Like every DNA or bioinformatics startup, Omnigen from Rotterdam can be considered controversial. The company gives its users information about their DNA by analyzing their spit. We talked with founder Berry Kriesels about how to market such ideas.
How did Omnigen come about?
I left school when I was 15 or 16 and started as an entrepreneur building IT systems for apothecaries and pharmaceutical companies. When at the age of 21 I got my first child, I wanted more opportunities for it. So I applied for an education in bioinformatics, and then a bachelor and master degree.
During that time a fellow college student sent out a questionnaire about DNA and genetics. That caught my attention. Eventually that questionnaire reached Innosport, the innovation department of the national sport association NOC/NSF, and they were interested in the research. So we thought: we should do something with this. For me it was a no-brainer, wanting to be an entrepreneur once more after my graduation. And so Omnigen was born.
The first steps, how did that go?
Within two months, in the end of 2014, we raised a pre-seed funding of 105.000 euro. In the meantime we and a partner got a shared subsidy from the government for 300.000 euro.
What makes Omnigen different from companies like 23andme?
Their biggest flaw is a lack of interaction. The information given is very static – like “this is the outcome” and that’s it. There should be added value in that information: what does it mean and how can I use this to improve my lifestyle? We tend to make this more actionable by converting the data into human language.
In the future we want to make Omnigen more interactive and pro-active for clients. For instance: with a wearable you could monitor or warn people with a hearth condition.
DNA startups are kind of controversial. How do you ’sell’ this idea?
Well, I’m very pro-privacy myself. I hate electronic health records. I even voted for the Pirate Party (a pro-privacy political party, red.). So if there’s just one person who’s a fan of privacy, it’s me. You need to be very pro privacy. At the moment a customer receives our spit kit, we throw away their name and contact details. The kit works with an unique code so they can activate it online. We do everything we can to maximize the anonymity of our clients, while maintaining our ability to offer our services effectively.
But then they’ll have another contact moment, right?
Yes, they can leave their e-mail address to receive the personalized summaries of the DNA sample. Users can of course create their own discreet e-mail account. A discreet e-mail account is not a part of our service, of course. But we do prefer people to use an address that is not linked to their name.
You talked about making Omnigen more interactive. What are you working on to make that happen?
We’re developing a web portal so users have access to their genetic data online. Right now we send custom PDF-files, but when a new scientific discovery is made or when new insights are developed, these are presented to our users. We can add those markers right into our database. That way people don’t have to send in their spit over and over again.
We talked about the consumers market mostly, but what about B2B?
Our focus is on B2B actually. That’s because the DNA market for B2B is more developed. We use most of the B2B revenues to work on the B2C segment as well. Also, Omnigen is used in the sports market – in a B2B setting where we deliver DNA consultancy to professional athletes and clubs.
You participated at the Get in the Ring national final. What did that bring you?
Although we lost in the final, we got some pretty nice contacts out of it. Afterwards, one company from the ’big four’ came to us. Also, we received requests from companies that we didn’t expect to be interested in this topic. Obviously, I can’t tell any details.
What is Omnigen’s biggest challenge?
With our MVP active, we found our first customers. But we need to scale up fast. That’s why we are looking for a second investment round. We’re aiming for 250.000 euro for the development of our web portal and marketing. We’re also working on a crowdfunding campaign, to be launched later this year.
Is there something you want to say to all the startup lovers out there?
You need to think about your startup every minute of the day, 24/7. If you don’t think ’this is going to work’, then you’re not an entrepreneur. Also, it’s not about the money. You need to accomplish a dream and there’s nothing to stop you. Having a startup is a lifestyle, you succeed or you don’t. Even if investors don’t get your idea, it’s ok. The real entrepreneur keeps on going.