In Conversation with Josh Geballe, General Manager of Core Informatics, part of Thermo Fisher Scientific
By Andrew Adams, General Partner, Oak HC/FT
What is Core Informatics?
We are a software company that helps scientists generate insights that improve human health and our quality of life. Scientific research and clinical testing generate huge amounts of data that need to be collected, organized, and analyzed. We give scientists a cloud-based platform that helps them gather and analyze that data more efficiently to identify everything from new therapeutics to treat or cure disease, to new sources of renewable energy and improve food supply.
Laboratories are traditionally a place for instruments and research. How is technology now playing a role in the way labs and research are managed?
Today, scientific organizations are dealing with several significant changes, which we call the biopharma nexus of forces. For example, the growing use of next-generation sequencing technology to drive precision medicine and targeted therapeutics, or the increasing practice by large companies to use third-parties for their research and development.
Historically, many challenges were addressed with point products, but those products are not designed for the new research modalities and business models we see today. Fortunately platforms can be leveraged to provide a much more efficient and scalable approach. That’s what we’re doing in the scientific domain: leveraging lessons learned from other enterprise software verticals and companies — for example, pioneers like Salesforce.com — and bringing a platform-based model to the scientific community to help them navigate the changes they’re experiencing.
Core’s products apply to a diverse range of industries — from pharma to food to manufacturing. What challenges do these industries all have in common that you can address?
All those different industries rely on the same scientific principles, grounded in chemistry and biology. That is critically important. At an abstracted level, they all conduct research and development in similar ways: conducting experiments; generating samples; moving those samples through a workflow; and analyzing the results to inform decision-making.
Our platform is designed with that abstraction in mind, which gives us the flexibility to serve multiple markets.
You were recently acquired by Thermo Fisher Scientific. What drove the decision to sell?
Thermo Fisher Scientific is the world-leader in serving science, and they have relationships with just about every scientific organization in the world. The acquisition immediately expanded the ability for us to bring our platform to the market. More strategically, Thermo Fisher seized the opportunity to leverage our platform to help drive its strategy to become the leading digital science company in the world, and to dramatically increase automation, efficiency, and productivity for their clients. We’re incredibly excited to be helping craft and execute such an ambitious and important long-term strategy.
It’s also important that being part of such a large company increases our access to talent as we continue to grow our team, and provide greatly expanded career paths for our current team, which we’re very excited about.
You come from a corporate background, having previously worked at IBM in various roles spanning technology, finance, and strategy. How did you make the leap from a major multinational to a smaller, startup company?
In many ways, the change from a large multinational to a startup is less than one might expect. The principles about how to build a team, how to drive solid execution, and how to deliver financial results are very similar.
One big difference is not having all the big-company resources and infrastructure at your disposal. Similarly, it is important to embrace the challenges of wearing many hats, including constantly needing to learn new things, and coping with the extra stress of running a small business.
You ran for public office right out of undergraduate school. Are you still interested in public service? What do you think public office has in common with leading a company?
My interest in public service lies in my continuing belief that there’s a real need to reinvent how government operates and the role it can play in driving economic development and providing a safety net for people who are displaced by the rapid pace of change in our economy.
There are many more stakeholders and constraints to deal with in public service, but I think there are similarities, including the importance of being bold in setting your goals and strategy, challenging the status quo of how things are operating today, and inspiring people to help drive necessary changes.
If I weren’t a CEO I would be…
Involved in public service; likely not running for office again, but trying to help solve critical challenges we are facing, specifically in Connecticut. I love this state. I think it’s a fantastic place. But clearly, we have some challenges at the state level that would be fun to try to help solve.
What’s on your desk right now?
Very little. I believe less is more, so I keep a very clean desk. I have a MacBook, a cup of coffee, and my phone. That’s it.
What is your favorite source for news?
Recently, Twitter has become my favorite source for news. I think if you curate a good cross-section of people and publications, you can follow the twitter feed and stay abreast of what’s going on in the world, as well as other interesting reports and topics.
What’s a great piece of professional advice you’ve received?
Don’t be afraid to take big risks. I think entrepreneurs are the people who drive the bulk of the innovation and forward progress that we enjoy as a society, and it’s been a great experience being part of our Core journey with our cofounders, Anthony Uzzo and Jim Gregory, who quit their jobs started this company in a garage in back of the local Stop and Shop 13 years ago. Risk taking is central to our company’s success, and our success in society broadly.
What one piece of advice would you offer to an entrepreneur?
If I picked just one, it would be to be in touch with customers. If you understand your customers — what’s important to them; what their priorities are; and how you can best help address the pain points — that’s how you learn and improve and help build a successful business.