SBIR Pulse: 2016 Tibbetts Awards Special Edition (Q&A with 23andMe)

Post Date:
January 30, 2017
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Each year, the government’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs makes Tibbetts Awards to a select group of U.S. entrepreneurial companies who exemplify the best in the spirit and intent of the programs. The 2016 Tibbetts Award Ceremony was held on January 10, 2017, in the Indian Treaty Room of the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The ceremony featured remarks by the SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet and showcased 37 small businesses who have demonstrated strong commercial success with the development of their technologies in areas such as health, energy, defense, and education. To highlight a few of these companies and learn more about how “America’s Seed Fund” is driving innovation and societal impact, SBIR Pulse is publishing a special series focusing on Tibbetts awardees.

SBIR Pulse Interview #14: A Q&A with 23andMe.


SBIR Pulse: Can you describe how and why your company got its name? And got started?

23andMe: The name 23andMe refers to the fact that human DNA is organized into 23 pairs of chromosomes. 23andMe connects individuals to their unique, paired set of 23 chromosomes.  Founded in 2006 by Linda Avey, Paul Cusenza, and Anne Wojcicki, the mission of the company is to help people access, understand and benefit from the human genome. 23andMe has more than one million customers worldwide, with over 80 percent consented to participate in research. Anne founded the company shortly following the first full sequencing of the human genome and realizing the opportunity this provided for the future of genetic testing, research, and personalized medicine. 23andMe is founded on the belief that every individual should feel empowered to access and own their genetic information and contribute to the changing face of research.

SBIR Pulse: How did the award/s from the SBIR program help support the growth of 23andMe?

23andMe: SBIR funding provided 23andMe the opportunity to further advance genetic science. Over the past five years, 23andMe has received NIH SBIR funding as follows:

  • 2013: Development of a web-based database and research engine for genetic discovery.
  • 2012: Development of DNA sequence data-quality metrics for personal genomics.
  • 2012: Development of a web-based database and research engine for genetic discovery.
  • 2012: Discovery of genetic variants affecting allergic disease risk to contribute to understanding disease mechanisms as well as guide work towards improved diagnostics and treatments.
  • 2016: Develop an analysis pipeline that is an alternative to the traditional genome wide association study for identifying genetic variants associated with disease. 23andMe expects the new pipeline to provide insight into genetic variants important for populations that are underrepresented in current research.
  • 2016: Leverage 23andMe’s data on more than one million customers who have consented to participate in research, creating an African American sequencing panel to be used as a reference dataset for health research. The de-identified genetic data will be made available to other health researchers at institutions around the world.


SBIR Pulse: Looking ahead into the future, what do you think the future holds?

23andMe: In the near and immediate future, we’re excited as a company about the new reports we’ll be able to offer our customers, the insights we’ll be able to provide the scientific community and society at large due to our research model, and the drug targets we’ll be able to research thanks to our therapeutics team years down the line. And on a grander scale, we’re thrilled to be part of a genetics revolution already underway, where the consumer can be in the driver’s seat, in control of their own information and more proactive about their health.

SBIR Pulse: Congratulations on winning a 2016 SBIR Tibbetts Award! What does this mean for 23andMe as a company?

23andMe: We are honored to be a Tibbetts Awards recipient. SBIR has accelerated research that benefits all of society - research that is, central to our mission as a company. It’s a great honor to be included amongst the fellow recipients of this year’s and past years’ SBIR Tibbetts Awards, companies that have made remarkable impacts across industries. We’re excited to make our mark thanks to the wonderful support we’ve received from SBIR.

The responses to this interview were provided by Rachel Reichblum and Catherine Afarian at 23andme. The interview was produced by Edward Metz, Program Manager of the SBIR program at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

About SBIR Pulse

SBIR Pulse provides interviews with individuals from the different corners of the high-tech, start-up ecosystem. The intent is to share various perspectives on how SBIR impacts small businesses, drives innovation, and leads to technological solutions. For more editions of SBIR Pulse, see here.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are collectively the largest single source of early-stage capital for innovative small companies in the United States. Via these programs, the federal government invests over 2 billion dollars in early stage and high growth American entrepreneurial firms to develop and commercialize technologies that strengthen our nation's defense, improve the health of our citizens, and enhance education. For more information on the program across the 11 Federal agencies that operate programs, please visit For timely updates and resources follow us on Twitter @SBIRgov (link is external) to stay connected!

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