An ‘entrepreneurial’ spirit and ‘risk taker’
Laura Johnson, former rural village of Brooklyn resident and entrepreneur, is a “risk taker.”
The 1982 Oregon High School graduate has been for most of her adult life, she told the Observer. It was that risk-taking tendency that pushed her to create her own biotech enterprise two decades ago, Next Generation Clinical Research, of which Johnson started out of her own basement on Nov. 18, 1999 with only $10,000.
Last month, she was recognized at Madison’s Wisconsin Biohealth Summit having won its Biohealth Business Achievement Award – for the company’s success and her other many ventures.
After a near decade-long career as a nurse, and stints working for Hazelton Laboratories, now known as Covance Clinical Research Unit, and Bone Care International, now Sanofi Genzyme, Johnson’s ambitious spirit and her drive to prevent diseases through medical research led her into that basement. The biotech company expanded out of Johnson’s home after a year of success, spread into Oregon – moving three buildings as it grew – and now resides at 3000 Cahill Main in Fitchburg.
Johnson also owns Eufaeria Biosciences, also located at the Cahill Main address and started a nonprofit where she currently lives in Oregon, Illinois. The nonprofit, Harmony Hill Farm Sanctuary, is an 11 acre farm that houses neglected and abandoned animals. Johnson said it’s currently taking care of some chickens and alpacas.
In addition to the most recent award, Johnson has also been featured in Madison Magazine, was honored by Women in Bio as a biotech entrepreneur in 2008 and 2010, also receiving the Rising Star Award by the Wisconsin Biotech and Medical Device Association in 2008 for her work in the field.
Taking the leap
Her success is due to more than just her “entrepreneurial” soul, Johnson said, as there were some defining moments in her past that guided her decision to “take the leap” of starting her business.
When attending OHS, Johnson said she dreamed of teaching biology or becoming a doctor. Either way, Johnson knew she would go into the medical field.
In the fall of 1982, Johnson attended college as a track athlete at the University of Wisconsin- Madison while pursuing a nursing degree. She was a discus and javelin thrower, she said.
In 1983, she then attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse for a year.
The trajectory of Johnson’s life changed that year, when she developed Toxic Shock Syndrome, which at that time, was still difficult for doctors to pinpoint for a cause. Johnson said she was one of the five people in the Midwest diagnosed with the condition that lived to tell the tale.
“A whole team flew in from the Mayo Clinic to examine me,” she said.
Johnson said she spent two weeks in the hospital, most of that comatose. After recovering somewhat, with the syndrome “wiping out her body” and limiting her ability to walk, Johnson went home.
“It was challenging to get healthy again and it took several months,” Johnson said.
Johnson found a “nontraditional” means of finishing her nursing degree by attending The State University of New York at Albany remotely through a program at Edgewood College and local hospitals. She completed her clinicals at Madison General Hospital, now called Meriter, and the UW Health University hospital.
After eight years of working as a nurse, notably in intensive care units taking care of patients who had endured major traumas, Johnson said she felt a pull to work on the front lines of medical research – working to prevent diseases and better help trauma patients.
As she grew in the ranks at the two biotech companies she worked, Johnson recalled being a mother of one, expecting her second child. At 32 years old and pregnant, working 80 hours a week and traveling a lot had her bedridden – in a hospital room a few hundred feet from her office.
She still worked, but knew it was time for a change.
“I came to realize during that time, this is really not how I want to spend my life,” Johnson said.