The Cambridge News ran a story on July 9th (print edition only) about Eagle's fifth anniversary. The story that appears in print was adapted from the following text:
There’s an old adage that says there’s no better time to start a business than in a recession, but as the economy lurches from double-dip to a near triple-dip, the reality is a good idea whether you start a business during a recession or in the boom times.
And when money is tight and companies are looking to either outsource some of their key functions or simply looking for innovative, cost effective solutions, then some of the best ideas can truly become a long-term sustainable business. So when Abel Ureta-Vidal and Will Spooner sat down in the Eagle pub on Benet Street in Cambridge at the start of the economic downturn in 2008 to discuss setting up their own company, they knew it was a winner.
Abel was working at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) in Hinxton while also studying part time for his MBA at Judge Business School in Cambridge. As he was looking for a subject for his thesis, Abel hooked on the idea of investigating how commercial business models could be built around open source tools. At the same time, a big pharmaceutical company in the U.S. approached the EBI looking for commercial support to help it make use of the Ensembl platform, a valuable online resource for mapping genome data.
The EBI weren’t able to help at that time so Abel used the research from his MBA thesis and teamed up with a colleague, Will Spooner, to give the company what it wanted. Richard Holland joined as Chief Business Officer a month later and Eagle Genomics was born.
That same company is still with them today as Eagle celebrates five years of supplying outsourced bioinformatics solutions. Put simply, Eagle helps to analyse the enormous volume of “big data” that arises from genomic sequencing on behalf of a range of global companies working in life sciences, human health, plant, food and consumer goods. Just about everything has a sequence but to understand the data it needs to be mapped, and that takes an incredible amount of processing.
It’s therefore no coincidence that Eagle Genomics is named after The Eagle pub where, on 28 February 1953, Francis Crick announced to the assembled lunchtime drinkers that he and James Watson had discovered the structure of the DNA molecule.
Initially starting out as an interesting idea over a quick pint, Eagle is now based at the Babraham Research Campus, employs over a dozen people and boasts a long list of reputable blue-chip clients worldwide.
“We’re delighted to enter our sixth year of trading. We started out primarily as a service for providing commercial support for open-source bioinformatics tools. Whilst we still do that, the bulk of our business these days is in fact helping people build data analysis pipelines and data integration tools, using the same open-source components as before but delivered as an end-to-end solution that better fits the needs of the market,” said Richard Holland.
The recession presented a number of opportunities for Eagle, mostly because it caused many big companies to rethink their strategies for hiring and developing internal teams for relatively common tasks, such as bioinformatics or sequencing, and in several cases this led to an increased desire to outsource those functions.
“At the same time the cutbacks made it really hard for these companies to send staff to conferences or other industry events which Eagle would normally have relied on to identify and get in touch with these people, so it meant more work for us to go visiting potential customers in person in order to drum up business. It was interesting that the downturn affected different industry sectors and different countries at different times, so we were able to spread the problem out quite thinly by concentrating our efforts on the countries and industries that appeared least affected at any one point in time,” said Richard.
As the business grew, David Flanders, with over 25 years’ experience in the life sciences sector internationally, was brought in as Chief Executive in late 2011 to manage the process of bringing in its first round of investment. However, David’s appointment also solved another long-standing issue: with the company having three founders with equal say in all business-related matters, who was really in charge?
“By appointing David as CEO above the three founders, we gained the ability to have a single person with the authority to make final decisions. David has enabled us to further speed up our internal processes and enabled us to concentrate even more on delivering projects to customers,” said Richard.
Until David was appointed the Company had never even tried to get finance; Eagle was essentially self-funded from the profits on each contract and was growing organically. David has been on the road looking for investors for the last few months and Richard says there haven't been any signs that the recession has adversely influenced investors’ decisions.
“If anything, the recession may have been encouraged them as government schemes try to promote investment which, combined with poor returns from traditional financial instruments, made investing in an SME a more attractive option,” Richard said.
The company is in good financial shape, and the extra investment from outside investors will allow Eagle to scale up its services and introduce a couple of product ideas to the market which it hopes will bring in a steadier base income and expand its reach into new market sectors.
“We're closely watching new areas in genomics research such as food and biofuels, where DNA sequencing technology is just beginning to make inroads and the need for bioinformatics expertise like ours is only just beginning,” said Richard.
Eagle is pleased to be based in Cambridge, not least for the wealth of talent in the area and the opportunities to be able to mix with academics and businesses across the life sciences and industrial sectors, said Richard.
“Cambridge has been very good to us. We all lived in the Cambridge area at the time Eagle was set up so it seemed logical to start the company here. It turned out to be a good move. Cambridge has a large population of highly skilled bioinformaticians who, like us, don't really want to move town when they change jobs. This made it easy for us to find good quality employees,” said Richard.