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Joseph Kittle Jr. of Molecular Technologies Laboratory

Meet Dr. Joseph Kittle Jr., founder of Molecular Technologies Laboratory, a technology development company.

What is Molecular Technologies Laboratory?

Molecular Technologies Laboratory [MTL] is a technology development company that engineers bacteria to produce useful products. These products are primarily related to biopharmaceuticals and some bio-based materials, like biofuels. We offer bacteria genome-engineering services to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. We also invest in our own IP development. Our clients face many challenges in developing approvable products, and we can provide a kind of craftsmanship in building reliability, cost efficiency and safety into their products and production systems.

How did you come up with the idea?

I have been active in the area of synthetic DNA and product development for the last 20 years, and have watched the success of companies that have something special to offer the pharmaceutical industry. I recognized that you could put together some emerging technologies in making synthetic genes and using them to engineer bacteria to produce and optimize bio-pharmaceuticals. Bio-pharmaceuticals are proteins with therapeutic properties. I invested about a year in refining the business model and technical concept and this summer was able to develop the IP basis for the new company. I approached my longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Tom Zupancic, to vet the idea and investigate the potential of a business startup. I invited the other principle founder, CEO Nick Henderson, to join and take on the tasks of managing business development and to put the company on a solid business foundation. We liked the sum total of ­­what we saw and jointly created and launched the company.

What was the biggest surprise in starting your business? 

Ease of launch. Four things came together: the technology vision, the executive team, strong support from our first client and the research facilities of Ohio University’s Innovation Center. This convergence provided a strong basis for rapid early progress.

Where did you find your first employee? 

The first employee had to be a person who was dependable, intelligent and adaptable. I was fortunate to hire a PhD scientist from the Ohio University chemistry department. I had previously worked with Shengwen Liang and relied on him when teaching some very large chemistry classes.  Shengwen Liang was the teaching assistant I could turn to when I needed organization and problem solving in managing the class.

What does a typical day in your business look like?

Part of our business philosophy is that we need to do a few things very well. In the lab we design the genes, insert them into bacteria and then optimize the design by screening for improved bacteria. In the business, we manage the client contracts and proposals, and plan for future development of the business. So far we have been self-funded, so our time is devoted more to running the business and developing the technology as opposed to the usual grind of constant grant writing or courting venture capital types.  

What are some of the advantages to doing business in Ohio? 

There is a large talent pool available and we get a lot of cooperation from the folks at the Innovation Center. We also have a lower cost basis than I experienced in startup companies in California or even Texas.  

What resources or organizations in Athens did you take advantage of and how did they help? 

Ohio University Innovation Center’s Jennifer Simon, Bethany George and Joe Jollick really helped with the ease of launch. Ohio University’s chemistry department was very encouraging of our efforts. Jeff Wiseman at Edison Biotechnology Center and Clint Riddell at TechGrowth Ohio were very helpful as well. We also have a lot of interaction with a contract research company in Columbus, Applied Biomolecular Technology
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers? 

We signed our lease and received our first customer contract on the same day, which took place a week after incorporating our company.
What inspires you?

For the day by day routine, the people I work with challenge me to push further. But for the bigger picture, it’s the people of the area including Athens and the communities in the surrounding hills. I grew up here and left for thirty years to seek a biotechnology career on the east coast, Texas and California. My family still lives in the community where my father and mother had a modest retail store. When I’m here, I’m home among people I know, the forested hills I love, and it’s perhaps ironic that I returned home to find my heart and ambition had never left. 

What founders do you admire and why?

I look at the success that people have had in the biotech custom products companies. Some examples are Biosearch Technologies with Ron Cook and Mark Beal, the software company, GeneCodes with Howard Cash, and or course the local success of Diagnostics Hybrids is very impressive.

What’s next for you?

We are concentrating on building these improved systems for our existing clients and in identifying new business opportunities to fuel our growth. 

Interview by Joe Baur

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