Theresa Litherland, Co-Founder and President of Resonate Forward

An Ongoing Series Highlighting Delaware Innovators

June 16, 2023

When assessing if a new idea is worth pursuing or should be abandoned, Theresa Litherland looks at whether the idea needs a new business model.

“It’s all about keeping close to the customer need and how the product or service will fit that need,” she says. “It also depends on the innovator’s mission: Is it to be a millionaire or is it to make an impact? If you can’t find a business model or idea that fits your own personal mission, you should abandon the idea or change the business model.”

Litherland received her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Texas A&M University and then went back to school 15 years later to earn her MBA in entrepreneurship from the Alfred Lerner College of Business & Economics at the University of Delaware.

She’s spent the past two decades at AstraZeneca, starting with leading a team that built eDetailing, eSampling and Key Opinion Leader extranets across multiple countries and continued with innovative packaging, Connected Devices and Commercial Innovation – an effort that resulted in winning multiple marketing excellence awards for her pioneering work in that area.

Litherland has led Resonate Forward – which has the challenging goal of delivering breakthrough medical device technology for people with Parkinson’s disease – for the last seven years. When she met co-founder Dr. Ingrid Pretzer-Aboff at the University of Delaware and saw the clinical data on an early version of Resonate Forward’s device, “I knew that I needed to be a part of bringing this technology to market because it could make such an impact for people with Parkinson’s.”

Resonate Forward was a 2021 STEM Class winner in the Delaware Division of Small Business Encouraging Development, Growth and Expansion (EDGE) Grant program. The company also placed first in the Life Sciences Category and was a Blue Hen Prize winner in the Delaware Prosperity Partnership (DPP)-led Startup302 competition in 2022.

Whether for Resonate Forward or with AstraZeneca, Litherland’s inspiration is developing extraordinary patient experiences that deliver improvements in patient outcomes by building partnerships with leading healthcare systems, payers and startups. Speaking with DPP, she recently shared her thoughts about innovating in Delaware and what every innovator needs to succeed:

Why is Delaware a great state to be an innovator?

Delaware is a great state to be an innovator, especially in the sciences, because there are so many resources and established networks here to support new ideas, new businesses or any challenge. I’ve been able to tap into so many different resources and experts. We have partnered with the University of Delaware for research and engineering help, and there are opportunities for office space, lab space and clean rooms. I’ve worked with the Horn Entrepreneurship program for legal expertise in the areas of intellectual property, grant writing and manufacturing. I’ve always found that with the close networks in Delaware, everyone is very willing to help and is also willing to leverage connections in Philadelphia, Boston, D.C., and New York. If you can’t find an answer to a question or resource someone can usually connect you with an expert close by.

The Delaware networks welcome and support new businesses and new members with tangible resources, including the Delaware BioScience Association’s bi-monthly BioBreakfasts, the Delaware Innovation Space at the DuPont Experimental Station, the Horn Entrepreneurship center, UD’s STAR Campus, the Small Business Development Center and the state’s EDGE Grant program. These programs bring together people, knowledge and resources from large established science businesses with undergraduate and graduate students looking for new opportunities and startups and growing business to build networks that help you solve multiple challenges and identify areas where you can strengthen your business.

John Rabolt and Theresa Litherland accept a 2021 EDGE Grant for Resonate Forward from state Representative Jeff Spiegelman and Governor John Carney.

What qualities should a successful innovator have?

Successful innovators need:

  • Optimism and grit to stay the course they know is right, even when others tell them their idea is crazy or won’t work; when they’re sitting alone working tons of hours to meet a customer demand; or when it feels like there isn’t a way forward.
  • Passion for the customer they are trying to serve as their North Star.
  • Flexibility to go in new or unexpected turns to survive pandemics or find a new business model when the first one doesn’t work.
  • Humility and smarts to hire a team or find business partners that can balance their weaknesses.
  • Persistence to get you to your goals.

What advice would you give innovators just starting?

If you encounter a challenge you can’t solve, reach out for ideas. You will be really surprised at who will offer help and support.

Talk to your customers often and keep good records of their feedback, whenever you need a little inspiration or direction, go there first.

Partner with people who have different views and different skills, so you don’t need to carry the full burden of a new idea on your own.

Prepare. This may take much longer than you expect but appreciate the journey. I’ve learned more than I ever expected, I’ve been able to do more than I ever expected and I have met many amazing experts who have guided me.

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