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Bootstrapped warrior: Why a 13-year-old open source platform believes raising funds may harm business


The biobanking market witnessed a considerable boom in the early part of this century to assist in the acceleration of research-related programmes.

Biobanks, which store biological samples such as blood, saliva, plasma, DNA, and RNA for use in research, mushroomed across the world.

However, amidst the growth frenzy, they failed to realize the overall viability and usefulness of biobanks in view of the significant resources required to keep them running.

The challenge they faced over the years was to produce quality-assured fit-for-purpose clinically annotated samples.

Then came informatics and startups like OpenSpecimen to their aid.

Pune-based OpenSpecimen is an open source biobanking informatics platform that permits users to enter and retrieve data concerning the collection, storage, quality assurance, and distribution of biospecimens.

“We have been able to address the core issue — informatics — and become a relevant player in the biobanking space,” said Srikanth Adiga, Founder and CEO, OpenSpecimen.

The platform provides the service in 15 countries, including US, UK, Singapore, Jordan, Egypt, Australia and New Zealand and has tied up with over 30 biobanks. Half of its business is based in the US and around 25 per cent in Australia.

The company services about 60 clients which include Stanford University, John Hopkins University, Pennsylvania state university, Singapore General Hospital and Karonlinska Institutet.

A long-haul journey

OpenSpecimen’s journey goes back to 2004. It was launched as caTissue, which was initially developed with US National Cancer Institute funding under the caBIG program.

In 2014, the product was renamed OpenSpecimen, which indicates that the product can support all diseases and specimens.

The platform was transformed from a service company into a technology platform — an open source biobank-centric software platform, which is free to download and use. The software allows users to organize thousands of biomedical samples by type, age, request, consent, collection, distribution, and other factors.

It’s been 13 years of the company and it’s totally independent of outside funding and running a successful and profitable business.

OpenSpecimen doesn’t require external capital

The basic question is – when they are an open source platform how do they make money? The answer is ‘expertise’.

“Despite being an open source platform, which is absolutely free, companies still need services such as deployment, configuration, data migration and other support. And being the developer of the product, we are experts in that and charge our customers in lieu of our continuous services,” explained Adiga.

He added that he has also built various plug-ins which users can download and put in their products. He offers 15 plug-ins such as animal biobanks, rapid data entry, specimen catalog and openfreezer mode, among others. He offers these services under its marketplace model to clients — enterprise customers.

OpenSpecimen’s services are available in silver, gold and setup models. Under the silver model, it provides basic product support in the price of $15000 for a year. Under gold, the comprehensive support service is available for $25000 per year. The setup model consists of installation, protocols creation, screens and reports configuration, data migration and custom development under a one-time charge of over $35000.

“We have the right kind of business model where users can pay and take our continuous services. It’s a tried and tested model and we don’t need any outside funding to sustain or to expand. Besides, as you bring in new investors they try to change things according their whims and fancies, which may cause the core value of the company to go for a toss,” said Adiga.

The company claims to grow at a rate of 25 per cent year-on-year and expects to multiply in the coming future. “Many new markets are opening as developing countries are also spending millions of dollars on medical research. And in such cases, our role becomes indispensable,” said Adiga.

Future plans

OpenSpecimen is planning to introduce more products in the biobanking research space and data analytics is the next target product. It also aims to build more easy kind of systems for users, which is also the most challenging part.

Besides, as the company is planning to explore new markets it will face newer challenges in these countries as well. But, the open software platform is ready to hedge its bets on new areas and markets.

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