Founded in 2014 at Istanbul Technical University (ITU) Technocity, Bioeksen has been developing products for fast pathogen diagnosis through molecular biotechnology tools in various areas such as human and animal health and food safety. Because of its long experience in biotechnology, it succeeded in growing during the pandemic, according to its founder, Canan Ketre. Now, the company exports its products, namely COVID-19 test kits, to almost 50 countries.
An R&D-focused company, the idea for Bioeksen came seven years ago when a group of academicians saw the need for domestically produced tools and products. “There weren’t any biotechnology companies that operated on a wide range of products when we established Bioeksen,” says Ketre. “During our time at the university, we always used imported products and due to both high prices and challenging accessibility, we had to wait for at least three months for specific products. When we experienced these issues, we realized that some of these products can be developed in Turkey.”
Although the company started out meeting domestic needs, later its vision expanded overseas. Around 2017, Bioeksen began working on exportable products. The company has carried out 32 R&D projects since 2014 through the support of institutions like TUBITAK and KOSGEB and developed 162 different biotechnology products. Also, the company developed the first 100% domestic robotic Nucleic Acid Extraction device and began its production.
First come, first served
“We were already working on viruses when the pandemic first began,” continues Ketre. “People were surprised, they were asking if we knew about COVID-19 before. We were already working on respiratory viruses and when the pandemic began. We were able to react instantly due to our experience and began developing products – first come first served, you could say – because when you make a name beforehand, the sector and partners become familiar with you, therefore your advantage increases. In order to maintain this advantage, we continued to develop and renew our products continuously. Bioeksen PCR solutions are in the top 5% that have both FDA-EUA and WHO-EUL among the 480 companies producing SARS-CoV-2 PCR tests in the world.”
Due to this experience, Bioeksen developed a test kit that can diagnose the COVID-19 virus, including variants, in under 30 minutes. Since Bioeksen was already prepared for viruses, it was easier for it to respond to new variants.
But the company didn’t do everything all by itself. “We are a very easy team to work with; maybe that’s our redeeming feature,” Ketre says. “We don’t insist on doing everything by ourselves. If, for example, a mechanical engineering team is required for a certain project, we ask for their help. We have different partners and we merge our know-how with theirs to create new products and solutions.”
Monthly 25 million test production capacity
Since its establishment, the company hasn’t received any investment and has chosen to stand on its own feet. “Not that we didn’t need it, because we needed it,” Ketre explains. “We received various investment offers but we didn’t want it. In a space like technocities, investors aggressively invest in companies. It’s a good thing, but sometimes they want to direct the company’s vision or demand certain things. The investor focus is usually shaped by profitability and we know that we can’t do everything by ourselves, but that wasn’t our priority. We invested in things where we saw a need and I believe we reaped the fruits of this approach because we are now in a position to invest in our own company.”
Although the company began routine sales at the end of 2019, COVID-19 accelerated the process and the company began exporting in 2020. Bioeksen might have refused investment offers in the past but the company is not completely against it, according to Ketre. The company has a monthly 25 million test production capacity and continues to invest to double this number. The total investment for this goal stands at USD 8m.
Exporting to Germany
After the company began overseas sales, it quickly expanded its reach. Bioeksen’s exports began with neighboring areas like Azerbaijan and Middle Eastern countries and now the company exports to countries in South Africa and Europe as well. “As of 2021, Germany is our largest export market,” founder Canan Ketre says. “Since we are selling medical equipment and devices, we face different regulations in different countries, and they all require different things. For example, you need to share the documents and technical files of your medical devices beforehand, so the processes take longer compared to other products. We completed these processes in 2020 and now we heavily export.