I'm interested in learning more about the success rates of bioinformatics companies. I'm very happy with my current job in a large institution and have no plans to start a company but I am curious about this phenomenon.
It seems like a lot of bioinformatics companies are getting formed these days. I have been hearing about people forming bioinformatics companies since before I even learned how to code. Additionally, I have personally known people who had either launched a company or were preparing to do so at every single institution I've worked or volunteered; in fact I've known multiple such people at every institution.
But whenever I've spoken to people about their bioinformatics companies, I've gotten very little indication of how well things were going. I can understand someone being cagey about their fledgling business but I've also seen very little to indicate business success from bioinformatics start-ups I've interacted with professionally.
One lab had me working with their sequencing data using some very nice looking web-based tools that seemed to completely eliminate the need for any coding/computer science skills. The company providing those tools also stored our sequencing data for us and provided incredible customer service by offering very thorough solutions that went well beyond issues directly related to the software. I found out later that my lab didn't pay them for data storage, access to their software OR their excellent customer service; apparently we got all of that in exchange for user feedback (which was pretty minimal as the product was pretty market-ready) and exposure (we mentioned them in at least one publication).
Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever used bioinformatics software that wasn't free-to-use unless you count the cloud storage services some of my labs have used. My current institution pays for subscriptions to a variety of analysis programs that go completely unused by me and the rest of my lab (which includes bench scientists with no computational skills). I guess someone in the institution must be using them but everything I know these programs to be capable of can be done using free software. Coupled with the often-repeated idea that open-source software is better for research because people develop more variety of modules for it - I find it hard to understand how bioinformatics software companies can be profitable unless they are either:
- part of a larger company that can leverage the strength of their brand
- offering software that controls/interacts with some kind of machine
- selling their software bundled with other products (like cloud storage)
- making their money off of grants or some other model that doesn't depend on paying customers
So my questions to the community:
- How do bioinformatics software start-ups expect to make money despite all the free, open-source alternatives?
- Can you name/describe any software companies that have done particularly well without having the advantages of either bundling their software with more indispensable products (cloud storage, benchwork tools, etc) or being part of an pre-existing well-known company?
- What resources can you suggest for learning more about the success rates of bioinformatics companies?