Father-son duo Dr. JJ and Josh Lin are the heart and soul of the Imagilin Technology, LLC. Founded in 2003 at FITCI, Frederick’s own tech incubator, Imagilin is one of Frederick’s exciting biotech success stories. Over the years, Imagilin has expanded their probiotic research and manufacturing business with the hopes of expanding internationally.
Tell me about your company.
Josh: [Imagilin] was founded in 2003. We were originally with FITCI [Frederick Innovative Technology Center, Inc.] in the incubator. We graduated from there in 2006, and in 2011 we expanded out a little more. We do probiotics, which are bacteria that helps with your gut and with digestion and immune responses. We actually have one strand of probiotic, a plant-based bacteria that came from wild pasture grass, and we manufacture, cultivate, and sell this probiotic in a finished form, which is a supplement, or as an ingredient for other companies to use in chocolate, yogurt, pet food; that kind of stuff. We also do a lot of research on probiotics here.
How did you find FITCI?
Dr. Lin: When we started, we tried to look for a good location for the company, and we wanted a location close to a university or college because it is very important for a biotech company to have a good relationship with academic professors, scientists, and students. At that time, University of Maryland had an incubator like FITCI but the university was not as friendly to start ups. At that time, Frederick had just set up FITCI. It was located at Hood College so that setup was perfect for us because we were on campus, and not only could we interact with other small companies, but we could also interact with the professors.
What has prepared you for owning a business and what do you wish you’d known before starting one?
Dr. Lin: For me, this is quite a change. Coming from professional research to business is very challenging. The reason is that when you are a professional research scientist, you are too far away from the real world. We were very naive at that time because we didn’t realize there is a big gap between invention and the real world. Everybody knows about probiotics now, but, in 2003, for most American people, probiotics were a novel and crazy idea, because at that time the Western world tried to kill bacteria. I remember very well I used to go to some retail store and tell them to sell the probiotic powder, and they would pop out their eyes and would look at me like I’m a crazy guy, because they thought you want to kill the bacteria, not take in the bacteria. So that’s why we say there’s a big gap between the invention and the real world, and if you want to sell, your invention cannot be too far away from the real world.
What are your goals for your company?
Dr. Lin: Of course we want to expand quickly, because right now, the market is perfect for probiotics. Everybody knows probiotics are good for your health, and everybody understands the importance of choosing the right probiotics, not just any probiotic. The market has changed so we would like to expand as quickly as possible and be an international, global company.
Do you face any challenges in running a business specifically as a minority?
Josh: Yes, Mostly because when people see us, the first question they ask is ‘does the product come from China?’ That’s pretty much a guaranteed question, and it’s because back in 2011, there was an incident with a Chinese company where they sold a lot of major pet food companies a contaminated ingredient. Ever since, the reputation of Chinese goods went downhill. Seeing us as Asian, they want to know if it’s coming from China.
Dr. Lin: As minorities, when we go to a trade show, we have a major disadvantage. When we have Caucasians with us, we will attract more people to come talk to us. As a minority, people ignore us.
Josh: They don’t ignore us, but we’re not as approachable for some reason. [Dr. Lin] also has a very strong accent so a lot of people don’t understand what he’s saying.
Dr. Lin: As a minority we have to spend double or triple the effort to get people’s attention. That’s the bottom line.
Do you have any advice for potential business owners?
Dr. Lin: It is good to have a strong business idea, because you are the one who determines the success. So, if you have a strong desire and would like to have a good return, you just have to remember it’s tough. You are by yourself, and you take full responsibility for success or failure, which is good in a way, but in other ways it’s a challenge.
Josh: Don’t be so caught up in your own product that you don’t listen to feedback or advice. We have faced that problem. Even though people complained about something we thought was minor, it turned out they were absolutely correct. If someone is giving you feedback, you don’t necessarily have to take it, but you should definitely consider it.
Dr. Lin: Not everybody can be Facebook or Amazon. If you start your company and you want to be Amazon or Facebook in two years, you better think about that again.