Tootie Tatum has no patience for the status quo. It’s an unlikely outlook for a scientist—she has a PhD in biomedical sciences—who needs to hew to particular rules in pursuit of empirical evidence. But as an entrepreneur, Tatum has learned how to translate scientific breakthroughs into workable business ideas.
“Even though scientists are always asking questions and challenging conventional wisdom, they tend to be risk averse, which doesn’t lend itself to entrepreneurial ventures,” she says. “At Haas I found the encouragement to push past traditional ways of doing things.”
Her current enterprise is Blackhawk Genomics, a consulting firm that helps health care providers develop, market, and offer genetic testing to patients.
“Genetic medicine isn’t currently something patients have wide access to unless they’re wealthy,” Tatum says. “What we do at Blackhawk is help our clients bridge the gap between genetic technology and actual patient care.”
Blackhawk isn’t Tatum’s first rodeo. Over the course of her career, she has participated in the Human Genome Project, held a tenured professorship at Texas Tech University, and acted as director at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Joint Genome Institute. Now, in addition to her work at Blackhawk, she manages five commercial clinical genetics labs nationwide and serves on the board of directors for Pharmazam, a data analytics firm focused on making personalized medicine a reality—think using a person’s DNA to assess whether a medication will actually work.
All these efforts are part of her mission to bring DNA science to everyday people, which requires a willingness to go beyond convention.
“I don’t like it when people say, ‘That won’t work,’” she says. “I’m a scientist, yes. But that doesn’t mean I always have to toe the line. You’ve got to be able to probe past what’s always been done in order to generate new ideas.”