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Witney s Words of Wisdom: New Head of GenoSpectra on Finding Market, Merging

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What might separate the wheat from the chaff among the scores of chip companies entering the crowded market these days is not only a nifty technology, but the ability to find appropriate applications for it. Tapping the expertise of executives from established companies might help getting there: Last month, GenoSpectra, a startup that uses fiber optics to print microarrays, recruited as their CEO Frank Witney, who spent a total of almost three years as president and COO of Packard BioScience and then as president for drug discovery tools at PerkinElmer, after more than 16 years at Bio-Rad Laboratories.

Witney spoke to BioArray News last week about what he has learned during his tenure. His advice for startup companies was deceptively simple: know the market you want to serve. “A small company that is technology-driven has to be aware of the realities of the current technology and understand where their place in the value chain lies,” he said. “You have to find your niche, in which you are going to do something better, faster, cheaper.”

For GenoSpectra, this niche marketing could mean printing high-density oligo microarrays at low cost, he said, with content or configurations that are not currently served by its competitors – for example gene sets of special interest to a pharmaceutical company. “There is no platform in biology and life sciences that serves all niches of the market,” Witney added, acknowledging that Affymetrix is serving the market for whole-genome arrays for expression profiling “extremely well.”

Building a business is Witney’s top priority at GenoSpectra, but his experience includes a merger. Having gone through the Packard-PerkinElmer marriage last year, he knows what’s important to get through the uncertain times of post-merger integration. Most critical, he said, are speed and communication. “Communication is absolutely key in a merger because lots of decisions are being made, and...people have to understand the rationale behind [them].”

– JK