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Todd Smith, President of Geospiza

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AT A GLANCE: Holds PhD in medicinal chemistry from the University of Washington. Did his postdoctoral research under Leroy Hood. Had a Department of Energy distinguished postdoctoral fellowship and sequenced the BRCA1 gene with Mary-Claire King. Hobbies include coaching soccer and juggling.

Q Where will bioinformatics be in two years? Five years?

A Chaos, chaos, and more chaos. There will be more data, different types of data, new programs to analyze data in different ways, and new technology driving the production of even more data faster. We will see new high-throughput analytical methods emerge while existing ones are refined, optimized, and scaled up. As these new data and information are produced, there will be an ever-increasing need for software and systems that can integrate disparate data types. However, these integrating software systems will continue to lag behind technology development. Thus, researchers will continue to be faced with dizzying numbers of options for collecting and analyzing their data. Despite this seemingly alarming picture, there will continue to be an increased reliance on software systems that allow folks to manage certain types of data and analyze them. These systems will come into play more as techniques and technologies are reduced to practice with the best near term progress being in DNA sequencing and array analysis.

Q What are the biggest challenges the bioinformatics sector faces?

A Education, training, and software engineering. I think the challenge in the next years is to teach scientists how to ask new questions. There is a real lack of educational programs and opportunities for existing scientists who have tremendous experience and knowledge, but cannot make full use of the valuable information resources that are now available. There will also be a continuing demand for good software engineers.

Q Who are your current customers? Which additional customer group do you aim to capture?

A Our current customers are DNA sequencing laboratories in academia, industry and government. We have several installations of the Finch-Server at a number of universities and organizations such as the Institute for Systems Biology, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, and the National Cancer Institute. This year we added customers to iFinch who are using the system completely over the Internet.

Q Which companies do you have partnerships with?

A Our customers are our first and best partners. We also have relationships with Compaq, Penguin Computing (Linux specialists), Sun Microsystems, the University of Washington, the Genetic Information Research Institute, Southwest Parallel Software, and the Institute for Systems Biology.

Q What non-existing technology is number one on your customers’ wish list?

A Intuitive software that provides complete solutions. When you talk to a scientist about bioinformatics, they express real frustration with the limitations of current programs and the steep learning curves that must be overcome to work with data.

Q How large is your bioinformatics staff?

A We will start the New Year with a staff of 12. About half are directly involved in programming and the other half are involved with customer support, training, documentation, and sales.

Q Do you see yourself more as a software provider or as a consultant?

A Both. The field is still too young for a pure product model. In addition to the Finch-Server, we provide a range of services that include systems integration, data analysis, project management, and scientific consulting.

Q Is the company profitable?

A We have been profitable the past two years and expect that we can continue growing the company off of our revenues.

Q Where does the company’s financing come from and how much have you raised?

A Our initial financing was from the “Bank of Plastic” and its revolving interest program. We are self-financed with development funding from grants, contracts, and product sales.

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