Six years ago, Cliff Reid ‘79 faced a new challenge. He had just taken his digital-communications company public when the high-tech bubble burst. Looking for new business opportunities, he turned to MIT and found inspiration in biotechnology. The only problem was that Reid’s expertise was in computation, not biology. MIT came through in the form of online course materials offered through the OpenCourseWare (OCW) program. Studying on his own, Reid learned enough about biology and genetics to present a compelling case for a new biotech company to investors. Today he is chairman, president, and CEO of Complete Genomics, a company that aims to develop fast, accurate, low-cost DNA-sequencing techniques. “Without my taking three MIT biology courses over OCW, Complete Genomics would never have been founded,” he says.
Reid had two startups to his credit when he began his search in 2001 for new technologies to commercialize. MIT had supplied talent or innovations to both ventures: Verity, an enterprise search engine company with a software development team made up mostly of MIT alumni; and Eloquent, an Internet video company that came out of Reid’s interest in the video compression work conducted at the MIT Media Lab.
Although Reid became intrigued by the confluence of biology and computation in systems biology as he was selling Eloquent, he didn’t act on that interest until he was laid up for six weeks following ankle surgery in 2004. He began his OCW studies the day after surgery, plowing through courses in biology, genetics, and molecular biology over the next two months.
The courses prepared Reid for a meeting with molecular biologist Rade Drmanac, who had developed a DNA-sequencing technique. “I had just learned enough biochemistry and knew enough computation to understand his approach,” Reid says. In 2006, they launched Complete Genomics. Reid says the company expects to announce a major new product in DNA sequencing in 2008.
Reid, who has two young sons, is married to Darlene Mann, who cofounded Broadvision, one of the first e-commerce companies. He studied physics as an MIT undergraduate, received an MBA from Harvard Business School, and earned a PhD in management science and engineering from Stanford University. But, he says, “when I discuss my academic background I describe it in four words: ‘I’m an MIT guy.’”