Making it to 10 years of business is not an easy feat for any company. According to Forbes, eight out of 10 new businesses fail in the first three years. Faced with these odds, Bio::Neos, a company specializing in custom software development, is thrilled to be celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.
One question the company frequently receives is about its name. The double colon is an homage to programming language, while ‘bio’ and ‘neos’ are two Greek prefixes, which put together mean “new life.” The company is dedicated to providing new products to refresh and renew the fields of life science research.
Bio::Neos was founded in 2004 by Steve Davis, Michael Smith, Brian O’Leary, Terry Braun, Thomas Casavant, and Todd Scheetz. Davis, Smith, and O’Leary were students in the UI College of Engineering at the time, and Braun, Casavant, and Scheetz are professors who serve as scientific advisers. The company is housed at the UI Research Park’s BioVentures Center, where it creates custom software solutions focused on research in the life science fields.
For many researchers in the life sciences, the software needed to accomplish their goals or keep track of their data simply does not exist. Bio::Neos works to provide custom software that will do just what these researchers want.
“In the area of research, typically what’s being done is completely novel,” said Davis. “There typically isn’t anything available, or if there is, it might be a set of tools that could accomplish what a researcher needs, but those tools have no way of talking with each other.”
Bio::Neos is able to combine these separate tools into a single application, customized to best suit the needs of the researchers and biotech companies they serve.
To begin the process, they first make sure to discuss and understand the requirements and needs of their clients, which usually involves minimizing the scope of the project.
“Everyone is always so excited about the work they’re doing, they want to implement everything possible right from the get-go,” Davis said. “We help them prioritize and identify the most important aspects of their work.”
An endpoint is predetermined for each project before it enters the implementation stage, where each iteration is reviewed by the client. Once the final product is released, there is a six-month maintenance and bug-fix period at no extra cost. Then clients can continue to pay for additional fixes, but any new features will be considered a new project.
“Once we hit that 1.0 release, typically the customer is happy enough with the work that they will start a new project, and we will continue to develop for them for two or three rounds,” Davis said.
Recent projects have included a mobile app for Ed Stone, UI researcher in ophthalmology and visual sciences, which uses Bluetooth to connect an iPad to an anamaloscope—a color vision screening device—to run tests for varying types of color blindness.
Bio::Neos has also created a web-based collaboration tool for researchers to share data privately and securely, as well as communicate annotations and revisions with each other. It’s also created software for the Iowa Visual Field Reading Center to manage the center’s workflow and data transfer.
Another client of Bio:Neos is Hillel Haim, MD, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology, who is conducting research on the properties of the “envelope” the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, uses to transport the virus. Knowing more about the envelope, Davis said, could lead to better treatments for fighting the virus. But the work requires the analysis of vast volumes of data in a way that’s manageable and allows researchers to see connections.
“We created a relational database that allows for easy entering of data as well as error checking,” Davis said. “It also means calculations will be uniform, ensuring integrity of the data.”
The company typically works on five or six projects in a year, but Davis said he would not be surprised to see that number start to grow. Already the company has to schedule clients months in advance, and it has started using subcontractors—including previous interns and network contacts—to help complete parts of projects.
Custom software projects are difficult to multitask because of the large amount of effort required to create something exactly to a client’s specifications. Bio::Neos does not share code between products, so each project is done from scratch. The company is looking to expand its staff in the new few months as its list of clients and projects expands.
The growth and focus of Bio::Neos is welcomed by its leadership, who began the business with the intent of turning a single software project they had created into a commercial project. The client, Ed Stone, said he could not do his research without the software used to create the project, which made them recognize its commercial value.
“Being the engineers we were who knew nothing about marketing or market research, we said, ‘Well, if it’s invaluable to Ed, it’s got to be invaluable to other people, so let’s make a commercial version of it and try to sell it,’” Davis said. “Long story short, Ed was doing much more advanced research at a much higher throughput level than most other researchers in his field, so we really didn’t have a market for that product.”
After that, the company began doing software development to help generate revenue.
“We started to find that we were getting project after project from word of mouth without ever advertising ourselves as custom software developers,” Davis said. “So light bulb—maybe that’s what we were supposed to be doing. Fast forward ten years and here we are.”
Bio::Neos credits the University for many of the networking opportunities that have given them the chance to create connections with many types of companies.
“For us, it’s almost invaluable being able to be affiliated with the University, because of the networking opportunities that we get by being a part of this building and the Research Park itself,” said Davis. “We are surrounded by companies of different sizes, all in different stages of their growth, so we can talk to our neighbors to get many different perspectives on the problems that we face. We also get the opportunity to give back and share our experience with other companies and others in the community as a part of many of the on-campus activities organized by the various University Departments here at the BioVentures Center and at the main campus.”
The UI Office of Research and Economic Development supports and advances research, scholarship, and creative activity on the campus. Through a broad variety of activities and services, it seeks to play an important role in the underpinning of these creative activities in the public and private sectors of Iowa and beyond.
By Anne Easker