Q&A: HandyLab's Jeff Williams transitions to Ann Arbor's Accuri Cytometers
Vibrant entrepreneurial economies are populated with startup executives who hop from one local company to another, rather than leaving the region after their first venture in search of fertile ground elsewhere.
That's why Ann Arbor startup veteran Jeff Williams' decision to stay here after leaving two successful firms is proving to be evidence of the region’s entrepreneurial growth.
It’s the second time the Chelsea resident has shepherded an Ann Arbor-based tech company to a major acquisition.
HandyLab, which will continue to expand in Ann Arbor, followed Williams’ Genomic Solutions, which went public in 2000 and was acquired by Harvard Biosciences in 2002.
Williams joined HandyLab two years later. This time, he’s not waiting two years to try his hand at another entrepreneurial venture. He resigned from HandyLab to become CEO of medical devices firm Accuri Cytometers as founding Accuri CEO Jennifer Baird stepped aside.
Accuri has about 80 employees, and HandyLab had about 60 when it was acquired.
Williams spoke with AnnArbor.com Business Review reporter Nathan Bomey about the leadership transition.
AnnArbor.com: What led to your decision to leave HandyLab?
Williams: I really felt like my job was done there. We had a very successful (exit) for the investors. And I felt like the company was in good hands with BD.
I’m more of a small company guy and I like the entrepreneurial side of things.
Accuri is at a very similar stage compared to HandyLab. How would you compare the two companies?
There’s a lot of similarities.
Both have disruptive technologies based on providing a smaller, cheaper, easier-to-use system for a market where the competition really provides very large, very complex systems.
Both companies have a similar history with venture funding.
What did Jenn do for the company and how important was she to getting it to this point?
I give Jenn all the credit in the world. She did a fantastic job of building something from scratch and getting it to more than $10 million in revenue.
You’ve had two successful exits with tech companies in Ann Arbor now. Is that what you’re here to do: help this company get acquired or go public?
I don’t know if I would state it that way. What I would say is Accuri is a venture (capital) funded company, and venture investors do expect exits at some point in the history of the company.
Typically that needs to be through an IPO or a sale.
I would say that the board does not have a time frame to get an exit.
Why Ann Arbor for Jeff Williams?
My wife and I made the choice years ago in 1996. We, at the time, were living in California. I decided to do a startup, pretty much could have done it anywhere in the country and really enjoyed the experience we had when I was at graduate school in Michigan.
And we said, ‘Let’s go back to Ann Arbor.’
Were you ever concerned that there would not be another viable opportunity for you in this area?
No, I really wasn’t. I’m the type of person that likes to work. Everything you need to do a startup you’ve got in Ann Arbor. You’ve got an employee base that’s experienced doing startups.
It would be nice if we could get some more venture (capital) in Ann Arbor. There’s lots of interesting ideas floating around Ann Arbor.
I didn’t really have any concerns at all. My idea was if the right idea came along, I would most likely do a startup here.
How would you rate Accuri’s value compared to HandyLab? The $275 million acquisition is still a huge number. Is Accuri on that level?
I certainly hope so. It’s very hard to rate these things, as you know. Macroeconomic factors play a big role. Competitive factors play a big role.
Unfortunately whether a space is so-called ‘hot’ or not plays a big role.
At this point, in my opinion, I’d have to say Accuri is one of the most valuable assets around Ann Arbor in the life sciences space.