Narges Bani Asadi
Analyzing and interpreting whole human "-omes"
Company: Bina Technologies
Title: Cofounder and CEO
Bina Technologies launched in 2011 planning to attack one of the major challenges facing the genomic data analysis industry: infrastructure. The startup, headed by Narges Bani Asadi, cofounder and CEO, built a hybrid software-hardware analysis offering: the Bina Genomic Analysis Platform.
Bina is in the fast-paced, challenging and demanding position of a startup in the early stages of commercialization, expanding globally, recruiting clients and looking to expand its 20-person staff. Bani Asadi is, of course, in the thick of it, and she is inspired and intrigued by the daily challenges facing her.
"I see every challenge as an opportunity," she told FierceBiotech. "There is so much innovation in the [healthcare] industry now," and "what we do at Bina to enable and empower personalized medicine is build software to analyze information."
Every day, she feels more optimistic about what they have and what they can do. Bina's goal is ultimately to make decisions easier for doctors by providing more information more quickly. It used to take days, even weeks, to sequence genomic data; Bina can do it in hours. This is crucial for a wide swath of patients, from those suffering from life-threatening diseases such as cancer to infants in the NICU shortly after birth. Currently, in "the absence of genetic information, [doctors] have to make an educated guess," Bani Asadi said. This is what companies like Bina work to avoid; they build the systems that scientific and medical researchers use to quickly and accurately understand and manage genomic information.
Bani Asadi was born in Iran and completed her undergraduate computer science degree at the University of Tehran, where, she told FierceBiotech, more than half of admitted students are women. "Girls take education very seriously in Iran," she said. She traveled to Stanford University for her master's and Ph.D. in electrical engineering and very soon learned about the exciting work happening there. She became interested in how to demystify cancer: how to understand the disease at the molecular level and, using mathematical models, how to analyze it. Bani Asadi and her team won a $7.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute for their work, and after 6 years at Stanford, she was ready to use what she learned from her "humbling" and interesting experiences there with passionate people to start her own company in the heart of Silicon Valley.
Three years after graduating, Bani Asadi has led Bina through several successes, including a $6.25 million Series B round and a partnership with Dr. Elizabeth Worthey at the Medical College of Wisconsin to aid analysis of sequenced newborn genomes in an effort to quickly catch genetic diseases during the first month of life.
One of the most difficult challenges facing Big Data is how to use the massive of amounts of information to make informed decisions. And Bani Asadi took that on. "I wanted to challenge myself, and I wanted to learn something new. I wanted to know what it takes to build a business." And challenges have certainly arisen. Two of the stickiest issues Bani Asadi is facing now that her company is up, running and funded are people-based: staffing and customer relationships.
"I've learned to be much more careful in recruiting. It's all about people. One wrong hire can lead to many more mistakes down the road and a lot of costs." So, when hiring, she looks beyond competence and tries to ferret out shared values, passion and high standards for excellence, as well as a desire to grow and learn.
Another challenge Bina faces in a startup environment and an industry that is growing and changing so rapidly is handling its customer base efficiently and effectively. Bina sells to academic researchers, government-funded initiatives, customers from pharma or clinical diagnostics companies, CROs and hospitals all at the same time. And, of course, each of them has different ideas and different requirements. Making sure the company is focused on the right thing for each client is "not easy at all," Bani Asadi said. "It's a very diverse market with many types of customers."
Bani Asadi has had several mentors in her life, but none who are women.
"Women have very few role models," she said, and this has been particularly difficult for her as a CEO, "a very lonely job."
"All the time, you have a new job," Bani Asadi said. "Being a CEO in the first year, even the first 6 months, is very different from the job you have in the second year. Sometimes it's tough; we live a different life as a woman. It would be very nice to see more women around me--maybe that's one of the challenges of our culture."
Though she may not have had female mentors, she does have several female peers who also serve as motivating influences in her life. Bani Asadi is part of a group of female entrepreneurs--"all young, all very brave"--and when they get together, she feels encouraged.
"I hope that the future will be easier and different for women entrepreneurs." But, she told us, she's proud and happy with what she has seen and accomplished and would tell any young woman today hoping to enter the industry and start a business to do what she's passionate about, have faith in the work she's doing and "go for it."
Industry Voices: Inside Genomics--Q&A with Bina CEO Narges Bani Asadi and Sam Volchenboum
Ex-Yahoo CEO backs genomics big data startup Bina
Big Data startup Bina grabs $6.25M in B round
-- Jennifer Levin (email | Twitter)