Photo by Kim Schneider
Lexi Palmer is the CEO of EquiSeq, a research company dedicated to analyzing the genetic material of horses to improve breeding. An avid equestrian from birth, Lexi has been immersed in various aspects of equestrian life most of her life with a focus in the hunter/equitation discipline.
Lexi was a member of Palos Verdes Pony Club as well as a top competitor for the Palos Verdes High School Equestrian team, winning numerous championships for her school. In the show arena, she has earned many accolades including a top ten spot in the California Professional Horseman’s Association medal finals. Out of the saddle, Lexi has spent many years as a coveted announcer of a community horse show. She also ran a horse camp for 6 years, which included training and recruiting new riders for a prominent local trainer.
A graduate of The University of New Mexico, Lexi Palmer obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Interpersonal Communications. She is also well known in the Albuquerque Public School district for her inspirational presentations on goal setting for avid students.
MiLLENNiAL sat down with Lexi in Albuquerque to hear her story.
Explain the science behind EquiSeq and the benefits of analysing horse genetics.
I cannot delve too deep into the science, but what I can tell you is our team consists of a veterinarian and scientists with PhD’s in genetic, genomics and bioinformatics. Science in the horse industry in stuck in the 19th century and horse genetic researchers are underfunded and are still taught outdated techniques.
Other researchers have taken a reactive approach to the adult on-set diseases that we discovered and commercialized. They can tell you that a horse has the disease after the horse already shows symptoms, is in pain, and has a muscle biopsy (where they cut a chunk of the muscle out of the rump and look at it under a microscope).
Our method is proactive. We are looking at the genetics of the horses that have been affected. We work on getting to the root of the problem so that we can stop these diseases from killing the horses we love and costing owners hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.
By understanding the horse genome more thoroughly, we can help inspire better breeding practices and healthier horses.
Your formal education is in Interpersonal Communications. How did you become the CEO of a bio tech company without being a STEM graduate?
The long version of that story involves 3 months of working three jobs, hitting an all-time low and giving myself no other option but to figure out a way to do something outside a traditional 9-5.
The short version of that story is I was aggressively hunting for opportunities to run my own business and I was in the right place at the right time, with the right attitude. The founder of EquiSeq, Paul Szauter, owned 2 companies and investors were interested in his other one but wanted to kill off EquiSeq.
They told him that he couldn’t be CEO of two companies and he met me a few weeks later. I told him I could come on board as a contractor, learn the business and the science, and then present it to the horse community (I have been around all aspects of the horse industry since I was young) in a way that they would understand the product and the need for it.
When I came on board as CEO, the company was just sticky notes and a white board. Paul knew that the face and CEO of EquiSeq had to look like the customers. I was a female, horse person. He offered me the position and told me that this was an opportunity to turn an idea into a business. I spent months learning from Paul and scouring over books to learn the science and technology behind what we do.
I believe that a team should be made up of a diverse group of people who all have unique strengths. If every single team member was a STEM graduate, we would not get as far as we are today.
It turns out, it is beneficial for my role as CEO, to not have an extensive background in STEM. One of the struggles I’ve seen scientists face (Paul included at times), is that they are so deeply immersed in the science that they tend to lose people with explanations they believe to be simple. Since I don’t have a background in STEM, it’s easy for me to get up on a stage and present the company in a way that people with no science background can understand it.
You were a champion Equestrian for your high school. How did entering competitions train you for your current position?
The funny thing is, I actually talk about this all the time! When you train for a horse show, you over prepare. You jump higher than you would at a show, you train longer, you put yourself under more stressful conditions. For most people, jumping bigger jumps than they are used to is scary. It’s an unknown. There are hundreds of factors that could lead to you falling off but also, a hundred different ways you could do it perfectly.
Any time I would jump the highest I ever had, I was told by my trainer that there would two ways I could do it. 1) Give up halfway to the jump, stare right at the ground in front of it, stumble and do a horrible job or 2) Stand up tall, look past the jump, hold on tight and clear it.
As a CEO, I realized that I jump those ‘highest jumps’ every day. There is always something around the corner that is unknown or that scares me. We are doing something that has already started changing the industry for horse buyers and breeders. There is no manual or handbook on how to do this successfully so around every turn and every challenge I stand up tall, look past the obstacle, hold on tight and enjoy the ride.
As an under 30 woman, what are your biggest challenges in leading your team?
I am incredibly lucky. My team respects my age (It helps that the team is made up of people from 20-65) and we all bring such a unique opinion to the table that everyone is respected.
The biggest challenges I face as an under 30 woman are the ones that I put on myself. The media has continued to put unrealistic expectations on women, how we should act, what we should think, what we should look like. The biggest challenge I face is reminding myself that I know what I know and I know what I don’t know and that I have worked hard and deserve to be here. I sometimes second guess my knowledge on EquiSeq when people question my authority or joke about my sleeping my way to this position. I helped take EquiSeq from an idea to a business that sells tests worldwide and is shifting an industry. I have that written on a notepad actually, to remind myself that I am worth this opportunity.
Share with us one piece of advice that changed your life.
The person who has the most power in a negotiation is the one who is willing to walk away from the table.
This goes for every aspect of life. If someone is offering you a bad deal, walk away. If someone does not respect you, walk away. Know your worth and stick to it.
What does the future hold for EquiSeq? What are your goals for the company and what are you specifically doing to achieve success?
There are so many incredible things going on at EquiSeq currently. Our immediate future adds performance traits and a genetically enhanced race horse program, additional tests for diseases, and then we are going to work on breeding naturally enhanced, stronger, healthier (mentally and physically) military dogs.
My long-term goals are to help people breed and buy responsibly so that one day all pets are healthier and happier.
We plan to clear domesticated species of diseases, enhance performance, and conserve endangered species. We want to make animals everywhere as healthy as possible.
We have actionable goals and I keep a personal goal list for each year, month, week, and day. Like any start up, we know our end goal but we still are working out how to get there. All I know for certain is that we are standing up tall, looking past our obstacles, holding on tight, and enjoying the ride. Every step of the way.