It started with a jar of pickled amphibians. Ryan N. Burnette was around 8 years old when his parents bought him his first dissection kit. Now he heads Alliance Biosciences, a company with Richmond ties but an increasingly global reach.
“With all of the university-related research going on here, Richmond has become Virginia's biotech hub,” Burnette says.
Alliance Biosciences was founded in 2008 after Burnette's father, Jim, convinced his son to help his engineering firm move into biotech. Armed with a doctorate from Virginia Tech, the younger Burnette built a company that designs and certifies clinical research labs for safety, helping to ensure that the nightmare scenario dramatized in countless disease outbreak flicks never comes to pass.
The company says it's pulled in revenues of nearly $1 million since 2008, and added 20 new clients. One of them is Virginia, for which it recently completed a state-of-the-art autopsy lab in Manassas.
But Alliance's pro-bono work, particularly that in HIV-ravaged Eastern Africa, is “a lot cooler,” Burnette says. He recently spent a few weeks at a small children's home outside Nairobi, Kenya, which houses more than 100 HIV-positive orphans. When workers at its clinic realized it needed to add capacity, Alliance helped consult on the design. And this fall Alliance will work to set up tuberculosis clinics in India.
“We're using Richmond as a base to export this expertise to the world,” Burnette says. “And that's only going to help the industry here grow.”