The Business of Science: The First Decade of Strand
Thursday, April 14, 2011
As a doctoral student in decision sciences, I wandered into a classroom at MIT where S.E. Luria was teaching an introductory biology class to engineers. I sat in the back and caught the last few minutes of the class. It was fascinating enough that I remembered the next time I was in the Harvard/MIT Coop and picked up a copy of his "36 Lectures in Biology" and browsed in it from time to time. This was in 1970s and I didn't seriously consider working in the life sciences till the mid-90s when students in biophysics at IISc, Bangalore showed up in my computational geometry class wanting to learn about algorithms for Voronoi diagrams and Delaunay tessellations to be able to study the geometry of macromolecules. One thing led to another and four of us professors from the CS department at IISc set up Strand Genomics in November 2000. It was heralded and jeered as a watershed event - the first time that professors at a public university in India had promoted a company with the university taking an equity stake. Strand has survived its first decade and is still far from being a blockbuster biotech company but today has about 150 employees (70 computer scientists and 55 life scientists), is sustainable (i.e., profitable) and has at least one global, market leading product in GeneSpring. I will describe the Strand journey so far while emphasizing the joys of pursuing a truly inter-disciplinary scientific agenda, building a collegial company, and learning what it takes to create a science driven innovation.
Bio:Vijay Chandru is an alumnus of BITS Pilani where he trained in Electrical Engineering and went on to get a doctorate from MIT, Cambridge in 1982. Chandru is an academic and an entrepreneur who was named in the 50 Pioneers of Change by India Today in 2008. His academic career in mathematical sciences has spanned three decades as a research scientist and professor at Purdue University and Indian Institute of Science, with visiting appointments at IBM's TJ Watson Center, UPenn, Stanford and at MIT. He is a fellow of the Indian academies of science and engineering. As an inventor and co-founder of the open source handheld Simputer Project, and the leading computational biology company Strand Life Sciences, Chandru has been recognized as a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum. He currently serves as Chairman& CEO of Strand LS www.strandls.com and as the honorary president of ABLE www.ableindia.org (the apex body of Indian biotechnology industry) for a 3-year term, 2009-2012. He holds adjunct faculty appointments at the National Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS) and at the International Centre for Theoretical Studies (ICTS/TIFR) in Bangalore.