(Iris Kim (intern), Scottie Deming (intern) and Ross Higgins (COO).)

“The mapping of the human genome has irreversibly changed the direction of healthcare,” said COO Ross Higgins. His startup, Phenomix Sciences, develops precision medical solutions for obesity, a process which relies on genetic research, as well as non-genetic variables like metabolism and hormones. Based on technology licensed from the Mayo Clinic, Phenomix is developing a blood test to help understand and classify the variables that drive weight differently in each patient.

“There are a lot of moving parts that have to align to develop and launch a new test,” Higgins said, “there is an algorithm that must be in its final form, validation of the testing process in the lab, and ensuring that we have the right operational infrastructure in place to launch.   It has been a huge challenge to get all these key areas covered with such a small team.”

The regulatory landscape is changing too. With standard operating procedure (SOP) revisions, and inspection prep, there’s much this small team needs to accomplish. That’s why having interns to help achieve their goal, Higgins said, “is definitely value added.”

Where science and business meet
Scottie Deming, a SciTech student and computer engineering major at the University of St. Thomas, was Phenomix’s first intern and even helped set up the their lab space at the UEL when her internship began.

“It’s been fun working with a startup,” Deming said. “There are so many things that we get to do here,” primarily, working on the method development for Phenomix’s mass spectrometry tests.

Chemical Engineering Major Iris Kim, was hired through the SciTech program a month later. She developed methods for genetic testing and worked closely with the collected data. As Kim’s first time working in industry, she gained a lot of hands-on exposure and experience.

Before coming to work at Phenomix, Kim said “I had a knowledge of the machines that we work with here, but I never got to use them on my own. But then, I think it was my first day, or my first week here, Ross had me run the QPCR machine by myself.”

Kim also gained a lot of insight into the business side of running a startup by taking on some market research that was needed for the company’s business plan.

“It’s been an opportunity for Iris to see the other things that are happening behind the scenes to get a startup funded and prepared to launch a product,” Higgins said.

What’s next?
Both Deming and Kim’s internships ended in the fall, but they each took with them something more from their time in the Phenomix lab than just a summer job experience.

“This experience helped me confirm what I want to do in the future,” Kim said.

“Anything is possible, especially in the science world,” Deming added. “I really think that’s what Phenomix is. It’s this new innovative approach to precision medicine. And when I finish school, I’m really interested in getting my hands dirty. With a startup, it’s fun, it’s exciting it’s new every day.”

Get involved
Looking to build your small business workforce? At least 200 internship wage matches are available to small employers on a first come, first hire basis. Get started today at SciTechMN.org.

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