbon, bluegrass music and horses really seriously. So at the beginning of the pandemic, when all the sudden I didn't have soccer tournaments, every weekend, I got really deeply interested in bourbon, mostly because of a book called Women in Whiskey written by a guy named Fred Minnick. That sort of traced the untold part of the history of whiskey surviving through prohibition through the lens of the women that were involved. And so I went very deep down that rabbit hole and decided to start using starting a new bourbon brand as a case study in class. I was teaching the upper level entrepreneurship class 3933 then and I started using this case study of, if you were attempting to start a bourbon brand, what would that look like? And we would use it as something that, you know, is a hard good that has a cost of goods and was a little more tangible than my previous healthcare experience. And so we just started sort of messing with it and working with it through classes, not even always as a bourbon, but just as a project and a product and branding, and what would that look like? And it sort of kept evolving, and then I had free time, which is dangerous. And I just started doing it. I started having conversations, I started interviewing people for my class, I do a series of entrepreneur interviews with people who've started things. And I just started asking people like, what they knew about it. So it was a very organic kind of thing. And in the summer, after that, my husband and I got married, and we didn't have a wedding. So we decided to start the bourbon business as our sort of celebration of getting married, which is not the way everybody does it. But he's a m&a attorney. And so that became our little project. And we jokingly said, we were gonna make booze not babies, because we both already had children. And so it's been great. It's been a very interesting project. Our MVP launched last year at the derby. So the first weekend in May of 2021, and has been very successful. It's exceeded all of our expectations. And out of that came the bed and breakfast, which is in Louisville, it's kind of the the home of the bourbon business being right there in bourbon country and on the Bourbon Trail. And it's a historic home, it really became about putting that homesickness into place. It was built in 1795, when George Washington was still president, and was a very male dominated history of the property in the house. And so it's called the butcher rose, and we are using it as a, we've called it a lady's first social house. But basically, it's designed from a specifically feminine perspective, to host social things. We call it our old Kentucky home and yours too, if you want it to be.
Matt Waller 18:55
That's a really neat story. So Cara, you have a lot of experience in higher education, both as a student, undergraduate and masters and doctorate as a professor in two very different areas. What advice would you give to students, especially undergraduates, at the University of Arkansas, or in any university, in business or outside of business?
Cara Osborne 19:21
Yeah, I mean, I have a whole house full of teenagers. So I think about this a lot right now, in addition to my students, but I think what I would tell anybody student or not a student is don't be afraid to look around and explore and try few things on and see what fits and make the decision that's right for you at the time. You can always change your mind. You know, I definitely saw lots of students in the nursing school and I myself was pre med, who kind of come in to the university with a life plan that is, I'm going to be a doctor or I'm going to be a lawyer and and often have a hard time giving themselves the room to critically evaluate that plan and sort of look at what the other options are. You know, turns out there are all kinds of things that one can do with one's time. And let that evolve as new opportunities come along. And, you know, don't be afraid to stay flexible with your sort of self concept and identity. Because it turns out that as long as you're open, and willing, you know, all kinds of interesting things will float across your path, and you just have to be willing to be open to the change and think about it differently.
Matt Waller 20:41
Well Cara, thank you so much for serving as a faculty member in the Walton College and for all the great things you're doing for students and the community. And most of all, thank you for taking time to share this on the podcast. I appreciate it.
Cara Osborne 20:58
Well thanks again for having me. And I'd be more than happy to hear from anybody if there are follow up questions.
Matt Waller 21:05
On behalf of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. I want to thank everyone for spending time with us for another engaging conversation. You can subscribe by going to your favorite podcast service and searching be epic. B E EP IC