Kevin Kuykendall, CEO of Vivione Biosciences, Discusses Startup Companies (Exec Q&A)

Kevin Kuykendall is the new chief executive at Vivione Biosciences, a Little Rock startup formerly known as Litmus Rapid-B. Vivione has collaborated with the FDA's National Center for Toxicological Research at Jefferson to develop its Rapid-B technology that can be used to detect E. coli, salmonella and other food-borne bacteria much faster than previously possible.

Bio: Kevin Kuykendall
Background: Kuykendall earned a bachelor's degree from Western Oregon University, where he played baseball. Kuykendall went on to play for two years in the late 1980s with the Cleveland Indians as a relief pitcher before an injury forced his retirement from the game.

Experience: Kuykendall was a founding member and CEO of Health2o Products (2008-12) and White Energy (2005-08), and spanning a career of more than 20 years founded and led several tech-based startups to successful exits, raising about $1 billion in early stage funding.

Q: The last year has been a busy one for your firm. Describe the last several months and your partnership with NCTR.

A: The last six months have marked our transition from a research-and-development effort to the commercialization stage. Recently, the first scientific paper by the FDA on our Rapid-B technology was published. We've applied our technology to resolving a significant problem for a Fortune 500 customer, and the technology is performing exactly as it was designed. In the fall of 2011, we achieved several milestones that opened doors with the investment community.

Q: Are there other potential applications of your Rapid-B technology?

A: Our current applications are aimed at bacterial pathogens. We have been doing preliminary work in the development of new applications aimed at viruses. We think that many of these new applications may be used in a clinical setting to rapidly assess whether or not a patient has specific types of infections. We're very excited about our preliminary tuberculosis work with UAMS, which has demonstrated that our TB test for sputum provides results in 30 minutes, a dramatic improvement from the five to six weeks for the current test methods. It's gratifying to know your product could potentially save lives.

Q: What are the company's future expansion plans?

A: Currently, the entire company has a half a dozen people. The scientific and technology personnel have a deep understanding of chemistry, microbiology, immunology, systems architecture, signal processing, optical physics and engineering. We anticipate expansion in both technology areas, personnel with PhDs, as well as those that support scaling - lab technicians, administrative and other functions.

Q: Give us your take on the startup environment in Arkansas.

A: High-tech and biotech are pretty tough areas to get into because of the core knowledge required, as well as the high cost of developing and eventually commercializing products. Fortunately, we've benefited from Arkansas-based collaborators that believe in us, as well as various agencies and institutions that have provided grants to help us achieve our mission. This is the type of mindset that's required to build a knowledge-based economy within the state, and will eventually attract other high-tech startups.