Kelly Gardner, 31
This bioengineer figured out how to handle a key challenge facing biotech startups.
Your company makes a test that can measure protein levels in single cells. Why is this important?
Proteins are the functional molecules of the cell. Measuring them is vital to understanding and targeting disease. But they’re much more challenging to measure than DNA because they can’t be amplified—you have to measure the molecules that are actually in the cell.
Measuring proteins in single cells could help us understand a tumor. Are all the cells in a tumor going to be targeted by a drug, or do some of them lack the drug target? Which cells will metastasize?
Who uses your test?
Right now we’re focused on the research market. Before we started our product development, we interviewed over 100 biomedical researchers to find out what applications people were interested in, and designed our hardware to meet that need.
You say you followed the “lean startup” model, which comes from the software industry. Why did you adopt it?
You see a lot of academic publications that are innovative, but they never make it out of the lab. One barrier is the willingness of investors to fund early-stage biotech companies. Life sciences startups can be incredibly expensive. We did it with only $1.8 million in private and public funding and seven employees. We were acquired by ProteinSimple [a division of a public company called Bio-Techne] this spring, after two and a half years.
Are you already antsy to start another company?
I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and in the Bay Area it’s hard not to be distracted by shiny things. But it’s important for me to make sure this technology is successful.