Illumina for Startups pushes boundaries of genomics by supporting early-stage companies

By Samantha Black, PhD, ScienceBoard editor in chief

Most scientists are familiar with the genomics giant Illumina, which is known for its DNA sequencing technologies. However, Illumina has an accelerator program to support early-stage startups called Illumina for Startups. ScienceBoard.net recently spoke with Amanda Cashin, PhD, who leads Illumina's accelerator programs in the U.S. and internationally.

Illumina for Startups, Cashin explained, was championed by Illumina's former chief technology officer, Mustafa Ronaghi, PhD. Ronaghi, Cashin said, is "a serial entrepreneur." Furthermore, Illumina's board of directors comprise several other serial entrepreneurs. Illumina's program allows the company to catalyze technology by working with entrepreneurs and venture capital investors to push the boundaries of where genomics can go.

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During the past seven years, Illumina for Startups has helped launch 61 companies that have upstream or downstream capabilities to Illumina's core DNA sequencing technology.

"We're not trying to build our internal sort of pipeline for products. It really is just to expand the market," Cashin said. "So you think about sort of why Illumina is doing this, it really is to kind of catalyze the market and grow it further in terms of where the boundaries could go."

The accelerator operates two six-month funding cycles annually, and Illumina offers four key resources: capital, sequencing resources, coaching, and lab and office space at Illumina's locations in San Francisco and Cambridge, U.K. Illumina for Startups is open to all early-stage companies ranging from "people with an idea on a whiteboard all the way through to teams who have raised a few million dollars."

Illumina for Startups, Cashin said, invests in teams and the people behind the science. She noted that the "X factor" behind investing in early-stage companies is the gut feeling that she gets about a team of entrepreneurs. Those who can effectively communicate and share their vision have a higher chance of bringing on investors and team members to help them achieve their goals.

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