The death of Aretha Franklin worked its way into all facets of news this past week.  Not just entertainment news, but political reporters, social activists and people from many walks of life commented on her impact.  The outpouring of sadness at her passing reminds me that there are many ways you can make a mark in this world, many ways you can touch others’ lives.  Not all of us, really not many of us, are likely to be as well-known or well-remembered as Aretha Franklin.  But the breadth of our visibility isn’t where it’s at.  For me (and many others), it’s a purpose, a mission.

Aretha Franklin died from a form of pancreatic cancer.  She wasn’t that old – only 76.  My dad passed away more than 10 years ago, also from pancreatic cancer.  It’s a reminder that there are many diseases where we don’t have a cure or even a particularly effective or life-prolonging therapy.  These unconquered areas are why the startup world can hold so much promise.

But I wonder sometimes if those missions get lost somewhere in the ever-growing focus on fortune and fame.  Take some of the most common reported stories in biotech news.  It is who is getting funding and just how many millions of dollars are pouring in.  Or another one of my “favorites” (or truthfully anti-favorites), which CEO of pharma is making the most money.

I realize money is a necessary part of building a company – having sufficient resources to attract talent, to carry out research and product development, to market.  It’s necessary for companies to make money and returns for investors.  Even so, does the purpose get buried under all of this? Does the goal become lost or obscured?

I spoke to a founder of a startup just the other day who told me how she went into her field because her dad died from a neurodegenerative disease.  She wanted to find a treatment for others that wasn’t available to her dad.  It renewed my faith to hear that, to see someone with a difficult problem and a not-so-straightforward path, commit to that goal.  It’s not the first time I have encountered such a purpose-driven startup, but it was nice to have that reminder again.

And I don’t think this sense of purpose is limited to founders or to researchers.  Many roles in the startup world, including investors, and yes, attorneys can have a similar purpose.  Their roles in supporting startups can be critical to a company’s survival.  And if that company has the breakthrough idea, the one we hope will bring new therapies and cures – then survival and support to the finish line is critical.