URC Profile

Dan Rhodes

Current Company: Compendia Bioscience (acquired by Life Technologies Corp. in 2012)
Industry: Biotech
Offices: Ann Arbor MI
Activity: Brings together many disciplines to apply cancer genomic analysis to drug development, diagnostics and personalized medicine
Employees: 40
School Attended: University of Michigan
Degrees: B.S., Molecular Biology, 2000; Ph.D., Bioinformatics & Cancer Biology, 2006
Company Website: www.lifetechnologies.com

 

“Even as a child, I knew I would not follow a traditional career path, but had to do something significant, answer to a bigger calling.”

When Dan Rhodes grew up in West Michigan, his parents encouraged him to become a doctor, but he always had a sense he wouldn’t follow a traditional career path. After earning his undergraduate degree in molecular biology from the University of Michigan in just three years, Dan took a year to conduct cancer research at the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids, where he was exposed to the field of bioinformatics. This experience enabled Dan to use his knack for computers and math to work on finding ways to fight cancer.

In 2006, he earned a doctoral degree in bioinformatics at U-M, where work with his doctoral mentor, Professor Arul Chinnaiyan, led to a number of discoveries, including isolating the DNA markers that led to prostate cancer. He and Chinnaiyan built a database technology for cancer research called Oncomine. In January 2006, while Dan was still finishing his doctoral degree, they formed Compendia Bioscience to promote the technology. Dan dropped his plans to return to U-M for a medical degree when he decided he was “having too much fun building a business.”

 

“I had no clue. How do you create the business? How do you set up the equity structure? How do you recruit the management team? This was 10 times scarier than how do you build a product to change the world.”

Dan had no entrepreneurial training and found creating a business a daunting task. But he received a great deal of support from the University of Michigan Office of Tech Transfer, Ann Arbor SPARK and the Ann Arbor entrepreneurial community, and was able to draw on the larger community of people starting businesses. Serial entrepreneur Kurt Riegger took Dan under his wing and helped him figure out how to get his fledgling business off the ground. For Dan, just knowing there was someone knowledgeable out there who was taking an interest was critical to get the ball rolling.

Compendia had paying customers very early on, attracted a talented management team and became profitable by 2009. The vision for the company, started at U-M, was to move beyond pharmaceutical research and help drive molecular diagnostics so patients could figure out what drugs to take. To achieve this goal, Compendia realized that it would need to raise a huge amount of capital or be acquired by a larger company with a similar vision. Life Technologies acquired Compendia in 2012 and now employs 40 people in Ann Arbor, with more growth to come.

Dan and his business partner are committed to Ann Arbor because the company’s roots are there and it knows it can secure the talent it needs. Around 80 percent of its workforce comes from the local community. Among the 20 percent that comes from the East and West coasts, many have ties to the region, a critical factor in recruiting top talent to Ann Arbor.

Photo credit: Doug Coombe