An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Stephen Russell, MD, PhD (co-founder and CEO) of Imanis Life Sciences, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Imanis Life Sciences – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
We formed Imanis in 2021 to provide “tools for the regenerative medicine goldrush”. One area we were particularly interested to support was to provide customers with access to our NIS technology, which could allow them to track the fate of their gene therapy, cell therapy, or virus therapy products in living animals and in patients.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
We had never sold anything before we started the company and had little understanding of sales and marketing. That was the biggest hurdle – finding customers! People were very interested in our NIS technology but they didn’t have access to the imaging machines and radioactive tracers they would need to use it. Fortunately, we were flexible and were able to develop relationships with researchers and biotechnology/pharma companies who were happy to buy a variety of other services and reagents from us to support their research and development activities.
What does the future hold for Imanis Life Sciences?
Imanis is now a strong and growing company that provides a range of products and services to support customers who are trying to develop virus-based therapies such as oncolytic (cancer-destroying) viruses, vaccines, and gene therapies, as well as providing assays to interrogate what happens to viruses in the body and how the immune system responds to them. One area of business that has grown considerably over the past 2 years is the provision of assays that measure the level of protective anti-SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies in blood samples from human subjects – interestingly, this business line is still growing robustly despite the fact that people seem to be worrying less about COVID-19.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Rochester?
It is definitely getting better all the time, but the “ecosystem” is still in need of further development. Currently, we have general acceptance that Rochester startups are welcome and we have an increasing number of experts who can help with various aspects of company startup (legal, real estate, business advice). Also, we now have quite a few local options for startup funding (including a relatively new Rochester-based venture fund, the South East Minnesota Capital Fund, aka SEMCF)
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Never give up! It’s going to be a fun and bumpy ride!