In 2001, when Doug and Deanne Fort made the decision to take a leap of faith and start their own business, they could have easily found themselves struggling like a fish out of water.
Instead, more than a decade later, the Forts run Fort Environmental Laboratories, one of the world’s only in-life toxicology labs that specializes in research on amphibians and fish. Deanne, Chief Financial Officer, handles the business activities while Doug focuses on the technical aspects of the business.
From discovery pharmaceuticals to chemicals in the environment, corporations use the services provided by Fort’s labs when looking at the impact of newly developed chemicals. The Forts and their 10 employees routinely conduct tests for global clients such as DuPont, BASF, Eli Lilly and Company, S.C. Johnson and the Bermuda Zoological Society.
“Most people would be surprised to find out that amphibians develop similar to humans and are a good indicator of how chemicals and other stressors affect humans,” Fort explained.
“When a company develops a new drug they will evaluate human risk using a variety of animal models to ensure the safety of their potential product. Using fish and frogs, we can cost-effectively evaluate the effects of the chemical throughout their life cycle,” he said. “It is important to not just look at the immediate impact the compound has on the animal, but also to look at what it has the potential to do several generations down the line.”
Fort explained that depending on the results from their studies, companies continue with advanced chemical trials.
“It’s more cost effective for them to start out with us,” he said, explaining the rationale of using alternative model systems. “Rather than send 10 or 20 drugs directly from a company’s chemical research labs to be tested on mammals, we can help prioritize which chemicals within a discovery set are likely to be most successful without causing harm to the individual or the environment and provide recommendations for moving them into further safety assessment.”
From Incubation to Full Development
Fort credits the successful start-up of their company to the resources and foundation formed as a tenant in the business incubator at the Meridian Technology Center for Business Development.
“Honestly, without the services we received from Meridian, I don’t know if we would be here today,” he said from the company’s culture lab that is currently brimming with nearly 80 tanks of various species of frogs and fish. “When starting a new business the two biggest capital expenses are equipment and facilities. When we were in the incubator we had the second part taken care of and could focus on the first.”
The Meridian Technology Center for Business Development assists in the business growth and development process by providing essential space and services for business incubation. From management guidance to technical assistance and consulting tailored to young, growing companies, the Center encourages development by working closely with clients on a progression plan that has measurable goals to assist the company in being self-sustaining within a designated time period.
The state of Oklahoma provides special tax incentives for incubator clients. The Center for Business Development is an Oklahoma Department of Commerce certified business incubator. This qualifies resident clients in good standing in the incubation program or approved graduates of an incubator program for a five-year state business income tax exemption, with an additional five-year exemption for businesses that do a majority of their sales outside of Oklahoma.
Incubator clients also have access to many infrastructure needs of new companies, such as high quality office and lab space, meeting rooms and a physical address. Companies can be residential or virtual tenants of the Center for Business Development. Residential Tenants access services and rent dedicated office or lab space for up to three years. Virtual Tenants access services but do not rent space. Clients can move easily between both tenant types depending on their business needs and situation.
Doug Fort will share his entrepreneurial journey with entrepreneurs and small business owners at the February 19 Business for Breakfast event at Meridian Technology Center.
The Business For Breakfast networking group meets from 7:30 – 9 am on the third Thursday of the month in Room 104 North at the Meridian Technology Center for Business Development. Each meeting includes a guest speaker and provides business owners and entrepreneurs an informal opportunity to network and share ideas and experiences. All networking sessions are free and include a continental breakfast.
To attend the February 19 Business for Breakfast event featuring Fort, please contact Diane Maddox at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (405) 377-2220. An RSVP is strongly encouraged.