By: Matilda Holtz and Ravi Patel
We sit down with BioAmp Diagnostics CEO, Tara DeBoer, to discuss the two fronts her company seeks to tackle, her experience as a student-athlete, and what her Berkeley experience meant to her..
At the intersection of improving health outcomes for women and fighting antibiotic resistance is BioAmp Diagnostics, an exciting startup founded by Tara DeBoer, PhD. BioAmp has created a targeted and efficient chemical test called DETECT: the test allows healthcare professionals to accurately diagnose high-risk urinary tract infections and prescribe the right antibiotic treatment. DETECT makes headway on two important public health issues. First, rapid diagnosis brings rapid relief to women experiencing complex UTIs and prevents the infections from spreading to the kidneys or even to the bloodstream. Further, over-prescription of antibiotics is a contributing factor to the influx of antimicrobial resistance – particularly to the exact medications that treat UTIs. Dr. DeBoer and her team employed their expertise in synthetic chemistry and bioengineering to devise a solution that does double-duty.
This is not the first time Dr. DeBoer has done two things at once. As an undergrad at community college and later at CSU Stanislaus, she balanced playing NCAA soccer and earning her chemistry and biology degrees. Being a student athlete was a formative experience and instilled valuable business lessons in DeBoer.
“Juggling the responsibilities of being a teammate and part of something bigger than yourself teaches discipline, and sacrifice.”
Completing a rigorous science program at a small liberal arts college was also a key factor in Dr. DeBoer’s diverse interests. One of only seven chemistry majors in the department, she was able to touch every sophisticated instrument and experiment with anatomy, microbiology, and physiology courses beyond hard chemical science. As a result, she was able to find her niche at the junction of medicine and chemistry.
As a graduate student, DeBoer worked in synthetic chemistry focusing on anti-inflammation and anti-infective agents. This research sparked an interest in seeking chemical solutions to the hot-button issue of antimicrobial resistance. In 2015, she came to UC Berkeley as a postdoc and joined an NIH funded consortium project on fighting antimicrobial resistance. Dr. DeBoer began investigating chemical markers of high risk UTIs right off the bat. “I was quickly ticking away at building a technology for a very specific use case, and ultimately how BioAmp was formulated was that we developed our core technological approach.” Positive results from proof of concept studies inspired her to begin rolling the technology out – hence BioAmp Diagnostics was born.
Though DeBoer’s initial career plans were to focus on academia, her desire to work in areas with tangible applications brought her to the business side of science and technology. She also credits the “normalization” of entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley for inspiring her startup. There was plenty of overlap between researching at the bench and leading a company. “Managing people, building teams, and building infrastructure,” Dr. DeBoer explains, are skills that can make or break a business – and skills she had developed working in a lab and mentoring students. DeBoer is grateful for the coursework she was able to take as a postdoc that prepared her for all the new hats she wears.
As the CEO of a company, Tara DeBoer is committed to fostering a positive work environment where great ideas can flourish. DeBoer is a young entrepreneur, not too far removed from the grueling hours and constant stress of graduate and postdoc researchers – she wants to make things a little easier for those getting their footing at BioAmp Diagnostics: “I get to be a part of building a voice and a culture for the company”. DeBoer is also passionate about making BioAmp’s technologies accessible to as many people as possible. While the company is currently based in the US, BioAmp also plans to eventually go global. One challenge Dr. DeBoer mentions in this regard is designing the features of their tests with the unique healthcare systems of each country in mind.
In the realm of advice, Dr. DeBoer stresses the virtue of patience. Additionally, she advocates allowing data to drive decision making. Dr. DeBoer also recommends extensive reflection, so as to not miss out on assessing the impact of any one discovery or decision. To this end, she advises students to have the fortitude to repeat experiments. For entrepreneurs specifically, DeBoer notes that raising money puts a lot of pressure on those in executive roles: taking on money comes with a real pressure to perform.
When unwinding from work at BioAmp Diagnostics, Dr. DeBoer enjoys reading, spending time with her nieces, and travelling to explore other cultures and cuisines.