Finding A Spot On Med Mile

December 15, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — When the Van Andel Institute first announced it would build on Michigan Street hill nearly a decade ago, Arivium founder and President Darren Brown was still employed by another local consulting company. But he knew that he needed to find an entry point into the opportunity he believed would follow that investment.

"I knew that this was something that was going to change the face of Grand Rapids," said Brown. "I believed in their vision, and I felt that it would have a huge economic impact on this region. … What has happened on Michigan Street hill — this vision for destination health care and research, the things that are going to be driven out of it — it's not our idea, but we want to help wherever we can."

Years later, Brown finally got his opportunity to work with the research institute, serving as a strategic consultant and development partner for what would become the institute's first commercial product, a software application then known as XenoBase.

A veteran of global technology consulting firm Accenture, Brown launched Arivium as a sole proprietor consulting shop in 2002, during one of the worst markets for technology services the country had ever seen. He was able to generate enough business from pre-existing relationships to fill a 40-hour work week, but consciously scaled back his workload to concentrate on growing the business.

Brown set an early goal to attract enough business to grow the firm by an employee each year for 10 years, making networking a top priority. He volunteered his time as president and chairman of local information technology trade group glimaWEST, and concentrated his marketing efforts toward the biomedical field he expected would propel the region's economic growth.

An early success with the Pfizer manufacturing facility in Holland led to more work of that nature and an increasingly deep exposure to the pharmaceutical industry, particularly in manufacturing and regulatory compliance.

That experience eventually led to a chance to work with the Van Andel Institute on a set of analytical tools invented by institute scientists. XenoBase became the first biologic software application to integrate data from a number of sources all at once, including data from clinical trails, animal models, patient medical histories, and individual profiles of genes, chromosomes and proteins.

"There was a pharmaceutical executive who said that by 2010 we will easily eclipse a billion dollars to launch a new drug treatment for a pharmaceutical company," Brown said. "That is an astronomical number. We have to find a way to make this process faster and more efficient."

According to Brown, XenoBase provides a possible solution.

"The old-fashioned way of finding information to develop new compounds and treatments takes too long," he said. "Scientists struggle with all the data they have to manage. Their problem is finding the useful information in there — it's a needle in a haystack."

The application has since been branded as the XB-BioIntegration Suite and has been spun off as the core offering of XB TransMed Solutions LLC. Arivium remains involved with the commercialization efforts and further development of the product.

The institute experience created more opportunities for the firm in the research sector. It was briefly contracted by the Robertson Institute before it signed an exclusive agreement with another technology vendor, and has been introduced to early stage research work with its preexisting pharmaceutical clients.

In 2004, Brown convinced Rob Kellner to relocate his family from Chicago and become a partner in the firm. Within a year, Nathan Spillson, Scott Gillian and Justin Keithley all became partners in what today is an eight-employee shop.

Well over 50 percent of the company's business is in the health care and biomedical fields today. Brown expects that percentage will remain static as the firm grows.

"I don't believe it will ever be our entire focus," Brown said. "We are very excited about the prospects of life sciences in Michigan and northern Indiana, where we have a presence as well, but we're going to remain strong in manufacturing and the service sector."

While it has developed a specific expertise in the biomedical field, Brown believes it is Arivium's devotion to understanding clients' operations and industries that differentiates it from its competition. He noted a long-standing relationship with a service-industry client that led to a complete reinvention of its technology infrastructure through the development of a proprietary operational system. Arivium is now helping to commercialize that application as a product.    

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