“It Was Not an Easy Decision”: Cathy Tie on the Pivotal Moment that Propelled Her Career

The Locke Bio founder launched her first start-up at 18
Cathy Tie, Founder and CEO, Locke Bio (Photography by Jessica Chou)

Cathy Tie was 18 years old when she founded Ranomics, her first start-up—an achievement that caught the attention of billionaire Peter Thiel. Her second company, Locke Bio, is bringing the Shopify model to digital health care.

My motivation to excel started early. By the time I was in high school, I was working with professors in U of T’s immunology department. After graduation, I went on to study in the school’s molecular genetics department, working on rare genetic mutations. That’s how I got the idea for my first start-up, Ranomics. It’s a company focused on improving the accuracy of genetic testing and the ability to assess a person’s risk for disease.

At 18, I was eager to try new things and wanted to change the world along the way. I spent countless nights in my dorm room drafting up my business plan. Eventually, I was accepted to IndieBio, a start-up incubator based in San Francisco that offered $100,000 US in seed capital, along with the opportunity to network with people, do more research in the lab and improve the product. A year later, I was selected for the Thiel Fellowship, an annual program created by the billionaire PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, which provided $100,000 US in funding and two years’ of dedicated mentorship to a select group of young entrepreneurs. The catch was that I’d have to drop out of school to focus on the business. It was not an easy decision. My parents were strict and expected me to follow a traditional path. But in the end, I went for it. It took more bravery than it did intellect.

After the program ended, I moved back to Toronto to set up Ranomics. We offered genetic-testing analysis, and gene-mutation libraries for protein and enzyme engineering. Our clients included Mount Sinai Hospital and the Beijing Genomics Institute.

I stepped down as CEO at Ranomics in 2017 and created my second start-up, Locke Bio, two years later. I’d realized that despite their massive growth, digital health brands lacked the software they needed to launch and scale effectively. So my team created back-end tech they could use to set up a telehealth business quickly and affordably. Any e-health enterprise that wants to set up a direct-to-consumer online platform can do it through our software—the process is as simple as setting up a Shopify store. Our software makes it easy for them to manage payment, dispense medication, customize patient-intake forms and schedule consultations. Patients are getting as comfortable with prescription delivery as they are with online shopping. In the past year, we’ve received funding from investors like Anne Wojcicki from 23andMe, 10x Capital and Origins Pharmacy.

“Patients are getting as comfortable with prescription delivery as they are with online shopping”

My personal philosophy is to always ask, “Why are we doing this?” I’ve been around people who were afraid of failure. I had to suppress that instinct and force myself to take risks, challenge norms and keep going without fear. Looking back, things that I once thought were impossible have come to pass. And that positive feedback loop helps me push forward.

I was able to learn organically how to manage a company, raise capital and run operations when I was still a teenager. I didn’t learn that in any school. I’m grateful to my support system, the people who gave up their time to teach me about business—and I intend to pay that forward to future entrepreneurs.

Locke Bio is growing fast. The first time I saw people putting in orders in our Slack channel, they were coming in every couple of minutes. My journey has always just consisted of small triumphs like that—fleeting moments of happiness before you realize there’s still a lot more work to do.