Business

Bio::Neos bridges the gap by developing a marketable bioinformatics software

Steven Davis, president, works in his office at Bio::Neos in the Bio Ventures Center at the University of Iowa Research Park in Coralville on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. The company creates custom software for life sciences researchers. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Steven Davis, president, works in his office at Bio::Neos in the Bio Ventures Center at the University of Iowa Research Park in Coralville on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. The company creates custom software for life sciences researchers. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CORALVILLE — On any given day, the tight-knit work group at Bio::Neos pours a lot of energy into its latest custom software project for the research community.

So much energy, said Bio::Neos co-founder and President Steven Davis, that the team sometimes would forget the need to have a new project lined up when the current one ended.

“We’d go through a crunch period at the end of a project and spend every available moment finding the next project,” he said. “Then we’d get a new project and relax.

“That kind of back and forth is challenging and stressful.”

But things are changing for the Coralville-based software development company.

In the past two years, the company has placed an emphasis on expanding to new markets and outsourcing some of those easily neglected tasks, such as lead generation and market analysis.

Those efforts have led to steady revenue growth.

And now the company has renewed its focus on its original mission — to develop a marketable bioinformatics software product that will aid researchers in the collection and analysis of complex biological data.

“At the start of the year, I issued a challenge to the team,” Davis said. “As much as we love our custom software projects, we have to revisit the idea of coming up with a product.”

Bio::Neos was founded in 2004 with a specific product in mind.

At the time, Davis was finishing up his master’s of science in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Iowa, where he worked as a research assistant in the Coordinated Laboratory for Computational Genomics.

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“I was at a decision point,” Davis said. “Do I pursue a Ph.D. or do I move on to the next thing?”

During a conversation with one of his academic advisers, Tom Casavant, who was lobbying for Davis to try for a Ph.D., Casavant mentioned that he had some ideas with commercial potential but needed someone to pursue them because he didn’t have the time.

“That sounded much more interesting,” Davis recalled. “I asked, ‘Would you consider me as that person?’”

Davis joined with two other students and fellow research assistants who also were wrapping up their degrees, Michael Smith and Brian O’Leary. Casavant and two additional UI faculty members — Terry Braun and Todd Scheetz — served as scientific advisers to the young company.

O’Leary left the company in 2008, but the others remain involved.

Bio::Neos founders’ original intent was to commercialize a web application being used by a genomic researcher at the College of Medicine to organize a massive amount of genetic data.

But Davis said they made a critical mistake.

“We didn’t talk to anyone else,” he said. “We were engineering in a vacuum.”

After two years of work, their mistake became apparent.

“There was no other researcher working at that level,” Davis said. “There was no market for our product. We had to figure out what to do.”

Their solution was to focus on developing custom software for life science researchers. They differentiated themselves from other software development groups by their backgrounds in genetics and bioinformatics.

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“We speak the scientific language,” Davis said. “We bridge the gap between biological and computational knowledge.

The company’s early clients primarily were academic labs focused on life-science research, but it now has expanded its reach to private sector research groups, additional fields of study, health care technology businesses and even some international clients.

With just two employees, Davis and Smith, after O’Leary moved on in 2008, Bio::Neos has increased its staff to five with the addition of two junior developers and an office manager.

Davis said the company is putting the processes and structure in place to ramp up to a staff of 15.

The company also is working toward producing a commercial product for cancer and genomic research that will provide a steady baseline of revenue for the company.

“If we don’t drop the ball, I think we can have the pipeline in place by 2019,” Davis said.

In part to give back to the community that has supported Bio::Neos over the years and in part to support the company’s anticipated future staffing needs, Davis and his staff are actively involved in STEM and computer science education initiatives.

l Businesses chosen to be featured in “A Day in the Life” were from those nominated for this year’s Gazette Business Awards. For information on the Oct. 30 awards banquet, go to thegazette.com/2018businessawards.

 

At a glance

- Business: Bio::Neos

- Address: 2500 Crosspark Road, Suite W150, Coralville

- Website: bioneos.com

- Chief Officer: Steven Davis

- Number of employees: 5

- Years in operation: 14

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