This week we have an interview with Richard Holland, Chief Business Officer and Co-Founder of Eagle Genomics a bioinformatics company that leverages scientific open source software to support its business model. Enjoy the interview!
F4S: Greetings Richard. Please, give us a brief introduction about your company Eagle Genomics.
Richard: Eagle Genomics is an outsourced bioinformatics services and software company specialising in genome content management and the provision of open-source solutions. Eagle consistently delivers quality and value-for-money for customers across the biotech sector, combining cloud and NGS expertise with a track record in building scalable, efficient genomics analysis workflows.
F4S: When and why was Eagle Genomics founded? Where is it located?
Richard: The company was founded in May 2008 and is based in offices on the Babraham Research Campus, just to the South of Cambridge, UK. It was started because we saw a need for commercial support for users of the Ensembl genome browser, but the business has grown and diversified hugely since then.
F4S: What is your business model and how do you leverage open source software to support it?
Richard: We currently provide commercial services to help people implement and use systems that are built using open-source bioinformatics software components. Commercial services include installation, customisation and integration of tools such as the Ensembl genome browser or the eHive workflow engine, training staff to use them or customise them themselves, and constructing data analysis workflows for genomic data that make use of the best available components (not necessarily all open-source though) in order to help answer scientific research questions.
F4S: How many clients do you have? Can you mention some of them?
Richard: We can’t mention any by name due to confidentiality agreements, but our client industries include big pharma, crop science, animal health, personal hygiene, food science, universities, government labs, and smaller biotech companies right down to the newest startups.
F4S: Are you self-funded or did Eagle Genomics got started with venture capital?
Richard: We are completely self-funded, debt-free, and have no external investment (yet).
F4S: How many employees does Eagle Genomics have?
Richard: 11 on the payroll, more joining soon.
F4S: What career opportunities are there in the company?
Richard: We are always looking for experienced (5+ years) bioinformaticians who like to work in an operational environment as opposed to a research environment. Java and Perl our are top language requirements, and experience with the Amazon cloud is a bonus.
F4S: How will you describe Eagle Genomics’s working environment?
Richard: Very flexible and dynamic. We value getting things done well and on time, and it is important that we can be there to respond quickly and helpfully when our customers need us to. These are the top criteria we use to evaluate staff performance.
F4S: Do you have industry partners?
Richard: We are an Amazon Web Services Solution Provider. We also have formal collaboration agreements with the Ensembl project at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and European Bioinformatics Institute, with the Taverna project at the University of Manchester, and with the TraitTag project at the John Innes Centre.
F4S: What challenges have you faced been a business based on open source software?
Richard: As we do not currently own the IP of much (if any) of the software that we use or install for our customers, it can be hard to explain to less-enlightened people how the business model actually works or how the company can have a commercial value in business terms. However once we use the RedHat analogy the penny usually drops and they begin to understand.
F4S: What advice could you give to someone who is thinking about starting a business using scientific open source software?
Richard: Don’t over-estimate the number of potential customers out there or the budgets that customers have available to spend on new technology – often neither are as big as you think they are. Also, don’t under-estimate the amount of time it’ll take to make a sale, especially your first sale. It is on average 6 to 9 months from first contact to signing a contract and you will need to plan your finances with this in mind.
F4S: Which projects, blogs or sites related to open source software for science can you recommend?
Richard: Ours! http://blog.eaglegenomics.com/
F4S: Is there any other topic you would like our readers to know about?
Richard: Cloud computing is over-hyped but it is genuinely useful. We’d be happy to help advise any bioinformatics groups who are considering trying it out but have not yet done so.
F4S: Where people can contact you?
F4S: Thanks to you Richard.