Did you know that you can get paid for spitting in a test tube and help save mankind while doing it? That’s true, a U.S. company will pay you $50 for participating in medical research just by providing your saliva.
This is exactly what DNAsimple is offering. Haitian-born Ph.D. student Olivier Noel blew the Sharks away in his pitch for his company, DNAsimple, when he appeared in Season 9 of the TV show Shark Tank.
How did DNAsimple start?
As a medical student, Noel realized the challenges that researchers face in having access to samples from participants for their studies. Noel created DNAsimple in 2015, which started as an online database that allows researchers, scientists, and patients to have access to willing participants from the United States.
Donors simply need to sign up on the DNAsimple website, which only takes two minutes. Researchers get in touch with DNAsimple for the qualifications of participants that they need.
Once a donor is matched to a study, DNAsimple will send a collection kit, followed by a $50 cheque once the sample is received by the company. That’s it! As promised, you can get paid $50 just by providing your saliva to be used in laboratory tests for medical research.
Here’s a YouTube video explaining how DNAsimple works.
What’s DNAsimple’s Business Model?
DNAsimple will help save mankind, according to founder Olivier Noel, by helping scientists speed up genetic research with a database of participants willing to provide their DNA samples.
Indeed, what makes the DNAsimple inviting for participants is the cash incentive for providing their DNA sample.
Donors can choose to donate their sample again for every matched study, and earn $50 for each sample that they send. The samples are especially useful to researchers who have little access to a population with very little diversity. For example, a study that needs “a thousand blacks or Hispanics, say, in Hershey Pennsylvania would take a hundred years to get those people,” Noel half-joked.
In essence, DNAsimple makes sample collection more efficient for researchers as the company takes the extra task of searching for DNA donors or sample participants off of the researchers. Researchers pay DNA Simple around $155 per sample, while the participant gets paid $50 for providing the saliva. The testing kit costs $12.50 to produce.
That’s exactly the business model of DNAsimple: “We’re paying you for spitting in a tube… researchers get the samples they need, and we get paid for making it all happen. It’s a win-win for everybody,” explained Noel.
CEO and founder Olivier Noel, who has been named in the Forbes “30 Under 30” list in 2017, went on to pitch in the Shark Tank for $100,000 funding. He said the investment will allow the company to be able to expand its database capacity to 100,000 people.
What were the Sharks’ offers for DNAsimple?
Noel began his pitch to the Sharks by emphasizing the importance of medical and genetic research: “Sharks, experts are saying that we are due for a new pandemic, a catastrophic disease that can devastate humanity.”
Unfortunately, DNA samples are not easy for researchers to acquire, Noel explained. He claimed some even take years to attain the target number of samples, which can mean the life or death of a research study. It is because of this need that researchers are willing to pay DNA Simple $155 per sample to be used per study.
To address Shark Lori Greiner’s concern on privacy, Noel assured them that once participants are matched to a study, DNA sample providers remain anonymous. To ensure that the researchers have no access to any personal data apart from what they needed for the study, participants send their DNA samples directly to DNAsimple. Personal information such as ethnicity, age, and medical history of the participant are kept by DNAsimple and not shared with researchers.
In his pitch, Noel initially asked for $100,000 in exchange for 12.5% equity in the company.
When asked about the sales of DNAsimple, Noel revealed that, at the time of the Shark Tank episode, DNAsimple has sold over $30,000 from matching with more than 500 studies. Having worked in the field himself, Noel told the Sharks that he knew there was a need for the service of his company.
Guest Shark Richard Branson, impressed by the biochemist entrepreneur’s work, made the first offer with $100,000 for 25% equity of the company.
Before Noel could contemplate on Branson’s offer, Cuban immediately declared his offer of $200,000 for 20% equity.
Did DNAsimple get a deal on Shark Tank?
Yes, DNAsimple received an unexpected and generous deal from Mark Cuban.
Noel wanted to know the opinion of the other Sharks before choosing which offer to pick. However, Cuban said, “I’ll make you an offer, but I want you to say yes or no right now.”
The tech billionaire investor saw the potential of DNAsimple not only in business but also in helping improve medical and genetic research in the future.
Noel responded with a counter offer of $200,000 for 15% equity. Surprisingly, Cuban eventually agreed and Noel was overcome with surprise and gratitude.
What happened to DNAsimple after Shark Tank?
Publicity from the Shark Tank episode and guidance from Mark Cuban has helped DNAsimple to move their company forward.
DNAsimple surpassed its initial goal of 100,000 signups to its database by the end of 2017. Within months since Noel appeared on Shark Tank and sealed a deal with Mark Cuban, the company announced that they have received a total of 130,000 signups, surpassing their goal.
At the beginning of 2018, the company set a goal of hitting the 1 million mark in signups. This amount of donors in their database would allow DNAsimple to expand its reach to more academic and commercial studies. DNAsimple has also started accepting DNA donors from Canada.
Is DNAsimple still in business today?
Yes, but according to the official website of DNAsimple, signups for DNA sample donors are temporarily closed.
The company shared a link to the DNAsimple database for public viewing on their Facebook page last September 2019.
DNAsimple’s dashboard shows at least 110,000 DNA samples in their database, categorized by race, with statistics for different conditions such as Diabetes (Type II), Depression, Chron’s Disease for different demographics such as gender, ethnicity, and age.
Founder Olivier Noel, according to his website, has continued his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. He has also had plenty of speaking engagements and is about to venture into coaching science startups.
Most recently, in May 2020, he published his research titled “Restoring the Severed Chest and Breast Following Seat Belt Trauma.”
How much is DNAsimple worth now?
In the Shark Tank season 9 episode, Noel revealed that his company valuation was $800,000. This came from his proposal to offer $100,000 for 12.5% of his company. In the same episode, he closed a deal that instantly increased the value of his company by more than $500,000 — thanks to Shark Tank investor, Mark Cuban.
Given Cuban’s investment of $200,000 for 15% equity, DNAsimple’s valuation is worth $1.3 million.
After the episode aired, DNAsimple was faced with an influx of donors and researchers and has surpassed its initial goals. At present, the actual net worth of DNAsimple and of its founder Olivier Noel remains undisclosed.
Lessons from DNAsimple on Shark Tank
Coming from beginnings that are not so ideal, emigrating from Haiti to the United States, Olivier Noel proved that the circumstances that you started with should not define your future. Richard Branson described it well when he was impressed by Noel’s story and said, “You are the exact reason that America should open up to immigrants.”
Noel put in the hard work, from working five jobs to fund his studies when he moved to New York, to pursuing his Ph.D. in Penn State College of Medicine’s MD/Ph.D. Medical Scientist Training Program.
As a student, Noel saw the need for gathering samples for research and the inefficient way of waiting or looking for the right samples needed for studies. He started a company that aims to help speed up genetic research while giving incentives to those who want to become part of it.
Noel walked into the Shark Tank confident with the value that he and his company DNA Simple are bringing to the table. He was very prepared and answered all the questions of the Sharks with confidence. He was able to explain the process and goals of his company clearly, even when it involved something as complicated as genetic research.
Image credits: Shark Tank/ABC