Alexander Murer, CEO at Kilobaser tells us why they built their own DNA synthesizer.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Alexander Murer: We are doing quite fine. Personally, I’m usually a very active person and pursue several passions – Covid turned me into a 24/7 worker, which is also fine for a while – I’m glad that I can go to work.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Kilobaser.
Alexander Murer: I was studying molecular biology in Graz, Austria but was soon very bored by this old-fashioned theory-heavy, hierarchical style of education. So I started my own projects in my free time, I decided to build simple lab equipment. Two friends joined my hobby project, and together we soon decided that we also need a lab for our basic equipment – so we invited all our friends, colleagues to found an open community genetic engineering lab called ‘Open Biolab Graz Austria’, that was in 2013. About a half year later, we actually had a fully operational, basic lab. Well, at some point, I was wondering: “Where does DNA come from?” since most labs just order DNA from out-sourced providers and started to learn about artificial DNA synthesis, the needed equipment…and decided to build our own DNA synthesizer.
How does Kilobaser innovate?
Alexander Murer: We’ve developed and sell the world first personal DNA synthesizer. A device that allows any biologists so conveniently produce DNA on their benchtop. The device is based on microfluidic chip and reagent cartridge technology.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Alexander Murer: In the beginning, it was quite tough since we launched our product in the middle of the pandemic. We changed our sales strategy to fully online and are now doing quite well. But I’m looking forward to the end of the pandemic since many life science labs are actually still barely or only half operational, their employees’ in-home office.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Alexander Murer: Yes, we had to save money somehow. Luckily there was quite good financial support from the government here. More than half of us were only working short hours, but we didn’t have to lay people off.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Alexander Murer: Well, we use a CRM system to keep track and stay via video chats in contact with our customers.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Alexander Murer: Yes, we got grants. We would have had sufficient regular grants/private funding to get through the crisis, but the ridiculous part was that one funding agency wouldn’t lower the milestones we agreed to before the crisis. So we had to go through a lot of paperwork to get another grant which was covid-19 support. Definitely better than nothing, but caused a lot of unnecessary headaches.