Clemson Start-up Company Profile: KIYATEC, Inc.

Matt Gevaert knew something had to change.

As a graduate student researcher at Clemson University, Gevaert discovered that he needed a product to model cells in a three-dimensional format. Normally, this would not be a large issue – except that the technology to do this didn’t exist. Says Gevaert, “There was a recognition and a frustration that I had a need that was not being met [by current cell modeling technologies].”

So Gevaert decided to do what any good engineer would do – he created his own product. This technology, along with a few additional pieces, formed the platform for what is now Kiyatec, Inc.

Kiyatec strives to recreate three-dimensional models of cellular structures within the human body for the purposes of drug assays and diagnostics. Besides offering specialized plasticware for use in 3D cell culturing, Kiyatec also provides testing services for cell-material interactions in medical devices as well as drug discovery assays. The company is making good on its original purpose by fulfilling this previously unmet need in the field, both for industry players and for research laboratories and universities.

But for Gevaert, the gap in the market was not his only motivating factor. “I had a desire to make a difference,” Gevaert said. “If we are successful, we could potentially change the outcomes of cancer patients.” This desire has carried Kiyatec to more than a few large successes in its nine-year existence. Gevaert has a passion for what he does, and he credits this passion as one of the key motivations to starting Kiyatec in the first place. “You have to really love what you do,” Gevaert says. “You need passion to get through the hard times, and it’s also very rewarding during the good times.”

The path to success has not always been an easy one. Entrepreneurship comes with its fair share of ups and downs, especially when the product to be commercialized is at an early stage in its maturity. Navigating a constantly shifting market presents many challenges. Gevaert remembers the difficulties of locating risk capital funding to get the company off its feet. Much of this can be attributed to the economy at the time of Kiyatec’s inception. “There were very few high risk investments being made at the time,” Gevaert said. But Gevaert and Kiyatec were able to avoid troubles and find success thanks to their humble approach to the business world. Says Gevaert, “When starting a company, it is important to be discerning as to who and what you are going to listen to. We listened to the good advice that we got. We had to be humble and open to suggestions that others offered us.” And although chemical compounds form the foundation of the company’s technology, Gevaert is quick to point out that a different type of chemistry has been imperative in this process. “We have always had a solid, stable team in place here,” Gevaert said. “Generally speaking, startup companies have a high employee turnover rate, but we made our first hire in 2009 and they stayed for four years.” David Orr, Kiyatec’s Chief Operating Officer and co-founder, also holds a doctorate degree in Bioengineering from Clemson and has been with Gevaert from the beginning. “David and I have always worked very effectively together,” Gevaert said.

Gevaert and Kiyatec represent the success that can be attained by Clemson’s research community. From the initial problem in the laboratory to the establishment of the company, Gevaert’s journey serves as a blueprint for others to follow. “Matt Gevaert is definitely the best ambassador that Clemson can get in terms of having an idea, believing in it, pursuing your dream, and building economic development in South Carolina,” says Dr. Martine Laberge, chair of the Department of Bioengineering at Clemson.

Author: Evan McConnell

Date Written: May 2014