Fine Point Meet & Greet: Allie LaFleur

Meet the Fine Point Consulting staff and learn a little bit about what makes them tick. This week: Accounting Manager Allie LaFleur.

 

Talk a little bit about your background and what drew you to accounting.

Allie LaFleurI earned my Associate’s degree in Business Management from Madison Area Technical College, along with some certificates in Small Business Entrepreneurship and Human Resources Management. Business Management was a nice, broad degree that would allow me to do any number of things, and the certificates were just something I added on. It’s great to have a little background in something like Human Resource Management when you’re an accountant and doing things like processing payroll, so those certificates have been helpful.

A few years later, with [Fine Point Owner] Luella [Schmidt’s] encouragement, I decided to go back to school at night to earn my Bachelor’s degree in Accounting. Getting my bachelors was something I had always wanted to do, but it helped to have my boss encouraging me and cheering me on from the sidelines!

During this time, my husband and I also purchased a small business. To help save money, I assumed the bookkeeper role. A friend of mine helped me set up payroll and I learned QuickBooks on my own. It was a great first-hand experience that forced me not only to put my accounting classes to work and learn on the job, but it also gave me the perspective of being a small business owner and what that means for Fine Point clients.

As far as accounting, I enjoy figuring out a reconciliation that’s been stumping me. Accounting is one of those fields that there’s practically always a “right” way of doing things. You want to make sure your balances tie, for example. It’s a repetitive job, but there’s enough new stuff that comes up from month to month that keep you on your toes.

What is your role at Fine Point, and what do you enjoy about working there?

I started at Fine Point in 2011 as a staff accountant, where I oversaw reviewing profit and loss statements. Now, as Accounting Manager, I oversee some of the other accountants and am responsible for things like reviewing balance sheets; specifically, assets and liabilities.

Working at Fine Point has given me a lot of great experience working in a variety of industries. For example, this morning I’m doing some work for a nonprofit client, but this afternoon I will be working with a small personal fitness business we work with. Every day is like this, and I enjoy the variety. The culture at Fine Point is great, too. The people I work with here feel more like friends than coworkers. And Luella is a fantastic teacher. She’s not only a great accountant, but I’ve learned a ton from her about prioritizing and organizing work. She’s a pleasure to work for.

What’s something others may be surprised to learn about you?

I lived in Holland as a young child. My mom got a job as a teacher on a military base there. I was too young to learn the language and my parents weren’t immersed in the language when we were there, but my sister, who is two years older than I am, picked up the language very quickly through school there. Even though she was also quite young, she quickly became our family translator.

When you’re not working, you…

My husband and I just bought our first house in April, and we’re working on a never-ending list of household projects. And my sister just had the first grandchild in our family, so between the projects and visiting the new baby, that’s pretty much all we have time for!

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting to learn how our knowledgeable staff can help your business succeed.

Leaders & Influencers: Taralinda Willis

In our continuing series on Madison Leaders & Influencers, we chat with Taralinda Willis, co-founder of Curate, a web scraping platform that combines artificial intelligence and automation technologies to deliver comprehensive answers to business intelligence questions.

Tell us a little bit about Curate and what made you decide to found it.

Taralinda WillisCurate was founded when my co-founder, Dale, and I were part of the gener8tor accelerator program and realized that the company we had been working on, unfortunately, wasn’t gaining any traction. gener8tor asked us to think about what other knowledge and skills we had to start something new. Dale, who was working on his PhD in Computer Science at the time, has experience in web scraping technology, and we looked around the marketplace and realized no one was using artificial intelligence in web scraping. We decided to pursue that path, and that’s how Curate was born.

The artificial intelligence piece allows us to provide more contextualized and relevant results to our clients, and also allows us to report changes in data over time. We’re also working on developing natural language processing to better query and search for data, which will be another advantage we have over competitors.

What’s been your biggest surprise in launching a start-up?

This isn’t a very exciting answer, but I was surprised by how challenging it can be to find regulatory laws and follow them. Everyone talks about fostering small business and innovation, and that’s great, but there’s this really practical piece with following the regulations that’s surprisingly difficult. Also, finding the right product for the right fit with the market is a challenge. Mark McGuire [serial entrepreneur and Managing Director of gener8tor Minnesota] references that quote about how being an entrepreneur is like jumping off of a cliff and building the airplane on the way down, and it really is like that.

How has launching in Madison contributed to Curate’s development, and what changes would you like to see here to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship?

Dale and I both went to college in Madison, and we fell in love with the city. We’ve continued to stay here because Madison is getting better and better every day for entrepreneurs. We feel really good about the connections we made after going through the gener8tor program. I don’t think that most people realize what an asset gener8tor is to our community and its entrepreneurial growth.

I do think Madison has some work to do in building its network and support of entrepreneurs. There are lots of people here beyond gener8tor doing really incredible things, including Madworks and Starting Block. The entire community should support these endeavors and help launch more businesses. Attracting and retaining top talent is what makes Madison so incredible.

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting for more information about the great tools and services we use to help startups and nonprofits succeed.

Leaders & Influencers: Nick Lombardino

Continuing our series on Leaders & Influencers, we talk with Nick Lombardino, co-founder of the recently launched Atlas Providers, a free digital marketplace that connects emerging companies with area service providers.

 Tell us about Atlas Providers and how it’s changed since its inception.

NickLombardinoAtlas Providers is a network of local service providers, across a variety of industries, that focus on servicing emerging companies. Through our website we’ve created a free, one-stop shop for entrepreneurs to easily search, review, and connect with area service providers in a quick and transparent manner.

The first iteration of Atlas Providers was much different than it is today. Originally, we were trying to find a way for service providers to collaboratively work together for the benefit of an emerging company. Over time, we were able to zero in on a major issue that startups face: selecting the right service provider. Reason being, when entrepreneurs identify that they need to engage a service provider, they usually need that service yesterday. Moreover, they don’t have the time and energy to properly research, qualify, and shop service providers. We take that burden away.

What role has Madison played in Atlas Providers’ development?

Since the beginning, we have tried to follow the “build, measure, learn” Lean Startup Methodology. Over the past year, we have relied heavily on feedback from Madison’s startup community. Through focus groups, interviews and brain-storming sessions, we’ve been able to make continuous adjustments. We owe a great deal to entrepreneurial leaders like Forrest Woolworth, Tom Still, Zach Brandon, Brian Jensen, and Rachel Neill for their feedback and support.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

I am a fairly risk-averse person. What I’ve found, and what I’m hoping others will realize, is that entrepreneurship doesn’t always mean “jump off a cliff and build the plane on the way down.” If you have a business concept, or even just an idea, test it and engage the community. There’s very low risk in testing an idea. Through that process, you’ll learn more about its viability, and whether or not you’re passionate about scaling.

Dr. Amy Gannon recently wrote a great article called, “Hello Aspiring Entrepreneurs…Stop talking about it and just take the first step!” She does a fantastic job laying out the first steps an aspiring entrepreneur can take to mitigate risk while progressing an idea forward.

What book, blog, or podcast do you think every aspiring entrepreneur should read/listen to?

In addition to Dr. Gannon’s article, I would encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to check out two podcasts with a local flare: “Driven to Better” by Justin Sisley and “Growth Bomb” by Jenna Atkinson. The content is relatable, easy to digest and helps promote the “givers gain” mentality.

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting for more information about the great tools and services we use to help businesses like Atlas Providers succeed.

Leaders & Influencers: Abraham Palmbach

In our continuing series on Leaders & Influencers, we chat with Abraham Palmbach, President and COO of Wellbe, a provider of patient engagement and care coordination solutions for hospital service lines.

Tell us about Wellbe and how it started in 2009.

Abe-PalmbachWellbe helps hospitals guide patients going through a major episode of care, such as a joint replacement surgery. Our web-based platform enables patients and their families to participate as partners in their care, and allows hospitals to coordinate and monitor large patient volumes more effectively.

James Dias originally started the company in 2009 with more of a pediatric focus designed to help parents with kids who had major chronic health conditions, which is where the idea for patient partnerships really came in. In 2010, Wellbe pivoted to working with hospitals and their patients who were undergoing major surgical procedures. We launched a second generation of the platform in 2014, building off of learnings we’d had with a wide range of customers since that first-generation platform in 2010. Today our software is used in hospitals nationwide to help improve patient outcomes and reduce costs.

What role has Madison played in Wellbe’s development?

Early on, James participated in the MERLIN Mentors program through the University of Wisconsin to help get the company off the ground. More recently, Wellbe is on the steering committee of Madison Health Tech, an organization devoted to establishing Madison as a nationally recognized hub for health technology companies. It’s since become a more formal organization and is facilitated by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.

Wellbe was founded in Madison because James was here at the time, but we’ve stayed in Madison because it has ready access to really sharp people in healthcare. Beyond Epic Systems, there are a number of healthcare companies in the area, and the workforce here understands that business very well.

We’re also really proud of the fact that all of the local Madison hospitals are paying customers of Wellbe, so we have support from the local hospital community, and from a commercial standpoint, that’s been very beneficial. We are fortunate to have forward-thinking hospital systems and people that are willing to adopt new technologies.

 What are the particular rewards and challenges for Wellbe today?

We’re in a very exciting yet tumultuous time in healthcare as the risk shifts from payers to providers, and it’s really forcing providers to look at how they need to restructure their business, as well as the tools they use for their business. So for the providers, there’s this really foundational shift going on right now, and it’s exciting for us at Wellbe to provide a set of tools that can really help organizations make that shift. It’s really going to change how healthcare is paid for going forward.

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting for more information about the great tools and services we use to help clients like Wellbe succeed.

Leaders & Influencers: Robin Martin & Jana Gerken

In our continuing series on Leaders & Influencers, we talk with Robin Martin, Chief Regulatory Strategist, and Jana Gerken, Chief Legal Strategist, co-founders of the newly formed Kinetic Compliance Solutions, which provides regulatory and legal services to emerging and mature companies specializing in the medical device and life sciences industries.

Talk a bit about Kinetic Compliance Solutions.

Martin_and_Gerken

Robin Martin (left) and Jana Gerken

Jana: Our focus is on medical device and life sciences industries, which is a very specialized niche. These are highly regulated industries. You can see from the news what happens when these types of companies get into trouble, with major lawsuits and fines. This kind of high risk requires real-life expertise, and Robin and I have more than twenty years combined in-house experience in industry manufacturing at a global healthcare company with a focus in medical device and life sciences. We come in early and partner with our clients using the “ounce of prevention” strategy to help them remain successful and competitive for years to come.

Why establish your business in Wisconsin?

Robin: We both worked for GE Healthcare in Wisconsin so have been established in the healthcare industry here. We’re based in Milwaukee, which gives us access to both Madison and Chicago. There’s a great start-up culture in Madison and Milwaukee, and lots going on in medical devices and life sciences. And Wisconsin’s fantastic research universities are really interested in bridging the technology transfer piece.

Jana: We did a lot of due diligence before we founded Kinetic Compliance Solutions to get feedback from experts in the field and to make sure there was a demand for this type of service. To our knowledge, there’s not another firm in Wisconsin that provides the combination of regulatory and legal services that we offer in the medical device and life sciences space.

Tell us about your regulatory service and how that relates to the legal realm.

Robin: Emerging or smaller companies may not have an in-house regulatory or legal team, and that’s where we come in. Those emerging companies are often focused on the regulatory piece early, but we also provide ongoing compliance support as they grow and can help them think about what the competition is doing, or how that competition has gotten into trouble with FDA regulations so they can learn from that. When we work with more mature companies, they are typically looking to expand beyond the U.S. and Europe. There are massive amounts of work that can come with going global, and we are happy to provide our expertise to those companies as well.

Jana: What we’re seeing and are focused on are overcoming those barriers to entry around FDA regulations and intellectual property, so from a legal side we really want to set the tracks in the right direction from the get-go. For example, the anti-kickback statute has implications in healthcare that are not necessarily intuitive. A well-intentioned “thank-you” gift can be perceived as a kickback and a meal will likely be reportable to the public under the “Sunshine” laws. These are just a couple of the many examples of how a practice that’s customary in one industry could potentially put your company at risk in the highly regulated healthcare space. We believe that knowledge is power and work with our clients to help them navigate these choppy waters so that they can focus on growth and innovation.

What’s one piece of regulatory and/or legal advice you give to emerging companies?

Jana: What you don’t know can hurt you. Bring us in early because we’re here to help you and work with you. Our model is very flexible, so we can work with anyone from a smaller start-up to a mature company or investor. Also, don’t underestimate your leverage in negotiations and give in too quickly. You may have more power than you think.

Robin: Really understand the FDA landscape: it’s going to help immensely and save you time and money. For example, in a worst-case scenario, a company submits to the FDA with incomplete data, not realizing they needed clinical data first. Things like that can really set you back.

What’s the single most important change you’d like to see to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship in Wisconsin?

Jana: Anecdotally, we hear about so much activity and so many great ideas coming out of our research universities, and we need to find ways to commercialize that knowledge and keep those ideas and resulting companies in Wisconsin rather than have them leave for the East or West Coasts. This would also help generate jobs in Wisconsin. Part of our business model is partnering with companies for sustainable growth, so we’d like to see more of these companies stay and grow here.

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting for more information about the great tools and services we use to help businesses succeed.