Peek into the World of Life Sciences & Genetic Testing
Q&A with the Co-Founder of Watchmaker Genomics
Simple Startup was founded by two serial entrepreneurs who wanted to help incredible startups and businesses across the world translate their vision into numbers so they could make informed business decisions to scale their company and increase their impact on the world.
We think our clients are kind of a big deal, so we’re pulling them up on stage to shine the spotlight on the incredible things these world-changing ventures are doing! Recently, we spoke with Trey Foskett, the Co-Founder of Watchmaker Genomics. In this role, he applies pioneering methods in directed evolution and enzyme engineering to enable novel genomic applications. Trey’s also listed as an inventor on 3 issued patents and 2 pending patents – how cool is that?!
Watchmaker Genomics is involved in some pretty complex endeavors? Can you describe what Watchmaker Genomics does so that ‘lay people’ like me can understand and include examples of the kind of work you are completing?
Watchmaker Genomics specializes in developing new life science tools for reading, writing, and editing DNA and RNA. Our products are used in genetic testing for inherited diseases like cystic fibrosis, tumor profiling for breast cancer, and infectious diseases like COVID-19. We are excited by the innovations in genomics currently being driven by the convergence of biology, engineering, and computer science. We look forward, in some small way, to contributing to long-term improvements in human health!
What type of education and experience brought you to Watchmaker Genomics? It looks like a number of your team members have founded companies before this, can you tell us about that experience as well. We love a good serial entrepreneur story!
My background is in molecular and evolutionary biology. I was a Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado but ultimately became more interested in developing and applying new technologies to biology than pursuing an academic career in fundamental research. I co-founded my first company, Kapa Biosystems, with the vision of applying novel methods in protein engineering to improve products used for amplification (copying DNA) and later focused on products used for sequencing (reading DNA).
I believe the entrepreneurial path provides many opportunities for learning new skills across finance, business, management, law, etc. There is never a dull moment! After Roche acquired my first company, I was exposed to a variety of additional skills that are necessary for operating a much larger and more complex organization. With my current company, Watchmaker, I try to combine the benefits of the startup environment with the experience and learnings of a more mature company.
Ultimately, my passion lies in building new technologies and growing cohesive teams with great people. I truly feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to start a second company with incredibly talented and experienced co-founders and team members.
I imagine the world of enzymology, genomics, and molecular biology is pretty fast-paced and I know that technology is changing every day, how do you keep up with these advancements? Are there any organizations that address this type of continuing education?
Our primary advantage for keeping up with a fast-paced industry is the close relationships we keep with customers and collaborators. We are fortunate to have access to many industry-leading labs, companies, and research institutions from across the globe. This network provides a valuable vantage point to track industry trends and assess emerging applications. Watchmaker also subscribes to journals and trade publications such as Nature, Science, Nature Methods, Genetic Engineering News, and GenomeWeb which provide snapshots of additional innovations occurring in our industry and beyond.
From your website, it sounds like Watchmaker Genomics is actively seeking partners that are pushing the limits of the fields mentioned above. What types of partners are you looking for? What types of ‘goal’ applications are you hoping to become involved in in the future? Are there other companies that are doing similar work to yours?
Our current commercial model is to supply our products to other companies who can then build their products or services using ours as part of that infrastructure. We’re excited by new clinical genomics technologies that enable the early detection of cancer directly from the blood (liquid biopsy), the analysis of genetic information at the level of the single-cell, and the discovery of epigenetic modification to DNA that causes disease. It is in these areas that we aim to cater our products to in hopes of providing useful technology that helps other companies innovate in the name of improved health.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs looking to break into the mash-up industry of biology, engineering, and computer science? Or potentially, sectors of this industry you’re hoping more people will pay attention to and seek to address?
To entrepreneurs looking to join the industry, I would recommend gaining as much industry experience as possible prior to taking the plunge and starting your own venture.
This experience can be found by joining a start-up or a company of any size, really, and learning as much as possible. Finding good mentors and asking them to share their experiences and the lessons that they’ve learned is another great way to build your industry knowledge. And finally immerse yourself in learning about the industry by reading books and articles, like those in the publications I mentioned above, that provide context and key themes relevant to your specific passions.
I’ve found that new ideas are the easy part of being an entrepreneur. It’s the discipline, focus, and risk management instincts that are harder to come by but are essential to execute an idea and turn it into a successful business.
Learn More About Watchmaker Genomics
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