An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Steve Schwartz, the co-founder and CTO of Genomenon, which was honored in our:
- 2020 Best Tech Startups in Ann Arbor
- 2019 Best Tech Startups in Ann Arbor
- 2018 Best Tech Startups in Ann Arbor
Tell us the origin story of Genomenon – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
I had been talking with Mark (other co-founder) early on since an investor had told him to reach out to me. We developed an instant rapport as we started building and elaborating on each other’s ideas for implementing Mark’s solutions to his own problems within the wider context of creating a product and taking it to market given the limited resources available. Soon after we started working together fleshing out the idea, my current startup at the time was acquired. I called Mark the next day, ready to turn this product into a company.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
The greatest challenge for me has been the double whammy of selling both into large organizations and the industries of clinical genomics and pharmacogenomics. The former leads to long and protracted sales cycles, while the latter requires a high level of expectation for even an entry level product. Each can easily kill early-stage startups trying to go to market with a minimum viable product. Whereas most industries make it possible to start going to market and getting user feedback within months, we had to spend nearly two years building the first version of our product we could take to market. Thankfully, helping find cures for cancer and other rare diseases is an easy mission to be passionate about, which provides a significant amount of motivation to persevere in such a challenging market
What does the future hold for Genomenon?
We’ve built a powerful platform with a significant set of technologies around our proprietary genomic language processing algorithms. As the traction for our search engine, API, and curated datasets has accelerated, so too have the applications. Especially with many of the partnerships and integrations we’ve built, we’ve continued to see new and exciting problems that we’re well suited to solve within pharma and clinical diagnostics.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Ann Arbor?
I’ve been in love with Ann Arbor since I moved here just out of school. There is an amazing amount of energy and innovation in our community. It has a great density of ideas while still maintaining a good signal to noise ratio when it comes to people trying to solve real problems that they’re passionate about. I would love to see a larger network of well-connected people to facilitate introductions for promising startups and founders at earlier stages, which I think will come as we see more large-scale startup successes in different industries.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
It’s not an absolute necessity to do what you love, but it certainly helps to find passion in what you do. There are a lot of unenjoyable responsibilities running and building a business, and you’ll experience many failures to boot. That’s why it’s so important to be mindful of your motivation and replenish it as often as you can. As much as some people have it, intrinsic motivation will always be finite compared to extrinsic motivation. So, be constantly vigilant for ways to renew your own motivation and the motivation of the people on your team, whether that’s by celebrating the victories, building relationships within your community, nurturing hobbies, being with family, or reflecting on your passion and why it is you do what you do.
See also our interview with Mark Kiel of Genomenon