Rich Cote is founder and CEO of Avidien Technologies. He is inventor on two dozen issued patents and has received awards for several designs, including the SLAS New Product Award for the microPro 300.
Q: Please tell us about your career journey to date.
A: I was a mechanical engineering student at Northeastern University many years ago, and just before the capstone project, I worked for Corning as a co-op student. They agreed to sponsor our project to improve the ergonomics of a handheld pipettor. We came up with a prototype that had a couple of electronic control innovations improving the ergonomics, accuracy, and reproducibility. Long story short, they hired me right out of college.
The evolution of products that I’ve seen and contributed to has focused on solving problems like reducing weight and size of handheld electronic pipettors, aided by improvements in battery capacity and general miniaturization of electronics. Another problem was reducing the amount of force it takes properly attach pipette tips. Over the last 30 years, we’ve seen huge improvements in capability and flexibility—more customized program routines and large full color displays that clearly differentiate information for the operator. Now, our microPro software is at a pinnacle of usability and flexibility, using an iPad interface and a very highly reliable pipette tip attachment format that evolved from those earlier efforts.
“We also watch where the leading edge of the industry is going, whether that’s different formats, lower volumes, or different techniques”
Q: What were the major problems you set out to solve with the microPro series?
A: Largely, reducing our footprint on crowded lab benches and solving pipetting problems like errors and repetitive strain injury, while improving reproducibility. Benchtop pipettors were heavy with small interfaces. We wanted to make the instrument intuitive, easy to use, and easy to move. Bluetooth allows customers working in a biosafety cabinet or a glove box to handle the programming outside the box. We also wanted to improve productivity. Multichannel pipettes are heavily used, but users must eject tips and load new tips for every column or row, tracking progress, and may lose their place or miss 10 µl with a loose tip. We’ve designed the software with the flexibility to add instruction steps and provide a very visual program to clearly track the process.
Q: Can you tell us about your innovation process?
A: We build a close relationship with our customers. Customer feedback is the best place for ideas, and we’re still a small company, so if it seems like a good idea—top of the list. For example, people want to be able to run a serial dilution on our instrument, so we recently developed a solution and are about to launch. We also watch where the leading edge of the industry is going, whether that’s different formats, lower volumes, or different techniques.
Q: How has Avidien faced challenges with global supply shortages during COVID?
A: We build the instruments here in Hudson, Massachusetts, and to stay out of backorders, we vertically integrated the process for making sub-components. The machine shops providing custom components shut down, so we bought our own production equipment and now make 90 percent of the parts internally. We managed to stay out of backorders on pipette tips over the last two years by working very closely with our customers to understand and exactly meet their needs.
Q: What is your next big challenge?
A: New product development is a big one. We are building out our product lines, hiring more salespeople, and establishing processes needed to scale Avidien to the next level. Our customers always ask for higher volume, more channels, more automation, and lower costs, so that’s our target while maintaining the same high level of customer service and usability.