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AWS For Life Science? With $4.1M In The Bank, Transcriptic Wants To Reinvent Scientific Research

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As a biomedical engineering student at Duke, Max Hodak became intimately familiar with the sterile tedium of life in a research lab. Like many others who’ve spent wasted hours of their lives in white coats, he found the fact that most labs still look and operate as they did thirty years ago frustrating. Beyond the fact that many labs are disconnected and aren’t networked, research itself remains a manual, hands-on process, involving a lot of moving small amounts of liquid from one tube to another or handling petri dishes.

Watching researchers spend so much time waiting around to use one machine or another, and navigating a manual process where mistakes are both easy to make and costly, Hodak came to the conclusion that labs could use a little automation — and a few more robots. A programmer since age six, the biology student decided to engineer a solution and give life sciences its own, custom version of Amazon Web Services.

The result is Transcriptic, a startup and service provider that aims to make the day-in-day-out process of wet lab biology research faster, cheaper and more accessible. Basically, Transcriptic is Science-as-a-Service — or, in other words — a software and robot-enabled remote lab, which uses automation and control technology to perform studies and trials in less time than your average bear, er, Contract Research Organization (or CRO).

In today’s life sciences, CROs are the only option for those in need of third-party support for clinical testing and research, and, as such, now represent a multi-billion dollar industry. With its technology and services, Transcriptic is, in a way, looking to play the role of CRO 2.0 and reverse the traditionally lengthy sales process, slow turnarounds and high prices endemic among the incumbents.

Of course, it’s easy for Hodak to say that biology — at least the human side — should revolve around the analysis, creating hypotheses and designing experiments, not the manual leg-work. But biology research, cloning and genotyping, and testing in every area in between is precise, and reliability is key. Furthermore, for some, the manual tasks inherent to testing and tweaking are an important part of the process, and many scientists (especially those over a certain age) are loathe to the idea of outsourcing the research process — especially to a startup.

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In part, this explains why, at least in the early-stages, Transcriptic has been finding easy converts among grad students and younger scientists, who, Hodak says, quickly understand the value proposition. Though it’s not limited to younguns, as the startup today counts researchers at Stanford, Caltech, UCSD, Harvard, MIT and the University of Chicago among its customers.

Transcriptic still has a battle in front of it to convince scientists they can trust a startup for fast, reliable and affordable results, though its case can improve as it collects more data, the founder says. Plus, when you get down to it, what lab wouldn’t like to be able to run more experiments in less time? By making this (theoretically) possible, and by pointing to the larger, macro trend of medical and life science companies and processes moving to the cloud, the core concept becomes less frightening.

It’s the case that Transcriptic has also used to appeal to venture capitalists, who apparently are in need of some convincing these days when it comes to life sciences. A recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers found that life sciences lagged behind other industries in 2013 — both in terms of the amount invested and the number of deals. The startup’s argument appears to be working, too, as Transcriptic closed 2012 by raising $1.2 million in seed financing led by Google Ventures, with support from Founders Fund’s seed investment vehicle as well as angel investors like Mark Cuban and Naval Ravikant.

And now, with a business that Hodak says has been doubling every month since October, investors are doubling down on Transcriptic. The startup added another $2.8 million in this week in a round led by IA Ventures — which sees IA’s Brad Gillespie joining the board — along with additional support from Google Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, Data Collective and Boost.vc. The round brings Transcriptic’s total to $4.1 million.

With the new capital under its belt, Transcriptic has big product plans in its sights, and although Hodak declined to share too many details, it looks as if the startup is moving to expand its services and research coverage. On top of that, Transcriptic is eager to grow its team and invest in more equipment. Life Sciences hardware can be a hard sell for some VCs, but the company has managed to remain lean (like building a freezer for $8K which Hodak told the Verge would have cost $400K retail) and, if it’s able to follow through (even in part) with its mission to help change how research is done, has big implications.

Plus, as Transcriptic’s “About Us” page reads: “We want seed incubators to fund biotech companies composed of two graduate students and a laptop, not social-local-mobile photo-sharing apps.” For supporters of life science — and, hey, science in general — that’s a goal that’s easy to get behind.

For more, find Transcriptic at home here.

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Read more : AWS For Life Science? With $4.1M In The Bank, Transcriptic Wants To Reinvent Scientific Research

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