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Never Bored by Bioinformatics

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Many biologists cringe at the thought of writing Perl scripts, but Maciek Sasinowski, CEO of Incogen, could persuade anyone that the business of building and using complex bioinformatics software is a barrel of fun.

Sasinowski started his career in the video-game industry, and is determined to develop products for life scientists that are as intuitive and easy to use as computer toys. In fact, before Incogen released its latest product — a Java-based, sequence-analysis pipeline builder called VIBE that it developed for use on Time Logic’s DeCypher accelerators — the software’s lead programmer Brian Kamery sat his 9-year-old daughter Erin in front of his computer. She clicked and dragged her way through the interface and managed to create a working pipeline.

“For us that was the most true test of user-friendliness,” says Sasinowski. “From now on we’re going to do just that with all our programs.”

Sasinowski’s management style is just as playful. Explains the chief, who has been known to treat business partners to joy rides in his race-track-modified Porsche 911 Carrera: “The most important thing for me is that people have fun. Because if you don’t have fun when you’re working, you’re not going to be productive.”

With the heated competition in the field, Sasinowski hopes this approach will help vault his South Carolina-based company, which is chock-full-of Clemson University grads, into the bioinformatics equivalent of the Final Four.

The approach seems to be working: Sasinowski started Y2K with a staff of five and has added 10 people since. He aims to have more than 20 employees by year’s end. In June, Incogen formed a product development partnership with Time Logic and in September it became one of 12 companies that Sun Microsystems has chosen to team up with to expand its presence in the computational biology market.

But despite the moneymaking potential, Sasinowski says he’s taking things slow. One reason is the talent shortage. “We probably could’ve grown even faster and taken on more projects,” he says, but there aren’t enough qualified bioinformaticists to go around. “It’s the biggest problem of the industry right now.” If only everybody knew how much fun bioinformatics could be.

—Aaron Sender

 

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