Careers at Helix
Helix’s mission is to empower every person to improve their life through DNA.
Executives Justin Kao and Scott Burke and engineer James Lu felt that the market for personal genomic services was lacking. While there were a number of ancestry tests that offered a limited genetic snapshot, there wasn’t a mass market for DNA data. They felt that this outcome could be accomplished with the right business model – one that encouraged consumer interest and adoption.
In 2015, they founded Helix, a startup whose goal was to provide a wide variety of affordable analysis tools. Specifically, it would enable consumers to use sequencing and database services to learn more about their genes. Customers would submit saliva samples -- then after their genes were sequenced, analyses were completed, and information was digitized in the cloud, they could manage their data.
They could also utilize applications provided by Helix’s content partners – apps allowing them to gain various insights about their genomics. These included insights into areas such as physical traits and health risks. For example, the apps could be used to identify the presence of a sweet tooth, susceptibility to a disease, closeness of relation to a celebrity, and predicted appearance in 10 years.
Helix got off to a great start with $100 million in funding from investment firms Warburg Pincus, Sutter Hill Ventures, and Mayo Clinic Ventures, as well as Illumina, a manufacturer of DNA sequencing machines. These funds enabled it to build a large facility with a sizable farm of sequencing machines that could process DNA from over a million samples a year.
Helix’s services are not yet available. The company is still in the process of completing its sequencing center and acquiring partners for its apps. Another consideration is approval and regulatory constraints by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA will ultimately decide how much DNA information it can reveal. The company plans to launch its stores by the end of 2016 or in 2017.
Benefits at Helix
Business model of Helix
Helix has a mass market business model, with no significant differentiation between customer segments. The company targets its offering at any consumer who wants personal genomics data.
Helix offers five primary value propositions: customization, accessibility, convenience, price, and risk reduction.
The company offers customization through its offerings. Along with its partners, it provides personalized products, services, and applications specific to a customer’s genetic data.
The company creates accessibility by providing a wide variety of options. Its services enable consumers to obtain information about their genes as it relate to a broad range of areas, including health, lifestyle, genealogy, nutrition, fitness, and family.
The company offers convenience. Customers can easily view and manage their data in the cloud.
The company provides a price value proposition. It aims to provide information about a consumer’s genomics at a cost of around $100 -- about one-fifth the cost of similar services from competitors.
The company reduces risk by maintaining high safety and security standards. It maintains a protected and secure database built in accordance with CAP, CLIA, and HIPAA guidelines. Consumers will be able to control how their information is accessed through a granular and robust consent process. There will also be a “nuclear button” that enables them to erase all stored data.
Helix’s main channel is its website. The company promotes its offering through its social media pages and participation in conferences.
Helix’s customer relationship is primarily of a self-service, automated nature. Customers utilize the service through the main platform while having limited interaction with employees. That said, it will likely offer phone and e-mail support to answer questions.
Helix’s business model entails developing sequencing and analysis services and maintaining a robust data platform for its customers.
Helix maintains the following types of partnerships:
App Developers – The company works with developers that create content and design apps enabling its customers to gain new insights into their genomics data. Specific partners include the following:
- Center for Individualized Medicine at Mayo Clinic – The center will develop apps initially focused on health-related queries and consumer education.
- Good Start Genetics – The firm, which provides pre-conception testing services, will develop apps that help consumers better understand their reproductive health.
Service Providers – The company works with firms that offer complementary services to its customers. Specific partners include the following:
- Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings (LabCorp) – The firm provides analysis and interpretation services focused on medically-actionable genetic conditions.
- Duke University – The school will develop education programs focused on genetics and initiatives that support entrepreneurs who build apps on Helix’s platform.
Helix’s main resource is its proprietary cloud-based software platform, which stores customer genomics data.
It maintains an important physical resource in the form of a center with sequencing machines, believed to be the largest in the U.S. Its important human resources are its engineers, scientists, designers, and entrepreneurs with backgrounds in healthcare, consumer technology, and finance.
Lastly, as a new startup it has relied heavily on funding from outside parties, raising $100 million from four investors as of August 2015.
Helix has a cost-driven structure, aiming to minimize expenses through significant automation and low-price value propositions. Its biggest cost driver is likely research and development, a fixed cost. Other major drivers are in the areas of product development and sales/marketing, both fixed expenses.
Helix has not yet begun selling its services, but it will likely have three revenue streams:
- Fees charged for completion of sequencing and analysis services
- Fees charged for access to its proprietary cloud-based data platform
- Commissions obtained from sales of apps through its partners
info: Robin Thurston earned an M.S. in Finance at the University of Colorado at Denver. He previously served as EVP, Chief Digital Officer at Under Armour, as the Co-Founder, CEO, and Chief Product Officer of MapMyFitness, and as the Investment Director of Wellington Management.
info: Justin Kao earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, an M.S. in Bioengineering, and a JD and MBA at Stanford University. He previously served as Vice President of Healthcare at Warburg Pincus.
info: James Lu earned a B.S. and M.S. in Chemical Engineering at Stanford University and an M.D. and Ph.D. in Genomics at Baylor College of Medicine. He previously served as an Associate in Research at Duke University.
info: Scott Burke earned a B.S. in Physics at Harvey Mudd College. He previously served as SVP of Advertising and Data Platforms at Yahoo!, as VP of Engineering at PacketHop and WebMD, and as VP of Applications and Services at SEVEN.
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