Lab spin-off creates software



Chuck Donnelly is CEO of RockStep Solutions PHOTO COURTESY OF ROCKSTEP

Chuck Donnelly is CEO of RockStep Solutions
PHOTO COURTESY OF ROCKSTEP

BAR HARBOR — RockStep Solutions, a company formed by the technology team that developed Jackson Laboratory’s mouse colony data management system, is preparing to launch its first commercial product.

The product, called Climb, is a software system for biomedical research labs.

RockStep CEO Chuck Donnelly was director of computational sciences at the Jackson Lab for 10 years before leaving last winter, along with three other members of the lab’s research IT group, to form the new company. They have spent the past year developing Climb.

Making that possible was a $225,000 innovation grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a pledge of $360,000 worth of advanced technology services from Microsoft Corporation, a $200,000 development loan from the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) and grants from MTI totaling $35,000.

At the Jackson Lab, Donnelly and his team received NIH grants to develop various types of information systems, including software for managing colonies of mice used in biomedical research.

“We’re taking a lot of the knowledge we have from working there, but thinking about how we can leverage the most advanced technologies in the world to really transform the way information is managed in research labs,” Donnelly said.

“We’re developing the next generation information systems for biomedical research.”

He described the first product, Climb, as a “cloud-hosted information system that brings data management into the mobile age.”

Don Gooding, executive director of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, said Climb “could very well revolutionize the way scientific research data is managed in the future.”

RockStep rents office space at the MDI Biological Laboratory. That lab’s director, Kevin Strange, is a member of RockStep’s advisory board.

“I don’t know whether we would have gotten through our first year without having this site to work in,” Donnelly said. “They are very eager to be part of the innovation economy in Maine and in helping small businesses get started.”

He said that being based at the Bio Lab also helped RockStep obtain the NIH grant.

“Being here in a scientific resources and environment location gave NIH a higher confidence in our ability to execute on our project.”

While Bar Harbor was the natural place for a business conceived at Jackson Lab to get its start, Donnelly said it needs to be somewhere else to really grow and flourish.

He said RockStep likely will move to Portland sometime this year.

“It’s really hard to sustain a very scalable business in this area,” he said. “There’s a much more robust workforce around Portland and Boston. And travel, getting in and out of this area, is very difficult.”

He said proximity to potential investors is another reason for the move.

“Investors for equity financing for this type of business are primarily down in the Boston area,” he said.

A large Microsoft technology center is there, too.

“They are providing our company with access to a lot of very high-end resources to develop our product,” Donnelly said. “And by being part of that Microsoft ecosystem, we’re able to make a lot of connections, as well.”

The former Jackson Lab employees who founded RockStep with Donnelly are Abigail Ames, director of technology; Carrie LeDuc, director of product development; and Kat Taylor, director of sales and marketing.

As for why the company is called RockStep, Donnelly said it conveys a sense of both being solid and moving forward.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. dbroom@mdislander.com

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