On a Thursday spring evening in Martinsried, Germany, Klaus Heumann is off to the biergarten after work. Unlike many of his bioinformatics industry peers, the 34-year-old CEO of Biomax seems to have few worries. Sure, the economy is generally unfavorable, he acknowledges, but his privately held software company, which experienced “dramatic” growth between 1998 and 2001, is still on an upward curve. “We’re not in a boom phase, but we still grew our revenue in 2002,” Heumann says.
While many bioinformatics tool providers are long gone and forgotten, Biomax has made no layoffs, had no paycuts, and is looking forward to rounding out its sixth profitable year in a row. What gives?
It’s the company’s atypical approach to doing business, says Heumann. Founded in 1997 with two customer contracts right off the bat, Biomax never raised venture capital, reinvested its earnings back into developing a consultancy-style business, and built a human genome database that it now practically gives away as a calling card. The company has grown almost completely out of its own cashflow.
Based on technology developed at the Martinsried Institute for Protein Sequences for use in the European yeast sequencing project, Biomax has some key products for data integration and sequence analysis. But Heumann emphasizes that the core competency is providing customized “shelf modules” and expression and data analysis services.
“We were different from other bioinformatics companies that collected cash and invested it into marketing and product development,” he says.
Oddly enough, that’s exactly what Heumann’s much more visible Heidelberg counterpart, Friedrich von Bohlen, says is wrong with Biomax. Von Bohlen, CEO of Lion Bioscience, suggests that Biomax won’t ever gain the global big-league stature that Lion has because it lacks marketing savvy. “On a day-to-day basis you need to have a sales and marketing force, a corporate communication, and an investor-relation force that works on your brand,” von Bohlen says, by way of explaining why Biomax has relatively weak name recognition.
But Heumann isn’t bothered. He’d like more of a buzz in the US, but with customers at Millennium, Procter and Gamble, and throughout academia, Biomax is known among those who count, he says. “There are different ways to value an organization,” he says. “We deliver what we promise and we get paid for it.”
— Adrienne Burke