This Startup Lost Its Co-Founder and CEO, But It Still Wants to 3D Print You a Heart Someday
A lot has changed for Allevi, formerly known as BioBots–but the company pushes on.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
The goal of BioBots has always been the same: Give laboratories the ability to create living things from scratch. Those things--such as pieces of tissue or bone--could then be studied with the hopes of finding cures and solving diseases.
That vision helped the company's co-founders, Ricky Solorzano and Danny Cabrera, land on Inc.'s 30 Under 30 list in 2016. And while the original goal has remained, much has changed. In August, Cabrera, the company's first CEO, left the Philadelphia-based startup. And in November, the company rebranded, changing its name to a more mature but far less memorable name, Allevi.
"People think running a startup is just a straight line, that you go in one direction," Solorzano, who has since shifted from CTO to CEO, tells Inc. "You really go up, down, sideways, left, right, 45 degrees this way, 90 degrees that way."
For Solorzano and Cabrera, the split represents the end of an era. The two Miami residents both attended the University of Pennsylvania, where they first discussed the idea of developing an affordable three-dimensional printer that could produce living tissue. They founded the company together in 2014.
Solorzano says the pair had different views about the future direction of the startup. He won't go into more specifics. "There were no hard feelings," he says. Cabrera, who recently moved to San Francisco, is already working on a new project in the field of genetic engineering. He declined to be interviewed for this story, saying he'd prefer to wait until his new venture is ready for the public.
As for the name change, the new name is an abbreviation of "alleviate," and one that the company says references its desire to help its customers cure disease and alleviate suffering. The startup might be better off differentiating itself anyway, since the name BioBots is a popular one: A company called Biobot Analytics compiles data on the opioid epidemic, and Advanced Solutions Life Sciences manufactures a 3-D bioprinter called the BioBot that's also used for producing tissue.
The name change, Solorzano says, fits with the startup's expansion beyond hardware. While the $10,000 bioprinters--far cheaper than most of its competitors--remain the company's bread and butter, the company is now putting more of a focus on building software that makes printing as easy as possible for its users.
"We really want to make sure our users are deriving as much value as they can from these printers," he says. "Usually users know what they want to create but don't know the best way to do it. So we're trying to remove all the complexity, everything the user doesn't need to know, to set them up for success."
Those users have been learning. One scientist at Harvard has been using the printer to create blood clots for studying. Another is reproducing cancerous tumors for a similar purpose, while another is working on printing bone--a process that potentially could be used to correct defects. 3-D printed organs aren't yet advanced enough to be put into human bodies, but as the science progresses, that day is probably coming.
The 10-employee Allevi, which now has about $1.6 million in funding, is seeking another $1 million to keep developing and refining its printers. And when things get rough, Solorzano maintains hold of that initial vision.
"It's like having a little sail boat, and you're trying to navigate the waters and figure out best way forward. You see the storm coming but have to keep on that path," he says. "Founding a startup is less about creating a healthy, growing business--although that's really important--and more about being really passionate in one area. I'm really passionate about tissue engineering and this idea of creating organs, and the impact that can have. There's this excitement around being really attached and passionate toward this one idea and really immersing yourself in it. That continues to be the driver. That's the wind behind the sales."