OttawaINC: SpartanBio

Jul 14, 2016

Date Founded: 2005

Number of Employees: 70

What they do: Develop rapid DNA-testing devices


In their recent report, the Ontario Bioscience Innovation Organization (OBIO), a non-profit dedicated to positioning the province as a world leader in health science technology, declared that in order to capitalize on the $9-Trillion dollar Global Health Economy, Canada must facilitate an environment of innovation and growth. The report stated that Canadian companies are competitive players but not differentiated, ultimately making it difficult to stand out internationally.

The pieces in Ottawa, however, are already in place to change this. Strong government support and leading academic institutions offer a wide talent pool, research facilities, and funding possibilities to startups in the Nation’s capital. As an example, MedDev Commercialization Centre (MDCC) is helping companies bring their products to the global market by reducing barriers to commercialization. The City of Ottawa is bolstering innovation, and Invest Ottawa is facilitating relationships for the Life Sciences sector in foreign markets.

It’s perfect timing for Ottawa’s Spartan Bioscience to bring its next-generation device to the Global Stage.

In simple terms, Spartan is ‘DNA testing on demand’ They create portable, easy-to-use devices that allow doctors to make diagnoses in a matter of minutes rather than days or weeks. The technology makes DNA testing more accessible, and can ensure patients receive personalized care.

Invest Ottawa sat down with CEO and founder, Paul Lem, to discuss Spartan Bioscience and what he believes the impact of their recently-released Spartan Cube will be on global health care.

Say I don’t work in biotechnology – explain to me what you do? The problem you solve?

Paul Lem, Co-Founder

Spartan Bioscience’s mission is to bring the power of DNA testing to everyone with the world’s first personal DNA analyzers. Think about it like the way you think of computers. Computers used to be huge, expensive, and difficult to use, and they eventually gave way to personal computers. High-throughput DNA testing systems in central labs will give way to portable, on-demand DNA-testing systems. This is where our technology comes in.

What was the light bulb moment that sparked the idea?

I’m a medical doctor turned entrepreneur.  After going through medical school, I realized we needed a better way to test DNA.

This became clear after I realized doctors have two dreams—instant diagnosis and instant cure.

For example, right now when you or your loved one is sick, doctors often have to guess at the cause.  Accurate DNA tests can take days or weeks, are run on large and inconvenient machines, and can be very expensive. Doctors want to cure patients instantly, but they can’t because of these testing obstacles.

That’s when I decided to invent something that could bring doctors closer to the dream of instant diagnosis, and eventually make DNA testing accessible to everyone.

You’ve recently announced the launch of your Spartan Cube. Can you explain what this is and how you think it’ll impact health care?

Spartan Cube 01

The Spartan Cube

The Spartan Cube is the world’s smallest molecular diagnostics device. At only four inches cubed in size, or the size of a coffee cup, the Cube provides convenient and accurate results. It’s as easy as taking a swab, inserting the sample into the machine, and pressing ‘start.’

It’s easy, it’s adaptable, and it’s affordable—about the price of a personal computer. The Cube makes DNA testing accessible for everyone.

What role do you see Spartan Bioscience playing in bringing Canadian health technologies to the forefront of the global market?

Spartan is an example of how Canadian, and specifically Ottawa, tech companies can change the world through innovative thinking. Our technology allows everyone to have personal access to DNA testing. We believe this is can be used everywhere DNA is collected, from a research station in the Amazon rainforest to your local pharmacy.  Over the past 20 years, DNA testing has changed medicine worldwide.  The Cube will unlock another host of applications.

Can you talk about some of the resources in Ottawa you’re using to grow and scale?

One of the great things about being based in Ottawa is the start-up community. I’m part of Fresh Founders, a group of Ottawa entrepreneurs who achieve greater success by helping each other. The connections, tips, and advice gained through this community have all been invaluable in Spartan’s growth. I say it’s like a Jedi Council for entrepreneurs.

We’ve also benefitted from the resources provided by the University of Ottawa’s Technology Transfer and Business Enterprise (TTBE) office, and Invest Ottawa. For example, Invest Ottawa has introduced us to potential investors and helped us organize a trade mission to China.

As you have been expanding and building over the years, what made you decide to remain in Ottawa? 

People often ask me this, and the answer is because Ottawa is a great place to build a tech company. Ottawa is home to other unique and innovative start-ups that help us think bigger and better. We’re also located near Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, which is great from a recruitment perspective.


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