The science of marketing

“To me, biochemistry/engineering research and digital marketing have two things in common: 1) the ability to spot the trend and 2) to know which numbers matter and which do not.”

— Mina Lux

By Kyle Bournes

Digital marketing entrepreneur Mina Lux (BSc ʼ90, BASc ʼ92) can name the exact moment when science began to captivate her imagination. She was 16 years old and reading an article in Scientific American on the fluid mosaic membrane model of cell membranes.

Not typical reading for a teenager and perhaps an early indicator that she was destined for great things.

In Lux's mind, the thought that cell membranes were layers of fluid film that can build up to form an impermeable layer of skin was absolutely amazing. From that point forward, she had a simple but ambitious plan: excel in her studies from high school to university, get a PhD in engineering and become a leading expert in biochemical engineering.

By the early 1990s, everything was going according to plan. She had enrolled in a challenging double-major in biochemistry and chemical engineering at the University of Ottawa. The University was close to home and the only one in Canada to offer her an opportunity to complete the dual degree, the closest one to a biochemical engineering degree at the time. As an undergraduate, Lux worked with leading professors and researchers, including Benjamin Lu, chemical engineering professor emeritus, and David Taylor, now chair of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. She was also fortunate to work at the prestigious Chalk River Laboratories nuclear research facility during her summer breaks. These opportunities further fuelled Lux’s passion and interest.

Lux’s outstanding work in the classroom and laboratory earned her a full scholarship from the federal government for a PhD in chemical engineering (a rare five-year combined direct to PhD program). She says her graduate research would have involved investigating protein delivery systems of pharmaceutical drugs.

However, in 1995, she suddenly changed tack. The medical research she had done and her work designing production processes for vaccines in the pharmaceutical industry had involved some testing on animals. Lux says that although she understood the need for animal testing to advance knowledge, she was personally never comfortable with it. An opportunity came up for her to take over her brother’s software technology company. That year, she co-founded Media Synergy Inc. which became FloNetwork, one the fastest growing small businesses in Canada for two consecutive years.

“I thought, ‘Why not? How hard can it be?’ I knew it was going to be tough but thought ‘Heck, it’s going to be fun.’ And it was,” says Lux, adding that she got into the business just as the digital age was beginning. “There was a lot of money being invested in this new information era and that created a lot more room for us to experiment. We made mistakes. We learned from them. We got back on the right track and kept going. It was such an awesome ride and a true, rude awakening during what I call the ‘dot-com, dot-bomb’ era.”

Her company was acquired by DoubleClick for $80 million in 2001. Interestingly, Google Inc. acquired DoubleClick in 2007 for $3.1 billion in cash.

At FloNetwork, Lux designed a first-of-its-kind email technology that enabled companies to send direct emails for lead generation and revenue. The same technology now forms an integral part of Google Ads.

Mina Lux stands in front of white board with the words ‘multi-language’, ‘content’, ‘mobile’ and ‘history function’ written on it.

Photo: Meelo Logic

After Lux’s time with FloNetwork, she was a highly-sought-after digital media guru. She made the jump to New York City to work with some of the largest consumer media companies in North America. In 1998, she became the vice-president of marketing at USATODAY.com. In less than four months, she moved USATODAY.com from the number three (behind MSNBC and CNN Interactive) to the number one general news website. Lux then took on leadership roles and solved businesses challenges for high-profile online media outlets such as DoubleDay Book Clubs, the Working Woman Network, TheFrisky.com (from Turner Broadcasting), BuzzMedia, CNN/HLN, Cartoon Network, Discovery Communications and truTV. This included a seven-year stint as managing director and vice-president of online at, coincidentally, the same publication which started Lux on her journey as a teenager — Scientific American.

Today, Lux is the founder and CEO of Meelo Logic, a company that uses digital data to provide insight into how brands are performing relative to their competitors, based on real-time consumer response and behaviour prediction. Lux believes that her studies in science and ambition to become a biochemical engineer are not so far removed from the digital frontier.

“To me, biochemistry/engineering research and digital marketing have two things in common: 1) the ability to spot the trend and 2) to know which numbers matter and which do not. The ability to spot the trend is a major hinge in big data analytics. This leads you to things like predictive science, where not only will your computer in the future do the math for you, it will hopefully do half of the thinking,” says Lux. “Whereas some marketers may want to know as much as they can, I move to identify the variables that have the biggest impact for the brand towards meeting its goals. This is not easy for many because there is always the fear that ‘if I don’t look at this, will I be missing out?’ As an engineer, I learned that to be able to optimize, you must limit the number of variables that you are testing at any one time.”

Meelo Logic’s offices are located in New York’s Garment District, a few blocks from the Empire State Building. It’s hard to imagine how an ambitious young researcher went from Dr. Taylor's simulation lab in Colonel By Hall to running a high-tech company surrounded by some of the Big Apple’s most iconic buildings.

“As engineers, we’re trained to analyze data and spot trends that will affect or predict a particular outcome,” says Lux. “This key principle provided me with the foundation for building Meelo. My interest in data concepts and problem-solving all started as a student in the Faculty of Engineering.”

Through it all, Lux has not forgotten about her alma mater. She is a member of the University of Ottawa’s New York Alumni Regional Council. The council works to bring together alumni living in New York City and to build the University’s reputation there. Mina will be returning to campus on Friday, March 6 as the keynote speaker at #MakeItHappen: From Engineer to Tech Entrepreneur, timed to mark International Women’s Day (Sunday, March 8). This event will be chaired by Catherine Mavriplis, engineering professor and chair for Women in Science and Engineering (Ontario).

We welcome any alumni interested in hearing more about Lux’s story and getting an inside look at the ever-evolving digital industry to attend this event.

Main photo:
Mina Lux. Photo: Meelo Logic

Mina Lux

Mina Lux is a member of the University of Ottawa’s New York Alumni Regional Council. Photo: Meelo Logic

 

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