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Quality and Quantity Both Count at Pipette

You could say that Pipette.com is enjoying a healthy measure of success.

The company, a San Diego-based vendor to biotechs and thousands of research laboratories, ensures the measuring instruments used in those labs are absolutely accurate and calibrated. It’s a niche area that is critical in the research process, said

Alex Spector, who co-founded the company 18 years ago and has built it into a $5 million business.

“The basis for good science is a calibrated instrument, and we make sure it is calibrated correctly,” he said.

Among the company’s roughly 35,000 customers are some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and biotech companies, as well as thousands of much smaller startups and many universities involved in myriad research projects, Spector said. All of them depend on transferring quantities of liquid matter from vials, beakers and tubes to other similar containers, and those quantities must be precise.

Indeed, some of the instruments that Pipette calibrates can measure liquid to one-ten millionth of a gram, Spector said.

In addition to calibrating instruments, the company also distributes such devices and works with customers to come up with the best solutions for their particular needs, said Dimitriy Grishin, Pipette’s director of sales and marketing.

The company’s name comes from one of the most rudimentary tools used in research labs — used to measure liquids.

“There is no way you can do research without the ability to transfer liquid samples using pipettes,” Grishin said.

The Family That Measures Together

Pipette was featured recently in a nationwide campaign by Capital One Spark Business, a unit of Capital One Financial Corp., among the nation’s largest financial companies with about $290 billion in assets.

To promote small business financing, Capital One (NYSE: COF) produced a series of short documentaries featuring some of its customers. A two-person New York film crew took about 10 weeks filming 48 businesses selected from among the 186 businesses that were contacted by the company. Spector said the filmmakers spent about day at Pipette’s office in Miramar, learning what it does and how it was growing the business.

“I believe we were the only biotech business that they visited,” Spector said.

To view the three-minute film, go to bit.ly/1mRiRcT.

Spector got into the business after he and his parents, Zis and Tatyana, all immigrants from Ukraine, joined another local instrument calibration business, Scientific Calibration in 1991. After that company was sold, the trio launched Accutek Laboratories in 1996 with about $30,000 in capital. Spector, who by that time had a family with two children, left college to run the business full time.

Customers using the sophisticated measuring instruments are required to have them calibrated at various times to ensure accuracy so their research results can be verified. Not only is research on such things as new drug development intensely scrutinized, so are the processes and instrumentation involved in obtaining findings, and they are checked periodically.

“If a company is audited by the [Federal Drug Administration] and they find that [the instruments] aren’t certified on time, they can invalidate everything that you do,” Spector said.

Growing Revenue and Rewards

About a dozen years ago, Accutek expanded from being a calibrator and servicer of instruments to become a distributor of devices also. Instruments range in price from about $150 to $1,500, Grishin said.

About eight years ago, Spector invested in building a more robust Internet presence that included acquiring the domain name Pipette to drive better brand recognition, Grishin said.

Through the company’s website, many customers can easily track any instruments they have, including when they need to be serviced, and can re-order various devices either automatically or with little effort, Spector said.

Although the company does business worldwide, the majority of its sales are in North America, primarily California and New England, Grishin said.

Last year, Pipette’s sales, which have been growing consistently in recent years, were just below $5 million — or 30 percent above what it did in 2012. This year, the company is on track to reach that same level, Spector said.

Jobs at the business, now at 30 full-time employees, include technical calibration, accounting, purchasing, shipping and receiving, marketing and sales, customer service, information technology and quality control.

Despite reaching fairly decent size and having a long track record, Spector finances the business almost exclusively using credit cards from Capital One. The approach enables the company to deal with a single statement each month, he said, while its purchases generate nice returns in terms of cash rebates and miles.

Pipette also has a line of credit from Union Bank, but “we’ve never used it,” he said.

“It’s just easier for us to finance our purchases month-to- month and pay the full balance at the end of the month.”

PIPETTE.COM

President: Alex Spector

Revenue: Nearly $5 million in 2013, a 30 percent increase from 2012

Headquarters: Miramar

Year founded: 1996

Employees: 30

Company description: Precise laboratory instrument calibration and distributor of pipettes, consumables and lab equipment to some 35,000 customers

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