Billy Hagstrom

Co-Founder of Bluestem Biosciences

Billy Hagstrom brings more than a decade of asset management and investment banking experience to Nebraska. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in 2006.

Hagstrom developed a strong interest in biomanufacturing and global sustainability after studying the market potential of synthetic biology.. This occurred during a time when emerging trends in corporate social responsibility began to pay greater attention to how advances in biotechnological manufacturing have the potential to preserve resources and the environment.

In January 2022, Hagstrom co-founded Bluestem Biosciences, Inc. with Tyler Autera. Aware of the potential for expansion in the bioeconomy in Nebraska, he launched Bluestem to promote sustainable biomanufacturing in the Midwest. He serves as Chief Executive Officer of this firm, which is headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska.

Where did the idea for Bluestem Biosciences come from?

Bluestem Biosciences was an idea co-developed by me and my partner Tyler Autera (CTO, Co-Founder). We previously worked together at two different companies, both of which offered a lot of experience for us to have the courage to say – let’s start our own business! Ultimately, we saw an incredibly large opportunity emerging in synthetic biology, and we believed the Midwest had tremendous potential to build something unique.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Starting Bluestem Biosciences in January 2022 has been anything but predictable. To start, we’ve largely maintained our ‘stealth mode’ for the first three months. At the same time, you’re building the business model and working with close confidants and strategic partners to battle test the work internally.

How do you bring ideas to life?

At Bluestem, Tyler (CTO, Co-Founder) and I have been very fortunate in how we complement one another. After working together for several years, we have a partnership that allows for creativity while advancing ideas to commercialization. When we first came up with the idea for Bluestem, we immediately said, “we have to go do this”. We haven’t looked back, since we landed on our big idea.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Synthetic biology today, is a convergence of technologies which really excites me. I lean on my background as an investor, which taught my that a convergence of complimentary trends really increases the probability of success. Technology is all about timing, and we believe we are hitting an inflection point.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I believe that communication is a critical element to being a successful entrepreneur. First, it begins internally with a synthesis of the big ideas and how that can be shared and translated for everyone in the organization to understand. Internally, we call them “one-liners”. From this simplicity, we can advance our ideas internally, and communicate them externally, to our stakeholders, be it strategic partners, investors, or prospective new employees.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Take more risks! I should have been willing to start my own business much earlier. This is so much fun, and I find it more fulfilling. I recently read in “Range” by David Epstein that the average age for a successful entrepreneur, is 42, so I’m still ahead of the mean!

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

The midwest United States will be a leader in commercializing the US bioeconomy.

Two very important elements for its success are infrastructure and biomass, both strategically located in our backyard. But just as important are the people, and the collaboration and work ethic is different in the midwest – people want you to succeed.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Create a checklist. However you decide to organize, but create a list of things that need to get done, or that people owe you. It helps to organize, drive accountability, and help you track progress during your day. Every day starts with a new checklist.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

We are brand new.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One of the most important pillars to a successful business is having the right partnerships, if not, you’re doomed. At Bluestem we are very focused on cultivating the best stakeholders to support our mission and journey. At the end of the day, good business comes down to its people. We think about that every single day.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

The future industrial revolution is biology. We recently went to a conference where former Google CEO said that, “biology will be larger than the computer industry”. With such a large opportunity in front of the next generation, I would look toward ways to utilize biology, to have an impact on our (bio)economy and positively impact climate change and carbon reduction.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

After good advice, I bought a mechanical keyboard for my work setup. It’s a productivity improvement.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Slack has changed everything for me and my team. I’ve worked for companies that use it, and others that don’t. I cannot imagine a team environment, culture or workflows that don’t utilize the tool. Bluestem has used Slack since day one.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Last year I read the “The CEO Test: Master the Challenges That Make or Break All Leaders” by Adam Bryant. The timing was perfect, as I had just completed my first leadership role and was transitioning to a public company on their executive team. My ambitions were to by a leader again, and this book lays it out very well.

What is your favorite quote?

“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller” – Steve Jobs