Taking a risk to create positive change

Aug 01, 2019
Sharon Cunningham ACA decided to co-found Shorla Pharma as an answer to her need to do something meaningful. Now, this women-led company is working towards bringing oncology therapies to global markets.

Name: Sharon Cunningham
Age: 34
Title: Co-founder, Shorla Pharma
From: Waterford
Hobbies: Running, gym, fashion and reading
Favourite quote: ‘If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on.’ - Sheryl Sandberg

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I found myself inspired and fascinated by other entrepreneurial journeys, particularly since joining  an early-stage pharmaceutical company post-training. I was motivated to do something meaningful and purposeful; to have a wider impact and create positive change, and I’ve always had an appetite for risk. I did an MBA at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and, upon graduating in 2015, a colleague and I began planning Shorla Pharma. We now have a pipeline of oncology products for global markets that deliver a major contribution to patient care and, ultimately, enhance patient outcomes. 

Describe your typical day.

There is no such thing as a ‘typical day’ for me anymore, and that is one of the aspects that I enjoy the most. My work is extremely varied. If I’m in the office, I can be working on anything from business development to product development to financial modelling. I’m in Dublin at least one day a week for conferences and meetings, and I travel frequently, particularly to the US to engage and interact with key opinion leaders, clinicians and the US Health Authority given that the US is a major market for Shorla Pharma.  

What do you find most challenging?

The business is progressing rapidly and it’s increasingly difficult to find time to reflect. Due to the fast pace, decisions need to be made quickly and change must be embraced regularly. I often take guidance from my intuition now, and that’s a big change given my analytical background.

As a business owner, what traits do you value most?

When selecting a consultant, employee or service provider to work with, I look for enthusiastic individuals who can demonstrate a desire to succeed – preferably with a proven track record. Organisational fit is essential; all the smarts in the world won’t make up for a personality that doesn’t fit the existing dynamic. Most importantly, I look for common sense – people who are pragmatic and possess a ‘can-do’ attitude.

What is your best piece of business advice?

Don’t overlook the basic fundamentals that a company needs to function. Create agile business systems, cover your legal and taxation bases, and pay close attention to the numbers. Above all, don’t forget to enjoy the journey and remember, there are rarely traffic jams on that extra mile.