I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Gilman who founded Biosero in 2003. From the onset, Biosero’s goal is to deliver and support completely integrated solutions that automate laboratory workflows for the life science market.
As Chief Executive Officer and President, Tom maintains the alignment of the team to advance software solutions addressing future requirements in automation that also include the industrial market. Biosero’s industry-leading automation software, Green Button Go™, is a device-agnostic software platform that integrates equipment into a cohesive lab ecosystem that automates workflow processes and increases productivity.
During his 30-year career in the laboratory automation sector, Tom has held several senior-level sales, marketing and applications support roles at IGEN, HCG, and Apricot Designs. Before founding Biosero, he served as an award-winning global account manager at Beckman Instruments. In this position, Tom recognized the benefits of integrated automation solutions early on, making the original introduction of the Sagian team to Beckman.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When I first started Biosero, my personal life was in ruins. It was a time where grit and grind were all I had. There was nothing funny about that time in my life. I just smiled and kept going.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I listen to Darren Hardy podcasts, read his books and attend his training, such as the High-Performance Forum, because Darren has curated all the best learnings about being a successful CEO. I’m a huge Darren Hardy fan.
Darren’s insight, training and mentoring have helped me learn and focus on the things required to run a successful business, maintain my focus and increase my productivity.
I also read a lot of books. At my company, Biosero, we have a book club. Last month a co-worker in the book club recommended “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done” by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. That rapidly became my favorite book.
There are a lot of common threads throughout different leadership podcasts and books — be open, cultivate open dialogue within your team and secure buy-in from your team toward the company’s unified goal. I’ve learned to be more honest and direct with my team and strive to do it kindly.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
When I started Biosero, my vision was to help scientists and researchers find cures by enabling them to gather the data they need to make the best and quickest decisions. From that vision, Biosero was born.
Biosero creates future-proof software platforms for environments that are always changing. The software our team creates accelerates research that delivers cures and pharmaceuticals that make a difference in people’s lives. We take pride in knowing our customers have introduced drugs that cure Hepatitis C, reduce pain without addictive side effects, or save the lives of cancer patients. Driving toward a cure is our purpose, our why. Our work makes a difference.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
DO the right thing, with an emphasis on doing. During my personal and professional life, it’s doing, taking action, on the right things that have gotten me through the ups and downs.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example. As the U.S. started to shut down, and I had to send all our team members home to work, the question was at the forefront of my mind — what do we do?
We aren’t the kind of people who sit around. At Biosero, we choose “to do” and push forward to help get answers that will prevent the spread of COVID-19. It was a chance to live our mission — to enable the world’s decision-makers to make better decisions in less time using more data.
We quickly ramped up to support the scientific and research community by providing free access to Green Button Go automation scheduling software and our team of experts. We’ve offered anyone working to find treatments, vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19 a free six-month license to the software so they can automate and accelerate their research processes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Shelter-in-place has been a personal challenge. I have three children — two who are full-grown and live on their own and one in elementary school. Based on their ages, the impact of the pandemic was different. I can’t see or hug my grown son and daughter and I miss that.
For my little one, we had to come up with a plan to support her elementary education and her well-being. At the same time, my wife, who is the COO of Biosero, and I, had to keep running the company, because as I mentioned, the research and scientific community needed Biosero’s help fast!
We worked out a plan with a neighboring family who we are good friends with. We share the homeschooling and childcare across the two families. Every other day the kids switch houses so that on off days the other parents can go to work.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Biosero has a strong culture of comradery that was built during two decades of in-person collaboration. Going from that environment, working individually from home felt very siloed.
A lot of ideas are born out of stream-of-consciousness talking and ideation — that’s gone. Now I try to recreate that by calling a colleague and riffing for a while on the phone. But I miss walking by our Acceleration Lab and seeing a group of engineering working on their skunkworks ideas, building a self-assembling robot on the fly, or challenging each other about a coding challenge.
To keep the energy flowing across the company and break down silos, we started the Biosero Olympics — a gamification concept to keep all the teams collaborating and ideating. Each department is one team — service, sales, apps and marketing — and they are all competing for a fun prize like a trip to Disneyland or an ice cream party (for those who don’t want to wait until Disneyland is open again!)
Each week the teams are challenged to come up with new ideas, about how to present and sell Green Button Go Automation Software
It’s fun and it has a purpose. One, to create more understanding across all the Biosero functions of our flagship Green Button Go software. The remote nature of the work also helped team members flex their communications and creativity muscles. How do you demonstrate the bricks-and-mortar Acceleration Lab remotely? How do you assess a customer’s workflow when you can’t see it in person?
It creates a fun environment for learning and self-improvement.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your employees and loved ones who are feeling anxious during this time? Can you explain?
The Biosero team is at its best when it is creating solutions. So, we moved quickly to get out into the marketplace and offer a proactive solution to problems researchers were facing as they tried to find cures, tests, vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19.
The pandemic is a fight, a fight against a very difficult viral opponent and we knew scientists and researchers would be up against two significant challenges — time and volume. We are all in a race against time with this virus. The longer it takes to find solutions, the more people die. Automating the lab workflows for scientists is essential to finding solutions quickly.
Second is the volume. The demands on labs have multiplied vastly since the pandemic started. Labs are working to cure, prevent and test a killer virus that takes more lives every day. They are buried under a tremendous amount of workload. The number of samples labs have to process is enormous.
Green Button Go Automation Scheduling Software can make an impact on time and on volume, as it automates equipment labs already have on hand, into an integrated lab ecosystem. By streamlining manual processes, and creating and integrating workcells big and small, Green Button Go software accelerates the discovery.
For example, Biosero has helped Dr. Thomas Rogers, Assistant Professor of Medicine, and Dr. Dennis Burton, Co-Chair Department of Immunology and Microbiology, at Scripps Research Institute to automate their compound library screening process and antibody discovery platform.
Working with equipment the institute already had, Biosero created a custom automation platform operated by Green Button Go software to screen 14,000 compounds already approved by the FDA for their therapeutic potential against COVID-19. The automation scheduling and data analysis software allowed the research team to rapidly shift its lab resources and expertise to execute the high throughput screening process needed to run the cell infection assays in the Biosafety Level-3 (BSL-3) lab.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-COVID economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-COVID economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-COVID growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-COVID economy?
Large pharmaceutical and biotech companies have shifted their work to COVID-19 research and response. Faced with this very urgent crisis and the vast volume of therapeutics, blood and anti-bodies to study and test, they have realized that lab automation is vital.
If they haven’t already implemented mobile robotics or automation into their labs, they’ve realized now is the moment, because we are all racing against time to save as many lives as possible. In the Post-COVID economy, laboratories will be seeking out automation and integration solutions so they can be ready for the next peak in testing or research.
Automation accelerates the time required to process a large volume of samples, but automation also enables safety. Scientists and researchers working to find cures and vaccines for deadline viruses shouldn’t be exposed to it while doing their work.
Robotic automation eliminates the person from the dangerous work of moving live, deadly samples from instrument to instrument. Robotic arms and unmanned vehicles can do that work instead. We need scientists and technicians for their minds, to analyze the data, not to be the transportation for the samples.
Instrumentation and mobile robotics can move samples around a Biosafety Level-3 (BSL-3) lab instead of people, protecting technicians from exposure to a deadly virus.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Across many industries, the best way for the U.S. to be competitive on a global scale is to embrace automation and robotics. It can help bring more manufacturing back to the U.S. It can make healthcare and pharmaceutical development more efficient
As it relates to avoiding the impact of widespread pandemics in the future, three technology trends will help get to the cure fastest — data gathering, process automation and miniaturization.
Automation increases accuracy. An automated lab workflow repeatedly processes samples the same way, every time, and around the clock while you are fighting against time.
Miniaturization saves time, conserves materials and reduces costs. Transitioning compounds from 96-well plates to 384-well plates allows lab technicians to use less of the sample or drug compound so they can do more tests, with less material. Miniaturization expedites the time to a hit and makes testing much more cost-effective.
Lastly, automated systems are superb at gathering and recording data. As lab automation software moves samples through the process, it also collects data about every sample. The software ensures every sample is traceable from the first step to the last. Data is critical as researchers build a store of data for vaccine candidates that will be subject to thorough review and compliance measures.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-COVID economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-COVID Economy?
As Biosero grows, we are focused on making it easier to access to automation so that labs can run remotely. As the world prepares to face peak of workforce disruption, it will be necessary for labs to keep advancing the research with automation, even when no one can be physically in the lab.
For instance, Biosero has an Acceleration Lab at our headquarters where customers experience highly-innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, facial recognition and automation and scheduling software in a real lab environment.
Right now, we are using the Acceleration Lab to show customers how they can successfully run automation when they are remote or have a limited staff to run a lab. You can control function in the Acceleration Lab remotely through voice command. If you are going to manage a lab remotely, you have to be able to do it all through voice command.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Focus on what you are good at. If what you are good at isn’t relevant anymore, adapt. There is no lack of creativity. Sit and think about it, see that space, focus on it and don’t give up. Enable people to achieve more without physically doing more.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Life is hard. There is no simple road. I have experienced a lot of things harder than businesses and faced trials much more difficult than business. Whether it’s in my personal or professional life, I just don’t give up.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Twitter (company page): https://twitter.com/Biosero
LinkedIn (personal page): https://www.linkedin.com/in/tom-gilman-a5b519/
LinkedIn (company page): https://www.linkedin.com/company/biosero-inc/