From researcher to entrepreneur

  • October 7, 2014
From researcher to entrepreneur

Tiffany Bogich has moved from being a zoology researcher to co-founding a start-up which makes researchers life easier and the research process more dynamic.

Tiffany Bogich has moved from being a researcher to co-founding a start-up which makes researchers life easier and the research process more dynamic.

Tiffany’s company, Standard Analytics IO, specialises in tools to make science publishing more effective and she is currently in the process of raising a seed round, having gone through the most competitive business accelerator programme in the US. It’s a long way from doing her PhD in Zoology at Cambridge, but she is keen to have a major impact on changing the way science works.

Tiffany [2006] is not new to the world of business. Her father is an entrepreneur and has been able to give her invaluable advice on writing business plans and the like. Born in Royal Oak, Michigan, the eldest of six children, Tiffany spent her teen and undergraduate years in Pennsylvania.

She remembers from an early age being interested in the outdoor world. She would bring snakes and frogs home for observation. She had a pet rat, birds, turtles and hamsters. Tiffany says her interest grew after attending summer camps in primary school.  “I would watch animals and see if I could understand them,” she says. “Our house was full of animals.”

At high school, unsurprisingly, she veered towards biology, but, although she started her undergraduate degree as a biology major, she ended up switching to mathematics at Pennsylvania State University due to an inspiring calculus teacher and because she was not as keen on the human parts of biology as in animals. However, she did her masters, which she began while she was still an undergraduate, in quantitative biology. This involved using maths modelling for ecological purposes. Over those five years at Pennsylvania State University she worked in a research laboratory, initially on human behaviour, but she moved on to study how to manage infestations by gypsy moths.

Alongside her academic studies, Tiffany was very interested in sport and was in the Pennsylvania State rugby team. She later went on to develop an interest in cricket and rowing at Cambridge. She also sang in the vocal  arts academy in Michigan every Saturday and had a job playing piano at her church.

Gates Cambridge

Towards the end of her time at Pennsylvania State University Tiffany applied for a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She had been leaning more towards conservation biology and her PhD supervisor Professor Andrew Balmford was very well respected for his work in this field. Also, her masters adviser had attended Oxford and a member of the supervisory committee was a professor of zoology at Cambridge. The day after she was interviewed for Gates she flew to England to meet Professor Balmford and it was while she was in Cambridge that she found out her application had been successful.

She began her PhD in 2006 and focused on how habitat quality affects the relationship between species count and area size. Although her work was quantitative, she convinced her supervisors to let her do fieldwork and she spent nine months in New Zealand, collecting and identifying microscopic land snails living in the forests by their shell morphology. The study led to the publication of her first peer review paper from her PhD work in the journal Ecography. Two papers on her gypsy moth research were published when she started at Cambridge.

When she left Cambridge Tiffany applied for a job at a non-profit organisation called the EcoHealth Alliance where she supervised and managed modelling activities related to zoonotic pathogens. She stayed there for a year and a half which saw her co-authoring an article which was published in Nature on the role of biodiversity on disease emergence and transmission. She then started a three-year fellowship at Princeton, focusing on modelling the complexities of disease transmission in the face of multiple interacting hosts, pathogens and their environment.  Her fellowship involved working with the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health and the Foreign Animal Disease Threats Committee. In the  laboratory she met another postdoctorate student, Sebastien Ballesteros. He was developing tools to predict the spread of infectious diseases. “We started discussing what would make our lives easier as scientists,” says Tiffany, “what was wrong with the system, the fact that it was hard to get access to data in some countries. We felt the process could be more efficient. Sebastien has web development skills and we decided to create a collaborative platform for people to do epidemiological models together.”

Start-up

They played around with different ideas. In the building across the road from their laboratory was a university business incubator. For three months the two researchers worked on their ideas with the support of their supervisors. They realised they would have to produce something useful which could stand on its own.

While their idea of a collaborative platform for modeling never turned into a successful company, the two continued to come up with ideas and work together.  Last winter, they started a new company together, Standard Analytics, to address what they saw as the root of the problem – technology and automation in the publishing of scientific information.

Working with large publishing companies, they aim to provide them with a submissions platform which allows those submitting articles to attach data and code so there is a much richer array of information available than just the academic paper and the process is much less painful.”We want to make the publishing process enjoyable and valuable,” says Tiffany.

Sebastien went full time on the idea last November and Tiffany joined him a few months later, six months before her fellowship finished. She says it was a difficult decision, but the business was taking off. They had applied successfully to TechStars, the US’ largest business accelerator programme, which picks just 10 start-ups a year for each programme. From March to June they attended the TechStars programme in New York, an intensive programme in how to get a business up and running. Tiffany had to do a four-minute pitch to investors in New York at the end of it and since then has been following up with meetings to raise funding. TechStars has given them a stipend of $18,000 and mentoring during the programme as well as the option to take a $100K convertible note from a group of TechStars investors. The company took on their first recruit – a database engineer – in the summer and Tiffany says she is excited about the future. She hopes to speed up the publishing process, give scientists rapid access to research results from their colleagues and change the way scientists work. She says: “We are helping researchers instead of being researchers.”

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