Learnings on Opening a Lab

Posted by | May 14, 2017 | Genomics, Startups | No Comments

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here. However, I have a good excuse! We’ve been busy opening a next generation sequencing lab!

Last year, by Dad and I were looking heavily at the space. It’s been a long time dream of his to build out a genome sequencing facility and it’s been a long time dream for me to once again blend software and life sciences (dabbled with this on my first company). Through a series of fortunate events, we had the opportunity to pull the trigger in September this year so we founded The Sequencing Center.

Since then, we’ve been working hard on the website, building out our marketing and content strategy, finding lab space, and so much more. My sister came on board to help out with everything as well, from social to account management. It’s been an all hands on deck situation. Now, we’re bootstrapping this and funding this from our day jobs, we haven’t quit the primary jobs so it’s double duty 7 days a week.

Just recently in March we found our new lab space. It’s a 1,400 sqft former surgery facility that met all the specs. A little old in age and a bit dirty but nothing a bit of TLC couldn’t solve. We signed in the middle of March and have been purchasing equipment since then. Here’s a list of just random shit that we learned throughout the process.

Getting used equipment takes forever. Seriously. The vendors in this space take forever to get anything done. Emails are usually responded within 24-48 hours, they’re highly unhelpful, and getting the equipment through QC often takes weeks. If you’re building out a similar lab, make sure that you have about 3 months of capital allocated just for the lease for while you’re purchasing equipment.

The price you see is never the final price. While this is pretty much true for most purchases, it’s especially true in this field. The vendors we worked with would provide insanely high quotes that we would haggle on heavily. As an example, one vendor quoted us $20,000 for a device which was about $6,000 more than another. However, they also had another piece of equipment we needed that the other vendor didn’t so we proposed to purchase the other piece of equipment at full price if we could get the $20k unit for $14k (a $6,000 discount). After adding a bit of added pressure to close the deal, they agreed. Everything is negotiable and if you’re a small startup on a budget, fight for the discounts.

The laws and regulations are extremely vague. Our lab is technically BSL2 rated which means we can handle a variety of sensitive organism. These aren’t likely to kill you but you have to have a BSL2 lab to handle them. Here’s the kicker: BSL2 labs don’t actually have a certification. This sent us down a rabbit hole because we assumed there was something we needed to prove that we could handle these organisms. However, after calling the EPA, CDC, local health inspector, and reviewing the 438 page document from the CDC on biosafety labs, we couldn’t find anything. Then, after talking with an equipment certifier to certify our biosafety cabinet, they said that only BSL3/4 have hard requirements. BSL1/2 have more “guidelines” than anything – an area of grey operation. As long as you had the proper certified equipment, manuals, processes, etc., then you should be fine.

Electric outlets. Make sure that you know the amp and volt limits of your outlets. Then, make sure that when you buy big equipment (such as a -80 freezer) that they map to your outlet specifications.

Have all refurbished equipment go through quality control. Make sure that in each of the invoices that you sign with resellers/refurbished vendors that they include the quality control inspection. Often times this just means turning the machine on and making sure it has some basic operations (centrifuge spins, freezer holds temperature, etc.). This is really more of a small insurance policy for you than anything else and will save you headaches.

Do a full run through the lab before accepting clients. This seems like a no brainer and fortunately it’s not something we’ve messed up on (yet!). However, this is extremely important because if you’ve accepted clients before the lab has completed a full run through and one of your equipment pieces fails, it could take weeks or months to fix. This will provide you with some pissed off customers and a hurt reputation.

We’re on the cusp of opening up our lab after a few months of painfully getting all of our equipment. We have 2 more major devices that we need and then we’ll be good to go. It’s been a journey so far and it’s only just starting. Should be fun!

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