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We caught up with Katie Critchlow, CEO of NatureMetrics, as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. NatureMetrics use next generation sequencing to identify species from tiny fragments of DNA they leave behind in their environment.
The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with great potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Katie: I’m Katie Critchlow, the CEO of NatureMetrics. We monitor biodiversity using DNA. We help companies, governments and conservation groups to understand what species are present in their environments. This might support an Environmental Impact Assessment, it may help a business to understand how to restore a damaged ecosystem or a conservation group to monitor their effectiveness at supporting biodiversity. We use next generation sequencing to identify species from tiny fragments of DNA they leave behind in their environment.
Katie: We were founded by a scientist called Dr Kat Bruce, who is still part of our company and board today. Kat did her PhD in the area of eDNA and NGS for biodiversity mapping and was amazed that academic papers always talked of how the techniques would ‘revolutionise ecology’ but that no one in the commercial ecological field had ever heard of DNA-based monitoring techniques! The company was founded to bring these amazing new techniques to the market to build a business which benefitted nature. Our philosophy is ‘that which is measured improves’. Kat built an amazing team over 4.5 years and then passed the baton to me earlier this year so she could stay more focussed on exciting new frontiers and projects in our industry whilst I focus on growing the business.
Katie: The pace of recruitment required when at the growth stage is challenging at the best of times but now with COVID, there are lots of factors to consider. We have been interviewing over Microsoft Teams and there is always a slight nervousness about not meeting people face to face before making an offer, but thankfully now restrictions are easing, we can get back to some normality!
We are struggling to find enough space for people at the moment due to social distancing, but we’ve found good new ways of working for our non-lab based teams. However, we’re on the hunt for a new HQ and can’t wait to all be back together!
Overall, finding the time to write job descriptions, screen candidates, conduct interviews is hard, but my top tip would be, whenever you are really busy, put recruitment to the top of your to-do list, it’s the only long term solution to that work-life balance issue often encountered in start-ups!
Katie: We’ve been very close to our customers from day one. Our business is very customer-led and we have a lot of demand – we’re definitely not one of those companies that has spent loads of money creating a solution looking for a problem!
We started selling products very quickly and now have a global customer base. Our product portfolio is growing all the time. From newt surveys to soil fungi surveys, aquatic invertebrates to great apes – we’re constantly finding new groups we can survey and new methods to survey them.
Katie: Firstly, we’re investing in marketing at the moment. Once people hear about our product, we have a lot of interest, but we have a long way to go to educate our potential client base that we exist! Then we also need to educate regulators. With fish surveying for example it is well proven in the academic literature and in our own studies that you get much higher quality data with eDNA versus traditional electrofishing methods, but for surveys to be useful to a big company doing an EIA for example, the techniques must be understood and accepted by the regulator.
There are loads of scientific challenges we’ve overcome from developing new assays to figuring out new bioinformatics pipelines. But we have loads of amazing scientists at NatureMetrics that love this challenge and are really good at R&D.
Our biggest challenge at the moment is how to scale-up our lab operations to process more samples more quickly, but keeping the same impeccable quality standards. We’re getting there but as trailblazers, we’re writing the standards as we go!
Katie: I always think you have to come up with a plan that you would invest your own money in (if you had any 😉). I’m excited that we’re considering another raise in the new year as I think our product, business and team are a really strong package and I look forward to selling it to investors!
Thank You for sharing!