Back in 2000, Bob Bean had an idea, one that was radical for its time: What if there were a way to automate genetic testing?
The testing, which is also known as genotyping, involves examining and identifying differences in DNA sequences. The practice has long been critical to scientific research — in controlling the spread of disease or in testing fatherhood or motherhood, for instance. But until recently, it was a time-consuming procedure that scientists or lab assistants typically did by hand. Bean’s vision: Labs could send their samples via express shipment to a central facility. There, an automated system would send back highly accurate results.
There was only one problem — no such systems existed. And Bean, a seminary graduate who had previously worked as a church musician and in pharmaceutical sales, wasn’t entirely sure where to start.
Fast-forward 16 years. Today, Bean is the founder and CEO of Transnetyx, a Memphis company with 65 employees that specializes in, yes, automated genetic testing. Since its founding in 2004, it has tested more than 75 million samples for customers from across the globe. And it provides those customers with results that are 99.97 percent accurate.
How did Transnetyx get to this point? After Bean’s original inspiration, he wrote up a detailed business plan for how to develop and run the facility. He then approached dozens of potential funders with the concept. All of them turned him down before a Colorado-based venture capital fund agreed to take a chance. “They took a big leap of faith with us,” Bean says.
That big leap began paying off almost immediately. Bean’s instincts were right — Transnetyx quickly found robust demand for its services. Within several years, Bean was able to invest in new generations of automated equipment, add dozens of new employees and expand into new facilities that effectively allowed the company to double its testing capacity.
As Bean explains, the Transnetyx outsourcing model is particularly valuable to researchers. “Genotyping is not the purpose of research,” he says. “The purpose of research is discovery. Genotyping is critical to discovery, but researchers will be far better served by actually doing research. We completely take the need for genotyping off their plates, and that can greatly speed up the research process.”
Shipping has also proved to be a critical component for the company’s business model. “We needed to find a way to make it easy for customers to send samples to us,” Bean says. “So we contacted FedEx about FedEx Web Services. And we thought, why create our own shipping system when we can integrate with our website what FedEx has already developed?”
The shipping process is seamless. Transnetyx has its own drop-off centers at close to 100 universities around the world. (Bean notes about 75 percent of his clients are based in the U.S., 20 percent are in Europe and 5 percent are in Australia, Singapore and Japan.) Clients simply place their samples in a special Transnetyx container. FedEx Express ships the containers to the Transnetyx facility in Memphis. U.S. clients get results within 24 hours, and international customers have theirs in 72 hours.
“On one hand, this is a very simple business,” says Bean. “But it offers some enormous benefits. By speeding up the testing process, we help speed up the research process — and potentially help bring medicines and cures to the market much faster.”