News Article

Meet the 27-Year Old CEO Who's Running Biotech Visikol
Date: Jan 16, 2017
Author: Mary Terry
Source: Biospace ( click here to go to the source)

Featured firm in this article: Visikol Inc of Whitehouse Station, NJ

Michael Johnson is the chief executive officer and cofounder of a biotech company, Visikol. Johnson, age 27, was recently recognized by Forbes in its "30 Under 30" in science. He recently took time to chat with Frank Chaparro with Business Insider, and to share his best two pieces of advice for entrepreneurship.

Visikol grew out of a plant biology. The company's chief scientific officer, Tom Villani, and Jim Simon and Adolfina Koroch at the plant biology labs at Rutgers University, were looking for an alternative to chloral hydrate as a plant clearing agent--one that was safer and more accessible. They have since expanded into a variety of 3D technologies , which has numerous applications in several areas, including Alzheimer's, cancer research, and others.

In a somewhat classical fashion, Johnson failed his way to success. His first attempt at a biotech company was designed to develop biofuel out of algae. It was unable to compete with dropping oil prices.

He then moved to Argentina, where he worked on utilizing duckweed to decontaminate waste water. In this case, it was Argentinian regulations that killed the project. After that, he returned to the U.S. and tried a company to simplify booking vet appointments, also a failure.

Visikol, however, is a different story. Johnston told Business Insider, "There was a person willing to give us $25,000, but that wasn't enough, but he liked the idea so much he connected us with people at Ben Franklin Technology Partners who offered us $100,000. We leveraged that into a $500,000 investment from the New Jersey Foundation Venture Capital Group."

The company's technology is described on the company website as, "A versatile tool for optical sectioning, Visikol for Plant Biology renders plant tissues transparent, allowing you to visualize internal structures of whole tissues without complex and time-consuming sectioning."

The company's DART is similar, allowing for non-destructive and rapid skeletal visualization. And Visikol HISTO is an easy-to-use 3D tissue visualization technology platform.

Johnson's first piece of advice: "Choose something that you're passionate about. I often see people getting involved in startups just for the sake of doing it and making money. That can't be your motivation."

In July 2016, Visikol, which had original funding from Foundation Venture Capital Group, also received a $225,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for its DART technology.

In a statement at the time, Johnson said, "There are more than $1 billion worth of DART studies conducted every year to ensure that new chemicals going to market do not have adverse developmental consequences. A major bottleneck in these studies is the processing of animals for skeletal visualization, which takes 14-21 days. Our team, led by Tom Villani, has developed a novel approach to process animals for skeletal visualization which cuts this time down to as few as two days with limited technician oversight."

The company was founded in February 2016.

Johnson's second piece of advice: "Read everything and anything you can about your industry so you're informed when you go to conferences and events. Make sure you're always looking for people who can help you reach your company goals."