As part of our continuing synthetic biology conversations series, we spoke with Saji Wickramasekara, Founder and CEO of Benchling, a San Francisco-based company working to make life science research faster and more collaborative. The following is part two of our two-part conversation with Saji.
What has been your greatest challenge since founding Benchling? Greatest success?
Our greatest challenge has been introducing something fundamentally different to the research field. As a collaboration and data management-focused company, we’re misunderstood by a lot of people who think Benchling is just another DNA editor or another lab notebook, which is not what we are. While those kinds of tools are important in solving day-to-day problems, what we’re doing is building a new, measurable way of doing research. For the first time, the place where scientists do work can be connected to where the work is recorded, so you can see how that’s a completely different paradigm shift from coming up with just a new lab notebook solution.
Being an outsider has also been challenging. For instance, I don’t have a PhD or any real network in life science - I just happen to be someone who did research and I’d probably be working for one of our customers had I not been filtered out, so it’s taken a lot of effort to get to know the community and through our platform, build one from the ground up.
Our greatest success is that we’ve built an amazing team. There’s a saying that’s something like “the team you build is the company you build.” We’ve brought together an extraordinary group that spans engineering, design, science, business development, and operations. We have folks who have no experience in life science but are at the top of their field working alongside researchers with deep biology experience. Everyone came together to build the transformative software company in life science. We are building a lever for science and if we can help our customers move faster, we are going to save lives.
Our engineers have shipped a lot of fantastic product, extremely quickly. And as a team, we’ve built a product that is now used by tens of thousands of scientists all around the world. We’ve grown very quickly and we’re getting adoption from all corners of the industry, from small academic labs to big pharma.
How is Benchling changing the design game for DNA?
Benchling is an industry-grade tool that is free for academics, so we’re effectively aiming to level the playing field such that any scientist can equip him or herself with the best design tools available.
We’re creating robust tools for the design and analysis of DNA sequences that first of all, promote collaboration and secondly, automate data management. What this means in terms of features is that Benchling makes it easier than ever to share files, store them, and reference content for future experiments.
We hear from scientists that these capabilities help streamline the design and analysis of their research. It helps take their mind off of manual data tracking and/or repeatability since Benchling automates these tasks. We think this will be more and more relevant as reproducibility becomes increasingly top of mind.
How does your partnership with Gen9 impact the synthetic biology community?
The tools we built for Gen9 specifically make it easier to design and order many DNA constructs simultaneously and keep track of these orders - tasks that when done in large volumes, would previously take a scientist a whole day or more to complete.
We’re excited to partner with Gen9 and share our tools with one of the most cutting edge gene synthesis companies in the industry. Many synthetic biology researchers rely on Gen9’s high quality outputs as fundamental building blocks for their work, and because of this, we hope our partnership will help accelerate the pace of research for the synthetic biology community as a whole.