September 15, 2015 (Vol. 35, No. 16)
Company Packs UV-Visible and Fluorescence Capabilities in One User-Friendly Instrument
DeNovix, a small developer of spectrophotometers, recently launched a microvolume, all-in-one spectrophotometer/fluorometer. The instrument is the third product to be commercialized in the company’s three-year history.
“Any time a researcher can buy one less instrument and save bench space without reducing functionality, it’s a win,” says Fred Kielhorn, DeNovix’ CEO. By combining a spectrophotometer and fluorometer into a single device, the new DS-11 FX+ does just that.
The DS-11 FX+ spectrophotometer/fluorometer quantifies nucleic acids and proteins over seven orders of magnitude. Analysis options include 1 µL UV-Vis, cuvette UV-Vis, and 0.5 mL PCR fluorometer tubes. It is as robust as stand-alone instruments, Kielhorn asserts, but users need to learn to operate only one device.
The instrument stores data internally, and includes Wi-Fi, USB, and Ethernet connections so data can be emailed, exported by thumb drive, or sent to network drives or printers.
For DeNovix, it is important to develop intuitive devices, so the company decided to integrate touchscreen technology. “Almost everyone is familiar with [smartphone and tablet] apps,” explains Kielhorn. “We leveraged that to create a similar experience—including swipes, pinch, and zoom motions—on a high-definition color display.
“We became Android coding experts. We built our own Android system rather than adapting one from a smartphone or tablet. We designed the processor, sourced the components, designed the internal circuitry, and had a glove-compatible touchscreen manufactured to our specifications.” DeNovix also commissioned a graphics designer to develop the specialized icons for the user interface.
DeNovix Thinks in Color
Unlike most scientific instruments, the DS-11 FX+ is available in a selection of colors—red, blue, silver, and white—at no extra charge. “Customers love it,” Kielhorn declares.
The colors have a practical benefit for DeNovix and for its customers, making the extra space and effort required to stock different-colored components for these built-to-order instruments worthwhile.
Aside from delivering the type of choice scientists expect in consumer devices to the lab, the colors also enhance brand awareness. According to the company, anyone who walks into a lab and sees a colored instrument will know that it comes from DeNovix.
There’s a practical advantage for customers, too.
For example, a teaching lab at Queensland (Australia) University of Technology bought 81 units, 75 of which are located in laboratory teaching stations—25 each of the white, silver, and blue models. The remaining 6 units are red. “The lab uses those as loaners, to be held in reserve and deployed as needed,” Kielhorn points out. The visual cue simplifies inventory and maintenance management.
NanoDrop Technologies 2.0
DeNovix, founded in 2012, is benefiting from Kielhorn’s experience founding NanoDrop Technologies. This spectrophotometer and fluorospectrometer developer had annual revenues of $35 million when it was acquired by Thermo Fisher in 2007.
“Three-quarters of our employees at DeNovix also worked for NanoDrop Technologies,” Kielhorn notes. “The mindset we have today at DeNovix is the same mindset we had there.”
“That’s why a lot of our employees are here now, rather than staying with Thermo Fisher,” he continues. “They like the entrepreneurial atmosphere and the nimbleness that’s inherent with small companies, both internally and in terms of responsiveness to customers.”
By virtue of its prior spectrophotometer/ fluorospectrometer experience, this team understands the market and the applications, he insists. For example, the architect of the NanoDrop® (a registered trademark of Thermo Fisher Scientific) software also designed the DeNovix DS-11 FX+ user interface. “Our software,” says Kielhorn, “is designed for life scientists by life scientists.”
Kielhorn is a hands-on founder. After NanoDrop Technologies, he founded the venture capital firm Kielvest with long-time friend Kevin Kelley. “I knew his philosophy, how he thinks about customer care, and his business experience,” Kielhorn recalls. “I knew he would be a good business partner.”
Kielhorn and Kelley’s stint as venture capitalists was enlightening. For them, Kielhorn says, “It wasn’t as much fun to invest and then watch others build companies. We’re ‘roll up our sleeves’ guys.”
Small Means Responsive
Because DeNovix is a small, 15-person company, it is, Kielhorn maintains, “able to move fast, making decisions and executing them quickly.” Each of the company’s products, for example, went from concept to commercialization in about one year.
The small size also means that customers deal directly with DeNovix scientists. One-third of its staff are molecular biologists. According to Kielhorn, this figure means that callers don’t have to bother with first-line tech support. Instead, callers go straight to someone who can answer technical questions.
Direct access to scientists is becoming increasingly important given the rapid pace of modern science. The rate of discovery is brisk, and “something major is learned almost every week,” Kielhorn remarks. “This creates a fertile environment for an instrument company in life sciences.” The need to quantify new discoveries and ever-smaller volumes requires instrument manufacturers to be as creative as the scientists who are making the breakthroughs.
DeNovix’ staff of molecular biologists devote one-third of their time to discovering new products. The discovery path includes customer visits, attending promising conferences, and talking with researchers and investigating new areas of discovery to identify new product targets.
Naturally, expanding the company’s intellectual property portfolio and developing technology around it are part of the innovative process.
Growth, Kielhorn predicts, will continue to be organic. The three-year-old company already is earning profits and is turning those funds to R&D to fuel growth. “We want to develop new IP,” Kielhorn elaborates. “We will continue to work hard and look for the next big product opportunity.”
Location: 3411 Silverside Road, Hanby Building, Wilmington, DE 19810
Phone: (302) 442-6911
Principal: Fred Kielhorn, Founder and CEO
Number of Employees: 15
Focus: DeNovix develops and manufactures instrumentation for bioresearch. It focuses on spectrophotometers and fluorometers.