February 17, 2022

Member Spotlight: StemExpress

StemExpress is accelerating the cure and prevention of significant medical conditions at life-changing speed.

Across the world, researchers are making awe-inspiring advances in science and providing hope to those dealing with different diseases. For this critical research to take place, biospecimens must be collected from willing donors for the use of testing applications, studying the safety and efficacy of drugs and devices, and creating new diagnostics. Researchers shouldn’t have to focus on biospecimen collection, which can often be a time-consuming project and result in delaying clinical studies. StemExpress takes this process out of the equation with its global network of hospitals and clinics, state-of-the-art cell manufacturing laboratories, and Cell Collection Centers.

We sat down with Cate Dyer, CEO & Founder of StemExpress to hear what it took to bring her vision to life and how the company built an end-to-end COVID-19 testing solution in a matter of weeks from the very beginning of the pandemic.

StemExpress has grown into a global company, but in the beginning, StemExpress started with a small amount of money and a vision. Can you share more on the evolution of the company and advice to today’s entrepreneurs?

The way StemExpress began, and its success (having started off with very little funding), is really unconventional. Often times, when I’m speaking to young entrepreneurs, I’m very cognizant of the fact that not all companies/devices/development/technology can be created organically without that initial injection of money into the company. For StemExpress, we were able to start off by immediately providing products to our clients—and that enabled us to make enough initial revenue to keep the lights on. That truly is a unique part of the StemExpress growth story. The advice I would give to today’s entrepreneurs is not to get lost in the weeds—focus on the most important first step, which is how to create revenue for the company. Having a plan for the future is important, but don’t lose sight of what is required to make it from day one, to year one. If you can’t accomplish that, your plans for year five are not important.

As the CEO of a leading global biospecimen provider, how do you make the best of every day with such a vast territory to cover?

I definitely try to make the best of everyday. It’s really challenging, given how much we do and our vast footprint with eight locations. Something I’ve been focused on over the last year is that I’m only my best self when I’m taking care of my wellbeing first, making sure I’m sleeping well, eating well, taking breaks. With so much to do, we can all definitely experience burnout and this pressure to continue pushing forward, especially when the causes are so great, and the results have such a tremendous impact. I‘ve really had to learn over the last 12 years, as the company has evolved, how to evolve this practice of self-care within each year of our growth. Every year, it becomes more challenging because of new obstacles we have to tackle, and I have had to learn to adapt with the times.

How does StemExpress differentiate itself from the competition? What differences do you see with local vs global competition?

There are at least two major pieces that differentiate us from our competition. The first is that we have a vast national footprint of cell collection centers, eight in total and growing. These are not third-party partnership locations—these are StemExpress owned and operated, FDA registered brick and mortar centers—which is over twice as many locations as our top competitors. These centers differentiate our donor pool by allowing us to cast a wide net, expanding the types of demographically diverse donors we call pull in. Our network also allows us to mitigate supply risks due to natural disasters and times of crisis, like COVID closures. Having multiple centers positioned in close proximity to major biotech spheres and healthcare have allowed us to offer same-day delivery in some cases, and generally avoid shipping logistics as much as we can by utilizing local couriers.

The second major piece is our relationships with healthcare entities. We have contracted partnerships with roughly 80 hospitals globally. A number of the hospitals we partner with are staffed with StemExpress employees, once again driving home the core principle that success starts at the source of all the human biospecimens we work with.

How do you currently engage with Biocom California and how does StemExpress’ involvement impact the organization?

We work with Biocom California’s purchasing program to buy equipment and supplies from companies like Thermo Fisher Scientific and other entities that are invaluable to the work that we do. This program allows us to keep products affordable for researchers who are working on important therapeutics. We have also worked with the lobbying side of Biocom California and continue to expand that work as well.

With the health crisis of COVID-19, StemExpress mobilized a fleet of custom COVID-19 testing capabilities, which included pop-ups, on-site testing and Mobile Lab Units. How has this mobile fleet impacted the pandemic response and benefitted local communities?

StemExpress has really been at the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic from the start, filling in the gaps in testing accessibility and inequality. We have been providing reliable COVID testing for the public, government entities, colleges, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, farmworkers, tribal territories, conferences, the NBA, you name it. Mobilizing a fleet of customizable testing options enabled us to effectively reach underserved communities throughout the United States, bringing reliable COVID-19 testing to those areas that needed it most. We were even tasked to take over testing for the National Guard. When asked how we were prepared for that, I tell people “We weren’t, but we had the laboratories, the tools, and the vision and we made it happen.” I think it really speaks to our nimbleness and tenacity as a company, which allowed us to not only help our communities, but maintain our core business operations and stay open when our competitors shut down.

I firmly believe that it’s important for women leaders in STEM to give back. It’s crucial that we make the time to inspire future leaders of our industry.

We’re proud of Biocom California Institute’s commitment to ensure a diverse and well-trained pipeline of talent for the life science industry. How does your position as an Advisory Council Member for the Graduate School of Management at UC Davis contribute to the future generation?

The biggest impact that I have is at the Ignite Conference, which is a collaboration between the UC Davis Graduate School of Management and Rice University. The event brings together students who are coming out of the MBA program and developing their own companies. Ignite hosts breakout sessions and roundtables where we can listen to aspiring business plans, give guidance and provide mentorship.

I firmly believe that it’s important for women leaders in STEM to give back. It’s crucial that we make the time to inspire future leaders of our industry. We encourage people in all levels of their education to come work within our cell collection centers and subsequently work their way up, empowering them to share our vision in life science and the future of medicine.

Can you tell us about the StemExpress Foundation’s mission and who it serves? How can Biocom California member companies become involved with its initiatives?

The mission of the StemExpress foundation is to support future leaders in STEM and create a pathway for individuals to build and innovate within the private sector. We support our young scientists through opportunity building initiatives such as scholarships, internships, and community outreach.

We are currently registered with Sacramento State’s work program which grants college credit for intern hours and we’re a designated location for Sacramento State’s Masters Stem Cell PSM program which provides advanced coursework and hands-on experience in the field, preparing students for the workforce. Ideally, these students are then given the opportunity to pursue a career with StemExpress once they graduate. We also support future leaders in science through grants and for the past two years we’ve given out grants to high school students going into STEM careers, to support their endeavors. Ultimately, the goal of our foundation is to create new pathways for students that aren’t strictly academic. Our goal is to empower students to create their own companies and startups through private sector involvement, spurring economic growth and inspiring innovation.

What are some of the most exciting advancements in biospecimens and best predictions for future evolution in the space?

Biospecimen collection has changed rapidly over the years—it has become broader and more complex as the industry has grown. The collection of raw materials has advanced into new territory, where there is now a growing need for not only pre-clinical (RUO) products but also clinical (GMP) grade material to support the cell and gene therapy market. What really sets us apart from our competitors are our partnerships with healthcare institutions to support direct patient care. We do this by receiving treatment-seeking patients in need of cell collections for diagnosed and prescribed procedures.

Because of our robust experience in the pre-clinical, clinical, and healthcare realms, we are uniquely positioned to help our clients plan for each stage on the road to therapeutic commercialization. Our goal as a company is to accelerate the cure and prevention of significant medical conditions at life-changing speed. We do this by not only providing quality starting material, but by helping our clients plan and evaluate their risks to mitigate financial implications, ultimately setting them up for success.