By Ryan Velez
Olivier Noel recently got the chance of a lifetime to appear on Shark Tank and pitch an idea. Following his success, Black Enterprise recently sat down with Noel to talk about the experience and his future business plans.
Noel’s business, DNASimple, matches DNA donors with research studies looking for DNA that matches their background. How he happened to come up with the idea is an interesting story.
“Back when I started my Ph.D., I realized how difficult it was to get specific samples from patients for scientific research regardless of how great the infrastructure, lab equipment, and even the amount of grant money we had. The geographic barrier between us scientists and patients is a difficult one to bypass. While attending a genetics conference in Philadelphia, I realized that this was a problem affecting scientists across the country and not just my research team at Penn State and came up with the idea for DNA Simple, an online database connecting patients and scientists independent of location.”
This has a great deal of importance, more than one may think. “Over the past 10 years or so, scientists have realized that a lot of conditions that were not previously thought to have a genetic basis are actually linked to our genes and genome. In fact, we’re finding out that even the genetic conditions themselves can be broken down into subtypes that are directly related to our DNA. This explains why it is so important for researchers to have a reliable source of DNA for research studies, to be able to study DNA of patients of different backgrounds. Once we can understand the disease process and genetics behind a condition, then we can bring about personalized care for such condition,” Noel explains.
In terms of his plans post-show, Noel shows no signs of stopping after his pitch. “Since the pitch, we’ve grown quite a bit from a just a few thousands of donors in our database to now over 60,000 and growing. We’ve also added the option to donate urine and stool samples to researchers who would like to have such samples for their studies. As an additional option, we also offer ancestry and genetic testing for about 70 traits to folks who’d like to get such a service.”