ANN ARBOR – In 1997, after working with a nonprofit incubator program in California, Lynne Matallana established the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA). “We eventually became one of the largest fibromyalgia nonprofits in the world with 33 employees and more than $2 million a year in charitable donations," said Matallana.
After two decades of leading the NFA and building relationships with researchers, Lynne was inspired to launch a new endeavor that could do more for people suffering from chronic pain. “At the NFA, I worked with healthcare providers and researchers to build a bridge between patients and doctors. Today, the way we communicate, connect, and provide help to people is very different from where it was a decade ago.”
One of the researchers Lynne connected with through the NFA was Dr. Dave Williams, the associate director of Michigan Medicine’s Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center. The two of them joined efforts to establish Community Health Focus, Inc. and its new platform for people with chronic pain, Pain Tools.
Still living in California, Lynne encountered a number of obstacles as she tried to launch her new venture. “One of the biggest challenges -- as a woman over the age of 50 -- was getting the attention of investors. I didn’t fit the image that investors had in mind for an entrepreneur at the helm of a new startup.”
Lynne was determined to overcome these obstacles. After examining each challenge individually, she determined there was one solution that could eliminate many hurdles: Relocating to Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“As it turned out, leaving California was a critical step. Prior to moving, I was doing research and discovered Ann Arbor was listed as one of the top places to start a new company. The article credited the incredible support and entrepreneurial ecosystem that exists here. After reading this, it was another justification supporting my decision. I picked up myself, my graphic designer, and one of my IT people -- he and his wife -- and we all moved to Ann Arbor.”
Once Lynne arrived in Ann Arbor, she started making valuable connections within the startup ecosystem, including a meeting with Lee Gorman, a strategic business consultant for Ann Arbor SPARK’s entrepreneurial services.
“Connecting with Lee made a huge difference. She was so helpful and supportive. She understood where I was coming from and knowing that I had someone who believed in me, that I had someone on my side, gave me a lot of confidence.”
Already making a name for herself in the southeast Michigan, Lynne was recently named one of Crain’s 2020 Notable Women in Health.
“I didn’t realize what it was to pick up and move across the country and to start a life over again at this age, all while launching a new company. But I truly believe if I had picked any other place, I might have crashed and burned. But being in Ann Arbor, and part of the SPARK business accelerator program, has been tremendous.”