Starting as two scientists with an idea to solve slow and costly cell production, Ronawk has now blossomed into a rapidly growing startup with an increasing demand for its work, said A.J. Mellott.
“We quickly realized that Ronawk was going to need a lot of talent to meet the demand of its products,” said Mellott, who co-founded the biotechnology lab in Olathe with Heather Decker. “We don’t necessarily need individuals who have PhDs and Master’s [degrees]. Our positions are more entry level, but do require some type of STEM proficiency.”
Founded in 2019, Ronawk develops customized 3D-printed consumables to accelerate cell production in the biotech, healthcare and agriculture industries. The startup is known for its technology called Tissue Blocks (T-Blocks), which allow for researchers to rapidly expand the growth of cells, eliminate the need to subculture and greatly reduce labor cost, A.J. Mellott said.
As a solution to finding talent, Ronawk announced Monday it plans to launch a STEM training facility where individuals can get bioscience certifications in such areas as 3D printing, bioprinting, cell culture, analytical imaging, biological sample prep and staining, gene expression analysis and data analysis.
“This gives students a way to get some of those highly desirable bioscience skills without needing to attend a four-year institution or going to grad school,” Mellott explained, noting that such skills are traditionally not offered by universities and technical programs.
Click here to read why Ronawk was listed as one of Startland News’ 10 Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2021.
The company’s current goal is to accept the first cohort of students at the start of summer 2022, Mellott said, noting some renovations to their space are needed before beginning classes. Along with the space, Ronawk plans to help provide the class curriculum and equipment.
Ronawk is collaborating with Skilled KC Technical Institute on this endeavor to maximize the benefit to the Kansas City region, he added. Students will be able to select which skills they’d like to pursue, and courses will range from 4- to 16-weeks long.
“We are looking into doing a bio trade sort of program where we could provide the certifications with really specific skills that would be desirable in hospitals, biotech companies, biopharma companies, etc.,” Mellott said. “… We want to make sure that what we’re doing is collaborative and synergistic. We do not want to be competitors.”
Ronawk — a 2019 Digital Sandbox KC recipient — is actively looking for partners and contributors to collaborate within their plans of expanding Kansas City’s talent pool. Over the next seven years, Ronawk aims to create 150 full-time positions that heavily rely on individuals with talent and proficiency in a STEM discipline, according to Monday’s press release.
“Over the next 18 months, we are looking to create as many as 25 full-time positions with half of them requiring some type of STEM proficiency,” Mellott noted.
It is important to both Mellott and Decker that they give back to Kansas City by growing the city’s biotech ecosystem and seeking out local and regional talent, he added.
“[Ronawk] is very much a Kansas City company, so we want to do our part in helping the community,” Mellott said. “This is a way that we can help grow some of the talent here, as well as collaborate with others in the community. Kansas City is a really vibrant place, and we want to be as involved as we can.”
Others in the biotechnology community applauded Ronawk for its dedication to education and growing the community’s skill sets.
“Ronawk is an incredible asset to the region,” said Dennis Ridenour, president and CEO of BioNexus KC. “Not only are they developing cutting edge technologies that could have significant impacts on personalized medicines — their management team is committed to the Kansas City region, making investments in both the talent pipeline and physical infrastructure.”