How Monica Berrondo’s biotech startup is transforming the antibody modeling process

3 years ago by in Launch, Mentors Unplugged, Rising Stars. Tagged:

MonicaBerrondoMeet rising star, Monica Berrondo, with Macromoltek. She’s an inspiration and role model for blazing new trails as a scientist in biotechnology and on top of that having a computer science background that empowered her to lead the development of the software herself!

You can follow Monica on the Macromoltek website and on LinkedIn.

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Tell us about the company you’ve built, the inspiration behind it and where you’re at today.

Macromoltek is a scientific software company for the pharmaceutical industry, focused on the research side.  We have created a web-based system for antibody modeling where a researcher can upload a sequence of an antibody and after the software processes the data, the structure of the antibody is produced.  This process occurs much more quickly than is typical in the market today, think hours instead of weeks, and, it’s web-based, so researchers can access their work from anywhere, when existing solutions tie a researcher to the lab.  As a scientist myself, my goal was to revolutionize the process, as working firsthand with existing software left me frustrated.  We are in the market validation phase, with a host of beta users working with the technology in their day-to-day work and we are refining our revenue model as a result.

Bootstrap and/or raise money – how did you get started and would you do anything differently? 

Bootstrapping has been our path since we started in 2011.  I started the company after finishing my PhD in chemical engineering, where my experiences of the processes and tools available showed me the need for this type of software.  With earlier education in computer science, I led the development of the software myself and have a small team of programmers today as we refine the capabilities of the tool.  My technical capabilities combined with my personal experiences in the industry were all I needed to get started. I saw the opportunity and thought “I can do this, why not?”.  Ask me if I’d do it differently in about a year or so – we’re at a turning point right now for growth, so it’s hard to say.

What is your revenue model and what big lessons have you learned about it? 

We have a subscription-based model, where an annual payment provides basic access to the core capabilities of the software and then we charge for high computational modules on a per-use basis.  Our biggest challenge has been explaining the model itself, because it’s very different than what’s currently available in the field of molecular modeling.  Once we explain it, there’s no issue, it’s just different.

macromoltekHow did you land your first customer?

We landed our first customer through LinkedIn.  We researched specific Groups that we thought would be interested in our software and started discussions announcing the product, offering trial opportunities to work with us.  Basically, we enticed people to be a part of our development process as beta testers and now that we’re giving them free reign on our platform, the feedback has informed and changed our software development path.  Working with these target customers has been a critical step to planning for scalability of the offering.

Geek out: what technology platform is your company built on? Would you recommend it? 

Our technology is the core of our unique offering, so I can’t tell you too much! I can tell you that we use a variety of tools, including TurboGears, a Python-based platform, along with  heavy javascript on the front-end, and all the back end is written in C#.  Our hosting company is located in the same city we are because the sensitivity and importance of this data meant we needed to be able to visit the site firsthand.  We have our own servers with them and  they host it for us, as we wanted independence without sharing resources with other companies.  Performance for a system like ours is critical.  All the data is hosted elsewhere – another key part of our technical framework and ensuring the safety and security of the important data that we house.

Low cost marketing strategies – what has been the most successful for you? 

Our story about LinkedIn and connecting directly with our target user was a very positive experience for us.  It’s been our first big push and that’s been good to us.  We’re sketching out future marketing plans once we’re ready for the bigger marketing investment.

Best way to stay focused – in all the steps for getting started, how did you know what to do next?

I am enrolled in a business accelerator program that has been instrumental in providing access to mentors and resources.  I’ve also surrounded myself with other entrepreneurs, asked them for advice and guidance, having like-minded people around made a big difference.  Half the battle is knowing the right question to ask, and a network can help you do that.

Specifically to staying focused, I go through phases where I sit down for 16 hours and focus on one body of work and then some days when concentrating becomes harder.  Just asking someone for the nudge and getting it, helps.  I am a list-person, and I find that it helps me get going when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Share your secret weapons – what business apps, products and tools help you run your business efficiently? 

I use Google Calendar to keep myself organized.  Not fancy, just necessary.  As someone who writes software, I use a surprisingly limited amount of software.  I would be lost without my music…Pandora and Spotify have been  amazing motivators for me!

Moving forward - What do you need to meet your goals?

Given how technically oriented I am, I need to round out my skills with additional support on the business side, specifically business development, marketing, building partnerships.  I am exploring a few ways to do this, including finding an equity partner, creating an advisory board, and hiring marketing expertise.  If you know anyone in the pharmaceutical or biotechnology industry and ‘protein folding’ and ‘antibody modeling’ mean something to them, let me know!

Learn more about Macromoltek at!

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