How did a woman who dropped science in high school come to develop and run one of the world’s top scientific websites?
The numbers tell the tale of the success of Alex Hodgson, who is chief executive officer and founder of Toronto-based 1DegreeBio Inc. The company’s website is where scientists go when they want to identify antibodies that will work in specific scientific applications.
Biomedical companies create antibodies to combat diseases and conditions, but scientists once had no reviews of their effectiveness, no way of differentiating which would work in their experiments, Ms. Hodgson says. She and co-founders Olga Volkova and Ron Yeung saw a chance to make science more efficient.
“No one else is doing this,” Ms. Hodgson said. The online platform is independent – not funded by a drug or antibody manufacturer – giving it credibility among researchers who use it to share information and publish results of studies.
Before 1DegreeBio was created, “you were on your own,” Ms. Hodgson said. “The (antibody) product comes in a box of dry ice. You look at it. You can’t see visually whether the stuff you bought for your experiment – which costs thousands of dollars if not more – is good or not,” she said from company offices in a lab at the University of Toronto’s Banting and Best Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Ms. Hodgson’s educational background is in international relations, but she decided against careers in law or banking. Instead she reignited her interest in science and spent four years as a project manager at Aled Edwards’ Structural Genomics Consortium in Toronto. Along the way, she became familiar with the waste and confusion researchers faced when it came to finding antibodies.
“One experiment could take eight months to a year to research. Can you let your results be based on a bad product?” she said. “Every (antibody manufacturer) is a little bit different.”
The free site was launched in July of 2010 and was funded mostly by venture funding from Digital Science, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd. Also providing funding were the Ontario Centres of Excellence; the VentureStart program of the Federal Economic Development Agency of Canada (co-ordinated by the Research Innovation Commercialization Centre in Mississauga); and the Toronto-based MaRS Discovery District, a public-private funding agency for science and technology.
The site puts product information and reviews in one place, “so (researchers) don’t have to gamble,” said Ms. Hodgson, who is the daughter of the late William Hodgson, who owned football’s Toronto Argonauts, Skyline Hotels and the Old Mill Restaurant.
In just more than two years, Ms. Hodgson’s site has been used by 230 institutions in 146 countries. “We started the 1DegreeBio website with 71 products and 170 users of the site, and now we’re at about 125,000 users of the site, with well over a million products.
“It’s been a very exciting path in a very short period of time.”
The site is free to users but makes money by offering multiple levels of listings, Ms. Hodgson explains. “So, if you want to have a direct link back to your website, or if you want to capture the sale through our website … we would take a commission from that.”
Analytical data – who’s looking at your products, how your products are doing in reviews and market intelligence reports – also must be paid for. “Our products are ranked by quality, so whether you’re paid or not paid, no company can pay up to get better results.”
Ms. Hodgson says she self-funded the fledgling project for 18 months. “I wanted to keep the business in Toronto,” she said. “Grants were a huge, huge help.”
VentureStart provided up to $30,000 in seed capital. That money enabled 1DegreeBio to hire a University of Toronto scientist.
“We brought in someone to prove to our investors that it’s not just about having salespeople, not just about IT people. They need to have someone behind them to provide drive for the company.”