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UChicago-supported Startup, SnapGene, Takes Next Step with Acquisition Announcement

The successful launch and longevity of a startup is often the result of several factors. Skill, knowledge, determination, acumen and connections – along with a little luck and serendipity – all can play a part. When these elements align, you end up with a company like SnapGene, a leading molecular biology software company based in Hyde Park, which announced on Tuesday, August 13 that it had been acquired by Insightful Science.

Founded in 2004, SnapGene was born of frustration that founder Benjamin Glick, PhD, a faculty member in the University of Chicago’s Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology department, experienced with inefficiencies of DNA cloning in the lab.

SnapGene is the easiest way to plan, visualize, and document molecular biology procedures. The software providesintuitive visualization of DNA constructs, automatically documents cloning simulations, and offers a convenient way to share richly annotated molecular biology data. It is now used by more than 265,000 researchers in 65 countries, including leading academic institutions and commercial customers ranging from startups to biotech and pharmaceutical giants.

SnapGene is attractive to a diverse range of customers for several reasons. It is designed for ease-of-use, while maintaining the ability to execute advanced applications. Glick said the company is constantly improving the software based on intensive engagement with customers, adding that his team is thrilled to continue this work with the support of Insightful Science, a technology company with a portfolio of industry-leading solutions designed to empower scientists.

But, before a profitable company with the assets to be acquired was even a thought, Glick had to get SnapGene off the ground. To do that, he recruited a diverse team of scientists and technologists:

  • His neighbor, Michael Scott, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at University of Illinois at Chicago, with a background in software and product design;
  • Will Stokes, a software developer fresh out of a master’s program in Computer Graphics (and by chance a native Hyde Parker and University of Chicago Laboratory Schools graduate), whom Glick and Scott discovered through a Google search;
  • Aline Glick, Ben’s wife and an experienced commercial software product manager and marketer;
  • Eugene Losev, a PhD student who was completing his thesis in Glick’s laboratory and moving to the business world;
  • and Daphne Preuss, a previous colleague of Glick’s in the University’s Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology department who left academia to launch her own startup.

“While DNA cloning is supposed to be simple, each procedure is different and there are many variables,” Glick explained. “Scientists can end up making mistakes that set them back days or weeks or more. We perceived that there was a need, and it was clear we had an opportunity and the aptitude that would allow us to solve this widespread problem.”

SnapGene has deep roots at the University of Chicago. Most recently, the University’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation assisted Glick and his leadership team in the acquisition process with  Insightful Science. When SnapGene was first being developed, the team worked with the Polsky Center’s predecessor to patent the underlying technology.

Aline Glick, who serves as SnapGene’s chief product officer, is also a member of the Polsky Exchange, a 34,000 square foot startup hub in Hyde Park. Over the past several years she has attended many of the Exchange’s marketing seminars, and SnapGene uses its offices for a variety of meetings – including the finalization of its transaction with Insightful Science.

Eric Ginsburg, Interim Director of the Polsky Center’s Technology Commercialization team said, “We congratulate SnapGene on its success in reaching this step.  The company’s story is an  inspiring  one of a faculty member recognizing an unmet need and patiently, along with his team, successfully building and delivering a product to address that need.”

“The University of Chicago has been helpful every step of the way, and we’re very appreciative of the help we received throughout the initial commercialization process and the licensing of our software. It really highlights how universities can drive innovation,” Benjamin Glick said.

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