When Dave Scholl moved here in 1977 as a young family man and graduate student, he had no idea what Athens County had in store for him. He couldn’t have imagined getting a ringside seat to the birth of the biotech industry — wouldn’t have guessed he’d preside over the explosive growth of an Inc. 500 company. And as he moves into the next chapter of his life, his eyes remain set on entrepreneurship and economic development in the place he calls home.
Commitment to Enterprise
You don’t live anywhere for over 30 years without picking up on some local history. According to Dave, Ohio University President Vernon Alden’s tenure (1962-1969) marked the beginning of the university’s ongoing commitment to entrepreneurship and economic development in Southeast Ohio. The mid-1970s saw a push to develop technologies that could, in turn, spawn companies.
Will Konneker was a chemist-turned-nuclear physics pioneer and Athens’ first venture capitalist. He created or co-founded seven companies, was the first director of the Innovation Center and just happens to be Dave’s mentor.
As a Ph.D. candidate in microbiology, Dave worked with Konneker and professors Joseph Jollick and Tom Wagner on the team that developed the first transgenic animal. The scientists injected rabbit DNA into a mouse at precisely the right stage of fertilization for recombination to occur – a huge breakthrough that spurred the biotech revolution. It was this same technique that started a windfall of opportunities for Diagnostic Hybrids, Inc.
Diagnostic Hybrids was founded in 1983. It took nine years and $5 million in seed capital before DHI saw its first commercial project with FDA approval. With Konneker, Jollick and Wagner at the helm, DHI moved into Phase II, developing products and a customer base. Scholl served as the Director of Research from 1983 to ’87 and then VP for Research until he took over as CEO in 1995.
“Athens proved to be fertile ground for us,” Dave remembers. “We were given the opportunity to fail and accidentally succeeded.”
From 2000 to 2003, DHI saw a 165 percent annual growth rate. That was a 663 percent overall growth rate, up to over $17 million in revenues.
Of the three, Dave was most oriented toward sales and product presentation. “A Ph.D. is an atypical candidate for CEO. Nobody expected that the business would stay around long enough or that I would develop enough for this to happen,” Dave says. He attributes his professional growth largely to Konneker’s mentoring; “[Konneker] is a good, common-sense businessman who searches out technology with commercial overtones. I just hope I can be a Will Konneker to someone else, to some bright, young talent from this upcoming generation.”
A Changing Company
While Dave retired from DHI in October 2011, he says that he’s proud to see that it has continued quite well as a subsidiary of the parent company, Quidel. Since the merger, there has been a significant amount of manufacturing that’s been relocated to Athens. He cites three fundamental reasons for the expansion: available talent, a world class facility and the simple fact that “Ohio is a good place, from an economic perspective, to do business.”
Foundations of Success
Dave summarizes the main ingredients of his career today as entrepreneurship, economic development and higher education with an element of venture capital surrounding it all. And rightly so. “Being able to provide past experience and guidance to entrepreneurs, it all kind of bundles together as something I’m attracted to,” he enthuses. Don’t let his recent retirement fool you: Dave doesn’t have plans of slowing down any time soon.
First, there’s his position as commissioner of the Ohio Third Frontier. This significant investment by the state of Ohio, totaling $2.3 billion, is an internationally recognized technology-based economic development initiative targeted toward changing the trajectory of Ohio’s economy. Dave’s role encompasses making strategic investments that further job creation throughout Ohio– a duty he doesn’t take lightly. “My background in business and life sciences and healthcare are appropriate additions to assist me in making good judgements and good business decisions that will hopefully benefit businesses for generations,” he says.
In addition, as a board member of the Ohio Appalachian Business Council (OABC) Dave, along with the other board members, was offered the opportunity to establish the JobsOhio affiliate APEG– the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth. Dave served as chair for the search committee for the president of APEG. “My belief is leadership and talent are absolutely crucial to success in almost anything you try to tackle, but especially in business.”
Then there’s his recent appointment to a nine-year term as an Ohio University trustee. Higher education, he says, has a significant positive impact on the Appalachian region. Aligned with higher education and economic development is entrepreneurship, an ideal that he says is heavily inspired by students and faculty at the university level. As a trustee, Dave’s involvement with coaching and guiding some of the businesses coming out of the Innovation Center has “certainly been enriching and rewarding.”
The final piece is the Athenian Venture Partners– a series of venture capital funds that has made upwards of 25 investments in companies both within and outside of Ohio. He was able to devote more time to the group after leaving DHI, and the funds, he says, have performed well for their investors. The Athenian Venture Partners continue to probe opportunities in Ohio for future investments. Dave explains that the direct ability to help finance companies is an “exciting way to link entrepreneurship and job creation.”
Athens: An Inc. 500 City?
Just as Diagnostic Hybrids won national acclaim for its record growth, Dave predicts Athens County will follow in its footsteps.
Dave sees OU’s unwavering entrepreneurial commitment and the burgeoning alternative energy industry as forces that will drive Athens’ growth spurt, but the raw tools for success are inherent in the spirit of the county. He hopes to see the next generation of multi-million-dollar companies like DHI come out of this area– and he believes they will.
“Athens County has an unbeatable work ethic. This was all coal mining territory. If you’re willing to go two miles down into the ground to work, you’ve got tenacity and commitment that any employer will benefit from,” Scholl declares.