In 2011, Angelique Johnson was an electrical engineering Ph.D student in Michigan when she decided to start her company, MEMstim, which manufactures cochlear implants for people with hearing loss.
At first, Johnson was torn between starting her own business and working for a large company where she could earn a six-figure salary. Applying for funding — and receiving it –pushed her into entrepreneurship. She eventually received grants from the Commonwealth as well as from the National Institutes of Health, including one for $1.4 million.
As part of of our weekly series From the Ground Up, a conversation with entrepreneurs, changemakers and other innovators in the city, I spoke with Johnson at her office in the Louisville Glassworks building on Market. Listen to our conversation in the player above.
On deciding to start a business:
“I think as entrepreneurs and business owners, people aren’t as honest about this. Every day you wake up, you feel like you’re jumping off a cliff. There’s no easing down, there’s no ropes, there’s no ‘I can get enough training and this won’t feel like I’m having a heart attack when I make my next business move.’ Every day that you make a big decision it feels like that. I think a lot of people are scared off from starting their own business because they feel like they’re not ready for it. And I just want people to know that you’re never ready for it. You just dive off the cliff and hopefully somewhere between the ground and the top of the cliff you sprout wings and you fly.”
Why she doesn’t like the word ‘entrepreneur’:
“I call myself an ‘accidental entrepreneur’ and I actually don’t even like that term. I feel so bad but I hate the word entrepreneur. I just want to make something that helps somebody. And the only way to do that is to commercialize the technology. And by default that makes me an entrepreneur.”
On why Louisville is a great place for her business:
“The one thing I truly believe about Louisville is that it truly is a city of possibilities. The greatest benefit to being in Louisville versus another city is you have a little bit more flexibility. You get a lot of closed doors in your face. There’s a lot of things you can’t do. It is bureaucratic and rigid just like most other cities. But Louisville has this undercurrent of if you can dream it and if you can come up with a very logical reason why it should work and you can show and you can prove that out, then there’s possibilities to test out things that I otherwise wouldn’t. So, I have more flexibility in my company here.”