Want to save the world? Start a company!

It’s difficult to envision how different life is now from just a couple of years ago when I began undertaking a project with my now co-founder to develop a new method for strand-specific RNA-sequencing.

As academic scientists working at UC Davis my co-founder and I undertook the difficult task of developing new RNA sequencing technologies motivated only by the desire to create better tools for biological research and to increase access to vital genomics technologies, particularly for scientists in parts of the world where the current costs of RNA-sequencing is prohibitive, but where genomics has the largest potential to address food security through improvements in agriculture.

Access to the transcriptome will make the biggest difference to the daily lives of people precisely where it is being used the least, but sadly, these are the regions with the least access. Areas of the world where RNA-seq is common, the problems with food security are not agricultural productivity.

That fact was the motivation for all the months of 80 hour weeks, long nights and worked weekends that were required to develop a new synthesis chemistry for RNA-sequencing libraries. After several months and hundreds of refinements we had reliable work-horse RNA-seq chemistry that was destined to save the world.

Using our tech internally for some time we began working with the UC Davis Office of Research to file the IP once we started putting together a manuscript on the method (more on the IP process in a later post). I believed that once the IP was filed and available from the Tech Transfer office that the world would immediately recognize the value of improved RNA-sequencing chemistry that saves time-money and improves strand-specificity. What I learned is that if you build a better mousetrap nobody cares. The majority of brilliant and innovative technologies in Tech Transfer offices simply wither and die.

No matter how good the idea or how groundbreaking a technology may be the only person who can ensure it gets out into the world where it will be useful is the inventor. This is also to be the best person for that task because nobody else understands a technology better than the inventor.

For academics this is a terrifying prospect. The thought of leaving the ivory tower is frightening when you have never known anything else. Being afraid is OK, it’s the brain’s natural response to the unknown. Being able to override that fear and make a plan to move your technology out of your lab and into the world is what is important.

That’s where we are now. Last fall, we applied to IndieBio, the world’s first and only biotechnology accelerator. Since then, things have been moving fast. Shortly after we were accepted, we relocated to San Francisco and started our company, Amaryllis Nucleics. Over the past couple of months we’ve been taking our tech out into the world to do some good.