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Spin-off company makes sense of bacteria

The company was started on 1 July 2014 by four of the centre’s researchers: Mads Albertsen, Søren Karst, Per Halkjær Nielsen and Rasmus H. Kirkegaard, and has very quickly gained an extensive clientele in both Denmark and abroad. “Within the research group, we work with developing and refining techniques for mapping out the genome of bacteria. The technologies that we use in DNASense only emerged around five years ago, but they have already become standard technologies for us as researchers and at the same time mature and ready for industrial use, so we saw a potential market for utilizing the technologies commercially” Mads Albertsen explains.

Combining state-of-the-art technologies

DNASense offers advanced analysis of the bacteria types and amounts in a given sample. Contrary to many of the competitors, DNASense does not just perform advanced DNA sequencing on the sample and provide the customer with a large amount of raw data on the results – the researchers have developed their very own software for data analysis, enabling them to offer the clients a clear and legible overview of the bacteria present.

- “The companies get a long list of the types and frequencies of the bacteria in the sample – a ‘list of ingredients’, so to speak. They can then bring this list to their consultants who advise them on how to react on the basis of these results. We like to say that we bring the companies from sample to answers, but we do not tell them what to do with these answers – that is a job for other types of consultants” Mads Albertsen emphasises.

Company based on experience from problem-based learning

Although founding a company might seem a big step for the young researchers – Mads Albertsen is 30 years old, Søren Karst 28 – the path from idea to company was not very long.

- “The four of us started talking about using the technologies in industry in late 2013 and started planning the company during the spring of 2014. Our roles in the company came more or less naturally – Mads mostly handles the data analysis, I mostly do the work in the laboratory, Rasmus is a wiz with automation, including the robots we use in the lab, and Per is a valuable resource for his extensive network that opens doors to us, and his invaluable feedback, advice and inspiration,” Søren Karst says and adds:

I think we have mnaged to bring the group work spirit that we all know from studying at AAU into play in the company: We have divided the tasks to complete the project in the best possible way, and we each specialise in one part of the work to give the customers the best possible result in the end

Søren Karst

The company has rapidly developed an extensive client base both within Denmark and abroad – around 30-40% of the customers are international, from such diverse countries as Saudi Arabia, Portugal, Germany and Sweden – and is already looking at employing more people at the beginning of 2016.

Helping industry keep up-to-date

The technological development within DNA sequencing is moving rapidly, and it can be hard for industry to keep up with the latest developments. What is state-of-the-art technologies today may be old-fashioned within very few years, and Mads Albertsen and Søren Karst hope that DNASense can get a solid market position as ‘super consultants’ who help the companies keep up to date, since they have their finger on the pulse through being part of one of the world’s leading research environments within the field.

“Today, going from sample to finished analysis takes about a week, and the analysis is performed in a large machine. In very few years, this process will take place in a small device that you plug into your computer – our research group are already among the still very few who have been allowed to see these new technologies and help develop them” Mads Albertsen says.

“By having this access to the latest technology, we hope to become the go-to company with the highest level of cutting-edge technology – and who at the same time have experts handling every project, contrary to the big companies who offer standard services. We have a special expertise combined with extensive experience from developing the data-analysis software that hopefully give us an edge compared to our competitors” Søren Karst finishes.