Tracy Milner, Founder and CEO, BrainFX

Sanchi Illuri

March 6, 2019

For International Women’s Day 2019, we’re featuring women entrepreneurs in the ventureLAB community. Each day this week, we’ll feature a woman entrepreneur who inspires and leads her team to success, and makes an impact on her community. Read more interviews in the series here.

Today we’re featuring Tracy Milner, Founder and CEO of BrainFX. Brain FX develops clinical assessment tools of neuro-function for people with or at risk of mild to moderate brain disorders.

What is success to you?

There’s many ways to think about what success means – there’s personal success and professional success, and also the success of making an impact on the world. Success to me, whether personal or professional, is that ability to demonstrate that you’ve made a difference. With BrainFX, it’s that ability to make a difference in healthcare as well as in the lives of people who are living with brain disorders.


How do you measure making a difference?

We measure it in the feedback we hear from clinicians and patients. We measure things that often get missed, so we’ll hear patients say, “Wow, you’ve captured what I’ve been feeling.” It gives them a path to follow, and reassures and validates their experience.


It sounds like to you making a difference is specifically making an impact, but also making an impact in communities that may have been overlooked or under-served.

Yeah. That’s a good way to put it.


Is there an early life lesson that helped to shape who you are today or where you are today?

I come from a typical immigrant family background that came to Canada to provide for a better life for their children. It was instilled early on that “If you work hard, you can accomplish whatever it is you’re looking to do.” That was always the expectation: work hard, and do something great. 


Did that lesson come from your family predominantly?

It did, but it’s also intrinsic. I gravitated toward this work, and it reflects my values. Never say never – what’s impossible can be possible. I’ve seen it in patient stories time and time again: never underestimate the resilience that people can have in really unfortunate or tragic circumstances. I take that as inspiration, and we reflect that in what we do from a business perspective. 


Do you have professional influences who have helped to guide you to where you are today?

I can’t underestimate the support of my husband, who is also involved in the company. He was the one that pushed us toward the technology side when we were looking at how we would solve the problem from a health perspective. That was a huge contribution toward BrainFX. He also has a clear belief that anything is possible. When you take this leap, especially as a woman, especially as a woman with two kids – you look at what you’re sacrificing and what you’re giving up. How do you still stay focused on success? When I need to do the things that stretch me beyond what I’m capable of doing, he’s there to be the best place to lift off from. 


That’s amazing. That support is crucial.

Yeah, and it’s something that people don’t talk about in early-stage or in startup community. You have this vision that your typical entrepreneur is in the basement with their hoodie on. I’ve never matched what the stereotype of a high-growth potential startup is. You have to embrace the difference.


Has your journey been different as a woman in this field?

Absolutely. The statistics reflect that it’s a hard a journey, and that’s something I’ve certainly experienced. It’s harder to get funding. As we climb the ladder, executive team management and management is very male-dominated. On the other hand, on the front lines of the healthcare side, I think being a woman has been very positive because so many frontline clinicians are women, particularly in the brain disorder space. You have to learn how to adapt and succeed, despite where some of your learnings and differences might be.


How have you adapted to succeed?

One of the things I like to joke about is learning how to speak ‘man,’ or and how to speak CEO versus ‘clinician’ or even ‘manager’. You change your communication style to resonate with your audience. How do you communicate in a way that’s more successful in that space? It’s well acknowledged: in a study of how people question female versus male founders it was found that female founders are questioned about risk, while male founders are asked about strengths. 


Do you have advice for other small businesses and entrepreneurs?

The romantic, overnight success stories are extremely rare, and that’s not how things typically happen. Have a strong mission, be passionate, persevere: anticipate the roller coaster, and acknowledge that you’re buckling in for that. 

Don’t just talk about and try to justify your dreams: execute on them. Really look at how you can put it into action. 


Is there anything else you’d like to share or add?

It takes courage. There’s a lot of positive studies that talk about how successful companies can be with women on the executive team. It’s important to reflect on how you engage when you engage with a women-led startup. Look for what you might be doing differently, and look for strengths. Encourage more women to take that step. Look at how to build supports so we can continue to decrease some of the challenges that are added to a female founders journey. We do that at BrainFX: we measure our strengths as well as our challenges. 


Within your team, how do you recognize those strengths?

Our team is very diverse. One of the things that really amplifies our team culture is collaboration. It’s also important to be able to share personal successes. Be willing to communicate, and be willing to collaborate. We work with passionate people whose philosophy and values align with our company culture.


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