Lauren Spanjer Bricks is co-founder and chief operations officer of Ipsum Diagnostics, an independent clinical and anatomical testing laboratory that received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its high capacity Covid-19 RT-PCR Test method, one of only 19 authorized for molecular Covid-19 testing. Ipsum fulfills testing requirements for the Georgia Department of Public Health and does more polymerase chain reaction testing than any lab in Georgia. Bricks shared Ipsum’s methodology with labs in underserved areas around the country to facilitate testing, and developed a Spanish language patient portal and bilingual call center.
What has living in metro Atlanta mean to you professionally and personally? My childhood was filled with so many enriching experiences that I feel lucky to have experienced. Atlanta is very family friendly which I attribute to the close relationship I have with my parents and four siblings. My favorite family memories were going to the Braves games, seeing my first play at The Fox Theater, my summers spent in the North Georgia mountains at Camp Coleman, arts festivals, playing softball at Morgan Falls and so much more.
Although I loved my college experience and had fun living in D.C. and NYC, I always knew that I would return to Atlanta. My husband and I love that our children are growing up surrounded by family and have so many special connections such as attending the same schools where my husband and siblings went as children.
Professionally, opening my business in Atlanta has directly impacted our success and growth. As a city with the CDC, state-of-the-art hospitals, and top research institutions all in close proximity, we are able to hire very specialized technical experts, this has been especially critical for our Covid-19 testing. The logistics required to transport urgent samples from around the country require access to an airport like Hartsfield-Jackson. The specialized support services our business requires are all available here in Atlanta. We even have critical manufacturers right here in Atlanta that are not located anywhere else in the United States. Having our business located in Atlanta has had a direct impact on not only our success, but our ability to provide almost 800,000 important and critical PCR tests during the pandemic.
How do we move from conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion to action that achieves change? This requires an examination within your own organization and the industry standards that are followed. As leaders, we have the opportunity to see where our organizations and industries have failed to “see” and “hear” who we service. In order to change, there must be action taken to set a standard or introduce a new norm. For example, I realized through Covid-19 that the laboratory industry only reports test results in English. How can a non-English speaking patient understand or take control of their health if they can’t even understand something as basic as their test report. We immediately created a Spanish portal where reports could be downloaded in both English and Spanish. This is an example of moving away from conversations and taking action to set a new standard. This is where businesses have unique opportunities to make important changes that other companies can follow. We are responsible for this change and can be more proactive simply by looking into our own organizations and industries.
How did you cope with the changes this year? This year has challenged my organization and me personally in every way possible. Ipsum’s business model did not include hospitals or state departments, we did not have any way to let these institutions know that we could provide testing. I knew that the FDA authorization would get our name out because at the time there were very few labs that could perform the COVID-19 test. Our core competencies are in test development, from both the technical and regulatory sides. This is what allowed us to develop our test on a higher throughput instrument and avoid the test kits that the entire country would be competing for. There were so many other challenges that had to be overcome and fortunately having innovative solutions, adaptability and agility allowed us to overcome every obstacle. We went from a company with 15 people to 130 overnight. Every facet of the organization changed and projects that normally take 4-6 months had to be completed in 1-2 weeks. We understood the gravity of the situation, people were dying in hospitals and accurate results were needed immediately, and when the utilization changed to “Return to Work”, families needed reports to support their families and businesses needed their employees to open the economy. Overnight we went from having 10 patient calls a day to 4,000. This required a call center just for Covid-19 reports. Everything has evolved and we are a much stronger organization, and this would never be possible without the team of heroes that work at Ipsum, but it has been the hardest and most challenging work of our lives. We understood that every single report was impacting a life and felt a huge responsibility to our state and country which motivated us to keep moving forward.
Outside of material gains, including achieving professional goals, what gives you the greatest joy and how do you share it with others? We were able to go to battle, we had the ability and the foresight to know how to help combat the pandemic. Everyone associated with the company contributed to combating this pandemic. We are not sitting on the sidelines; we were on the frontlines, which empowers everybody that works for the company. Nobody had to feel powerless. Nothing has been more inspiring than watching people who have had the impossible tasks put on their shoulders step up and lead in ways you could never have imagined.
What would be your advice or your challenge to the 40 Under Forty Class of 2020? For me science is my love. Be in the field that you love, that means something to you and always stay informed and interested so that you are always thinking ahead. My advice would be to take each day as it comes and rise to the challenges and rewards as they present themselves. You must have patience, perseverance and never be afraid to do the right thing. You have to learn to be comfortable outside your comfort zone, focus on the mission and not let the “noise” distract you.
How can metro Atlanta nurture the next generation of leaders to achieve the things you’ve achieved? By public display of the current accomplishments like this forum offers.
Atlanta offers an opportunity for diversity, not just people but of types of business and types of jobs. If you see an opportunity, don’t be afraid to create the vision that you believe in and always strive to set higher standards for others to follow.