BBV Founder Spotlight: Tara deBoer — BioAmp Diagnostics
The BBV Founder Spotlight is a series of posts highlighting founders from our portfolio companies and the incredible work they are pursuing to solve challenges in critical industries such as health and climate through technology innovation.
Thank you Tara for taking the time.
Contributor Irfan Vissandjee
Tell us about your company. What defines your innovation?
BioAmp Diagnostics is a mission-driven diagnostics company, working to be a part of the changing landscape of health care by providing simple and scalable diagnostic solutions that can direct care in real-time — in hospitals, at clinics, or in a patient’s home. BioAmp is first working to develop rapid diagnostic tests to counteract antibiotic resistance and empower physicians with the information they need to treat patients with the right antibiotic the first time. The current diagnostic standard applied to diagnose, and direct care of all suspected bacterial infections (such as bloodstream or urinary tract infections) is traditional microbiology, which takes days to yield results because it is reliant on the growth of bacteria. BioAmp leverages a low-tech diagnostic assay known as DETECT that was designed to reveal the presence of key antibiotic resistance markers to define appropriate treatment, circumventing the need for bacterial growth.
Where did your company’s name come from?
BioAmp’s core technology is based on a signal amplification strategy known as DETECT: dual-enzyme trigger-enabled cascade technology. DETECT amplifies the presence of low abundant biomarkers. Hence “Bio” corresponds to biomarkers that DETECT can be applied to “Amp” amplify the signal of — BioAmp.
What was the motivation behind starting your company?
BioAmp’s core technology was formulated as part of a National Institute of Health (NIH) funded consortium comprised of public health specialists, physicians, clinicians, microbiologist, chemists and bioengineers. After demonstrating the feasibility of the approach in our pivotal validation study, it just became clear to me that in order to give the technology the best opportunity of reaching and impacting the care of patients we would need to be deeply apart of the commercialization process.
What role did the University play in the formation of your company or technology?
UC Berkeley played an instrumental role in supporting and inciting the formation of BioAmp from day 0. I was a postdoctoral researcher when I co-developed the core technology that powers BioAmp’s diagnostic approach, and I worked very closely with the fantastic team at the Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) at UC Berkeley to secure early IP protections. Frankly, BioAmp may not be here today if it were not for the support of OTL. We did not have the funds or legal infrastructure as a company to support early IP protection activities and leaned on the experienced individuals of the OTL to protect the first IP that would prove critically important to securing early funds and enticing strategic partnerships.
How did you meet your co-founder? How long did it take?
I have had two fantastic co-founders: Jessica Palomino, Ph.D., and Nicole Tarlton, Ph.D (late-stage founder). I went to graduate school with Jessica Palomino at UC Santa Cruz. She had worked in industry previously and was really motivated by the opportunity of building a product. I approached Jessica after the first validation study was performed and she pretty immediately decided that she wanted to help lead this venture. Jessica and I had worked for 4 years together on multiple projects while attending graduate school. We were familiar with each other’s working styles, respected each other as people, and were both aligned on wanting to be a part of building something that could have a larger impact on patients. For this reason, it was a quick decision to work together to found BioAmp in April 2017.
Co-Founder Nicole Tarlton came on in 2018. Nicole is a very talented microbiologist who studied mechanisms of antibiotic resistance in the bacterial pathogens that we were targeting. Her technical skillset perfectly complemented mine, which was instrumental in preparing us for the larger-scale feasibility study that acted as a springboard to fundraising and technology expansion. Nicole was a graduate student in Prof. Lee Riley’s group in the Public Health Department at UCB when I met her. We had the opportunity to build a relationship through “on-the-job” experience of working together to execute the significant undertaking of the validation study. This was an extremely high-stakes and high-pressure situation and it allowed us both to evaluate how we worked under pressure together. At the end of this study, we realized that we could work together to achieve and execute big and complex projects in a very complementary fashion. This equated to a 6–8 month courtship, if you will :)
How is the firm different today than when you first started?
We are more organized and product-focused than we have ever been right now. This, of course, has only been made possible by a number of fabulous team members who have and continue to work diligently at defining product-market-fit of our tech and evolving our understanding of the complex ecosystem of healthcare that we are working to deliver our first product to.
How has the fundraising process been for the company?
It has been consistent and relatively seamless. I really attribute this to the amazing support and established investor network of the UC Berkeley entrepreneurial ecosystem. Our strategy has been to talk with groups and potential investor partners who are familiar with the diagnostic space and/or who have technical backgrounds. The UC Berkeley entrepreneurial network is not short of this profile of investor partner. We have had some fantastic lead angel investors who have supported the diligence process and have made us a better company because of it. I actually really enjoy the diligence process because, when you are sitting across the table from an experienced investor or technologist, it is an opportunity to identify blind spots in the business and to evolve our business model and approach. We are building a new product and a new market. Our plans need to be continually pressure-tested to ensure the highest likelihood of success.
What aspects of BBV’s coaching and support was the most helpful?
We find the opportunity of talking through our evolving business strategy with the BBV team invaluable. The BBV team continues to act as an amazing sounding board that offers a depth of experience and diverse points of view as we work to address key areas of risk across our business. Further, they have supported our core team as we have had to navigate the trials and tribulations as an early-stage startup. The latter has been recognized, undoubtedly, as their larger contribution to the BioAmp team because we would not be here today if it were not for their early mentorship and support.
What’s ahead for your company in 2021?
We are excited for 2021! We have our eyes set on activities that are all focused on finessing our end-to-end market entry strategy and validating our target product profile.
What lasting impact do you want to leave with your company?
To always (1) allow data to be the engine that drives our decisions across all facets of the business and (2) be brave enough to pressure test and question assumptions and hypotheses as a strategy to keep an innovative edge.
Describe your firm’s culture in 5 words or less.
Passionate, empathetic, open, scrappy, and sincere