Why I’m Joining Helix as CEO

Robin Thurston

Today, I’m proud to share that I’m joining the brilliant team at Helix as Chief Executive Officer. For anyone following the genomics space, Helix is likely a company you know: a startup backed by genetics powerhouse Illumina and world-class investors, such as Warburg Pincus and Sutter Hill Ventures, with a distinguished Scientific Advisory Board. For those who don’t know, Helix is on the cusp of making DNA sequencing available, affordable, and most importantly meaningful for you, me, and billions of people around the globe.

Unlocking the insights in our DNA can impact all aspects of our lives and potentially all of humanity. Sequencing the genome is the first step, but almost no one can understand the data by themselves. People shouldn’t have to worry about how to interpret or act on information about their DNA. That’s why Helix is building a vibrant partner ecosystem with some of the biggest, most trusted companies in the world to bring DNA-powered insights to everyday products and experiences. We’ve already named a few partners to-date — Mayo Clinic and Duke University among them — and are looking forward to sharing more on the partner front later this year.

I believe one day in the not-so-distant future, every person on the planet will have their genome sequenced. We have the potential and responsibility to not just help these individuals, but to also further research and accelerate developments in life science, which is truly exciting to me. The incredible team at Helix is making this all possible. From my very first meeting with Helix’s co-founders, Justin Kao, James Lu, and Scott Burke, I had the instant feeling that they embody everything I value in a team and company. They’re humble visionaries with immense passion, impressive expertise, and a persistence that’s difficult to find. That combination, on top of guidance from the superhero who started the genetics revolution and is the chairman of Helix’s board, Jay Flatley, will make Helix great.

Few people know that Helix’s journey began 15 years ago, when Justin and James met in a chemical engineering undergrad class at Stanford. While they took different career paths after college, interestingly enough, each learned about the power and potential of personal genomics along the way. James, as a scientist and researcher who worked on the 1000 Genomes Project and on exome sequencing for diagnosis of Mendelian Diseases; and Justin, who identified game-changing growth investments in healthcare at Warburg Pincus. They both knew, well before most, that personal genomics would become ubiquitous, but that it wouldn’t happen overnight. They also knew they needed to come up with a truly innovative business model and find the right executives, with the right mix of different but complementary experience. The stars aligned when Justin and James met Scott last year. Scott was an early engineering leader at WebMD and has a track record of delivering innovation in online healthcare, big data and analytics, consumer internet and commerce, and more. Together, they realized they shared the same mission — to educate and empower the consumer with DNA insights that can change their life — and that the science and technology had finally arrived to make it a reality.

It became clear to me upon meeting James, Justin, and Scott that we bring complementary backgrounds and experiences together to make this an amazing company. Few people get the opportunity to move from one experience that’s so special, to another one that’s equally special and completely unique. I’m excited to see the future unfold for the dedicated team at Under Armour, and I’m grateful for the time I spent at the company learning from an incredible partner and friend Kevin Plank.

I’m ready for the next challenge after the first 20 years of my career building a mutual fund classification and ratings platform at Lipper (a Thomson Reuters Company), a manager risk and compensation platform at American Century Investments and Wellington Management, and a connected fitness platform at MapMyFitness and Under Armour. This is just the beginning of a thrilling journey for me, for Helix and for the future of genomics. If you’re interested in Helix’s story, follow @my_helix and @robinjthurston on Twitter.

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