Business & Real Estate

Los Altos startup brings consumer ratings technology to world of scientific discovery

Los Altos resident Karin Lachmi founded Bioz with the goal of helping scientists like herself make faster, smarter decisions about how they plan experimental procedures.

Megan V. Winslow / Town Crier
Daniel Levitt and Karin Lachmi lead the Bioz team based in Los Altos and Israel.

If Bioz’ research tool does its job, it will forward scientific discovery by making the experimental process more informed, reducing trial and error and increasing accuracy. The life sciences startup in downtown Los Altos is on the way to raising nearly $30 million in early funding rounds.

It’s not stealthy, but you are almost guaranteed to have never spotted the Bioz office at 316 State St., which perches above the Steinway Piano Gallery. Its big windows gaze over downtown, and the small Bioz team works in a typically modernist open-plan environment, coffee and tea service included.

The look of a leader

You may have spotted Lachmi walking through downtown Los Altos, or even heard the click of her coming – stretching all the way back to her days as a researcher, she’s had a personal passion for the kind of heels that don’t scream “lab scientist” or “startup founder.” Her striking blond look, in fact, stands as a vivid reminder that technically proficient leaders look like every kind of person. Lachmi’s success demonstrates that it’s downright embarrassing to think footwear, or personal styling, forecasts a particular calling.

“I love shoes. I was always a girly kind of girl, and people never believed I was a scientist,” she said.

Lachmi has an acidic reply to those who wonder what she works in now – “I’m just shopping” – to describe her mastery of a scientific products database.

“At the end of the day, you need to feel good in your own skin and confident,” she said. “I don’t care – I love high heels, and people will just need to accept it. I think people appreciate authenticity, and you can be unique in some things.”

Lachmi came to Los Altos from Israel 11 years ago to begin postdoctoral research at Stanford University. Her work in molecular biology moved across cancer and autoimmune disease. In the course of her lab work, she came again and again to a point of pain: little shared information about what to buy, at what concentration, when it came to the fundamental materials for her work, from chemicals to antigens and beakers.

“It bothered me – how could this be? How is it so easy to book a restaurant or a vacation online when we have OpenTable or TripAdvisor, but when it comes to the most important questions of the day, we don’t have internet tools that will help us choose based on data?” she asked.

Journal articles were already chronicling detailed procedural information in addition to presenting results, but not in an organized or particularly accessible way.

“People are writing down exactly what they did, what they used, and we know it worked for them. (But) I would have to download each PDF and get out a yellow highlighter,” Lachmi said of the disconnect between information and its availability during her postdoc days. “We have this data – why don’t I use technology that is (working) elsewhere?”

She created Bioz with the idea to tag those key snippets of information, but also to structure them in a practical way, to help researchers know what worked best for others and how they used it.

After finishing her postdoctoral work, Lachmi spent two years as a local representative for a large Israeli hospital while hatching her own company. In its early days, the startup joined StartX, the nonprofit startup accelerator associated with Stanford University. By the time Lachmi raised money – a $1 million seed round that grew to $7.1 million – she had found a full-time calling and a CEO, Daniel Levitt.

“When you do something that you are so passionate about, it’s not work, it’s your life,” Lachmi said.

She and Levitt met when their children attended the same school, and after sharing her idea over coffee at Starbucks, the two teamed up and partnered with professors at Stanford to validate what Lachmi had seen firsthand – that people were truly having to sift through article after article to survey product usage.

Best tools, better experiments

She spent four and half years working with a small team to develop software capable of understanding the scientific articles aggregated on PubMed. In the scientific world, Lachmi notes, 50,000 vendors carry a vast array of product variations. The stock keeping units (SKUs) that uniquely identify each product reveal the scope of that offering – a typical American supermarket might, at most, carry 50,000 SKUs, while scientific product SKUs number near 300 million.

“Think about how hard it is to choose each product,” Lachmi said.

In the scientific context, one needs not just an objective rating, but also relevance – does a specific formulation fit the project at hand? Antibodies, for instance, might work differently in each experimental context. Western blot and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays are not interchangeable processes. Lachmi wanted to know the best product for each instance, and the best conditions under which to use it.

“There are lots of Nature articles on how antibodies are a main problem,” she noted of that specific example.

If they’re not characterized accurately, a researcher has wasted both her time and her precious samples, which were often gathered through a laborious process.

In the case of a specific antibody such as anti-GFP, a researcher can visit Bioz to identify vendors who supply it and see the trend of collective usage – has the scientific community tended to see success with one particular supplier? Who bought what, and has that changed over time?

A user can drill down to specific techniques, looking at an antibody in the context of immunohistochemistry, stains or microscopy, and view what percentage of researchers used specific protocols relating to temperature and dilution.

Lachmi said she would have used Bioz as she selected antibodies, but also to source everything from RNA purification kits to seemingly straightforward Eppendorf tubes, the ubiquitous plastic vials that function as the Ziploc bag of the science world.

She remembers an ill-advised cost-saving purchase her lab had made of some Eppendorf tubes with some angst.

“I put my precious samples in those tubes in the centrifuge, and I heard this ‘pop, pop, pop.’ Yes, we had saved $5 – but I lost a year of work I could not get back,” she said of the failed vials. “Because I came from being a researcher, (researchers) are the most important to me at the end of the day.”

Bioz makes money on a lead referral basis by letting users click through to the specific vendor products they are researching. It also turns a profit by sharing its own information, enabling vendors to access some of the data Bioz gathered and share it with consumers. Vendors whose products perform well in the data, for instance, can show the high ratings from Bioz as a form of external validation.

Because Bioz gathered and structured the data first and launched to the scientific world second, the company could skip the phase of soliciting reviews or trying to build initial traffic to boost its content.

“We had the data from day one, we just had to train the software,” Lachmi said, adding that the database contains information relevant to pretty much every field related to medicine or the life sciences.

The Bioz team is finishing out a subsequent fundraising round Lachmi estimates will close at $20 million within the next few months. They run marketing and sales out of Los Altos, and have a small office of engineers in Israel.

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