Bridging Tech and BioTech

As life science converges with big data and redefines biotech, there are more opportunities for engineers and mathematicians to found life science ventures. How difficult is it to make the transition from tech to biotech?

As the worlds of biomedicine, information technology and digital health intersect, numerous opportunities are opening up for new types of biotech startups. Although I trained as an electrical engineer and have built two companies focusing on wireless technology, my latest venture, Edico Genome (La Jolla, CA, USA; Box 1), lies at this intersection of biology and technology. To many in the world of high tech and information technology (IT), the world of biotech ventures and their business models might seem complex and alien. Drawing on my experience moving from wireless technology startups to the world of biotech, I provide here some tips for engineers, mathematicians and others who are thinking about making a similar leap to the world of the bioentrepreneur.

My path to biotech

During my career, I have had the fortune of working both as an academic and as a serial entrepreneur. Electrical engineering was the focus of my undergraduate and graduate studies and the subject I taught as a professor at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. This area was the basis for all of the technologies I had invented before I moved to the life sciences.

My first company was Zyray Wireless, which I founded in the summer of 2000 and which was based in Pretoria. Soon after, I made the decision to move the headquarters to San Diego, which enabled the company to capitalize on the supportive startup culture in the US and the increased credibility that building a company in the US holds, as well as gain greater access to funding and experienced engineers and people. The excellent talent pool that exists in San Diego was a great draw for me; many experienced electrical engineers are located in San Diego because Qualcomm’s headquarters are there. In San Diego, I worked with the team to build a line of advanced semiconductor and multiple antenna products for 3G mobile devices. In June 2004, Zyray was acquired by Broadcom (Irvine, CA, USA) for $96 million. I became chief architect at Broadcom, working in the office of the chief technology officer for a few years before leaving and cofounding ecoATM, a San Diego-based startup that produces automated self-serve kiosks for selling back cell phones, tablets or MP3 players for cash. ecoATM was acquired by Outerwall for $350 million in 2013.

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