Deb McMahon, President and CEO, Scitent

In September, the Tom Tom Founders Festival announced the winners of its 2015 Founding Cville award which highlights local artists, civic leaders and entrepreneurs “whose groundbreaking and original work has impacted Charlottesville and the world.” Charlottesville Tomorrow is republishing the profiles of the nine honorees.

Deb McMahon, co-founder, Scitent

Imagine a world where doctors didn’t have access to one another’s cutting edge breakthroughs, research and knowledge. A world where business leaders couldn’t learn from one another and their employees didn’t have a way to understand the tricks of the trade from those who had forged the way. You won’t have to, thanks in part to Deb McMahon and Scitent

With over 60 employees and growing, Scitent has trained 3.5 million medical professionals. 2015 marks their 20th anniversary.

Deb and her cofounders started Scitent as a way for cardiologists to share multimedia education, but quickly evolved to serve a broader range of healthcare fields. Scitent now includes nonprofit organizations and business association to their ever growing client list and they also have a global presence. Not only does Scitent  provide ways for others across the world to learn from the best and brightest without leaving their desk, it also allows companies to produce their own curriculum.

Describe the early years at Scitent:

When we first started out, we were in a basement room in the old part of the hospital which was rather uncomfortable. It was far from glamorous; we didn’t have any branding around the office so it was basically a room with two desks, two chairs and two computers. You wouldn’t think there was a company there.

When you started, did you see yourself as an entrepreneur?

No. But, I do remember thinking in grad school that if you can get your PhD at a high-level university in the sciences, you can probably do about anything that you put your mind to. When you decide to pursue your doctoral degree, you know you like the science, enjoy the experimentation and the thrill of learning something new that no one learned before. It can be fun and exciting, but those times come few and far between. You work an awful long time to get to the point where you learn something that is novel or interesting or pushes you forward in your research.

What are some of the qualities needed to become an entrepreneur?

Discipline. And perseverance to handle the situations you come across in the future. Also, the ability to not give up when it seems bleak and dark and you feel like you can’t take another step.  Finding the will to push it forward one more time because you can’t tell if that last piece in the puzzle will give you the full picture and lead you to the next step. That kind of excitement and enthusiasm drives me as an entrepreneur but that perseverance that I learned in grad school has been so key in our success because there were so many times where it would have been easier to walk away and say “I’m done.”

What does it mean to be a founder?

I think a founder is anyone who is willing to either push their own idea forward or rally around a new idea, pick it up off the ground, and take it to the next level. Ideas are a dime-a-dozen but it’s the people who are willing to take that idea, take a chance and make the first step with it that I think are the true founders.

How would you measure Scitent’s success?

One of the things I look at in my own metrics, from a philosophical way, is how many people we’ve employed over the years, which is over 60. The other metric that is meaningful to me is that we’ve trained over 3.5 million people over the course of our history. Most of those trained are in healthcare professions so hopefully some of the work we’ve done, like online resuscitation training for the American Heart Association, has made an impact and potentially saved lives.

What do you want to see in the next generation of entrepreneurs?

I don’t think that being driven and being nice have to be mutually exclusive. I would hope that up and coming entrepreneurs see that and the real trend towards social entrepreneurship, or at least being socially responsible. I think that there is a real change in attitude in the way you go about doing business. You see a lot more collaboration, you see more strategic partnerships, and our business models have changed to accommodate that shift, where organizations are now willing to partner together in a more meaningful way, both operationally and in terms of revenue sharing. There are a lot more options to collaborate and it makes it much more fun to do business when you are working in tandem.

Founding Cville culminated in an award ceremony at the Tom Tom Founders Festival Fall Block Party
Festival director Paul Beyer (at right) announces 2015 Founding Cville award winners at the Ix Art Park – Sept. 25, 2015