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Alumni Spotlight: An Interview with Dr. Sarah Snider, BEAM Diagnostics CEO & Co-Founder

Alumni Spotlight: An Interview with Dr. Sarah Snider, BEAM Diagnostics CEO & Co-Founder

Posted on: April 15, 2024
Dr. Sarah Snider Headshot

Just six years ago Dr. Sarah Snider was completing the RAMP-in-Residence program and today her company, BEAM Diagnostics, Inc., is leading the way to destigmatize screening for substance use disorders and advance proactive patient care. 

As CEO and co-founder of BEAM, Dr. Sarah Snider exemplifies the perseverance and leadership required to take a revolutionary idea and turn it into a product that can improve lives and communities. At RAMP, we’re privileged to support these entrepreneurs in their work and stay inspired by their vision and impact. We recently connected with Dr. Snider to take a deeper dive into BEAM and her experience as an entrepreneur in the Roanoke-Blacksburg innovation ecosystem. 

Where is your alma mater and what did you study?

I have a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Toxicology from Virginia Commonwealth University (2014) with a special focus on behavior and substance use disorders (SUDs). As a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, I worked to understand human behavior and decision-making in adults with alcohol and SUDs. Specifically, my work focused on the science of behavioral economics, how to measure decision-making using their principles, and interpreting the results.

Describe a typical BEAM Diagnostics client and the reach of your product.

BEAM’s target is to provide cost-effective, scalable behavioral health diagnostic tests to hospital systems, small practices, or individual providers. Our diagnostic platform, Beacon, can be used wherever patients need behavioral health screening and diagnosis. This gives Beacon a national reach with excellent scalability. While BEAM does not currently have plans to move internationally, we see Beacon as having broad appeal across a variety of healthcare models.

Tell us the origin story of your company. What inspired you?

I began my work in Dr. Warren Bickel’s academic laboratory studying risky human behaviors as a PhD of behavioral pharmacology with expertise in SUDs. In the lab, I worked to understand the mechanisms that drive our participants’ behavior. I saw firsthand how unconscious decision-making can negatively impact a person’s life – from what they eat to the substances they use and the risks they take.

Our work uncovered behavioral economic principles behind unconscious decisions and gives us a powerful understanding of continued damaging behaviors. I saw just how impactful and life-changing these scientific principles could be if they were translated from the lab and into the exam room. So, BEAM was founded in 2017 as a spin-out company from Dr. Bickel’s Lab at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in Roanoke, VA. Using our researched economic theories, we developed Beacon, a digital diagnostic platform. Our tests, like Beacon-AUD and Beacon-OUD, help facilitate patient-provider conversations without the stigma typically associated with substance use or other behavioral health conditions. 

What has it meant for your company to have participated in RAMP?

BEAM participated in RAMP’s second cohort in 2018 and the experience helped strengthen BEAM’s foundations. It was also extremely helpful and encouraging to be with individuals going through similar challenges and growth stages. Not only is it great to utilize other members and mentors as a soundboard for solutions, but having people who know firsthand the difficulty of starting a business makes you feel understood and supported in a time that tests your resilience. Through the program, we’ve developed knowledgeable, inspiring network connections and mentors who continue to support us through our entrepreneurship endeavors.

Who are some Roanoke-Blacksburg mentors that have impacted you?

One of the biggest benefits of being at RAMP was the business mentorship from two incredibly successful female entrepreneurs, Dr. Mary Miller and Cynthia Lawrence. Both served as guides, not only for business but also being a woman in business. They helped me find, develop, and have confidence in my voice in a male-dominated industry.

What is one obstacle in the founding of BEAM Diagnostics that you’re most proud of overcoming?

Just like any entrepreneur can tell you, your and your team’s resilience and motivation will be tested during the turbulent and trying startup phases. What I’m most proud of is how our team handles each new challenge with ingenuity, determination, support, and understanding. We’ve worked hard to create a team and culture that encapsulates the sentiment of empowerment, driving us towards our mission and vision. And with every challenge met, I’m continuously reminded of how amazing and capable every person on our team is, and that I’m proud and thankful to be a part of the BEAM Team.

What piece of advice would you give early-stage tech/biotech entrepreneurs?

Everyone has experienced imposter syndrome and moments that exacerbate the worry and doubt – receiving critical feedback, questioning if your work is impactful, and feeling so overwhelmed you’re uncertain if this path is the right one. Pushing through those moments will make you more resilient. Regardless of what the internal and external voices may say, you must lean into your resolve and believe that your work and your mission have a positive impact. Thankfully, you don’t have to face those moments alone. Find a support system (mentors, role models, coworkers, and peers) to talk, motivate, share, uplift, guide, vent to, and celebrate with.

Tell us a fun fact about you!

I owned a chinchilla, named Chichi for over 14 years. She was my first pet and the best roommate when studying for graduate school exams!

What else would you like us to know about BEAM?

I am extremely proud of the growth the BEAM Team has seen over the past few years – in size, experience, leadership, and camaraderie. Currently, our team is working towards HITRUST certification, which will open more doors and demonstrate our commitment to security and excellence with our hospital system partners. BEAM has enormous ambitions, and the next few projects are going to reflect those!

RAMP is committed to connecting technology and life science entrepreneurs to the resources they need to advance their technology and further development through our three levels of business accelerators. Our flagship accelerator, RAMP-in-Residence offers two cohorts annually, once in the fall and one in the spring. Ready to join the next cohort? Apply now.

Want to keep up with the latest from BEAM Diagnostics? Be sure to follow them on Facebook and LinkedIn for news and updates.

RAMP and RBTC are part of the Verge alliance, established to grow the region’s innovation economy, technology and life sciences sectors, and the supporting professional communities. It aligns the strengths and programming efforts of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council (RBTC) and the Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program (RAMP). Verge serves GO Virginia Region 2 and works to form collaborations with government, business, academia, and other organizations to advance the region and grow a thriving innovation economy.