A Conversation With Bryan Fine

10/31/18

Business Development Manager Bryan Fine joined Alkemist Labs in 2007 as an HPTLC Specialist. After two years as QA/QC Manager he moved to the sales side of the company. His research experience includes a year as Research Team Leader with the California Department of Veterans Affairs and Computational Biology Research Associate at UC Merced.  He holds a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and Immunology from University of California, Merced.

 

After working in the lab, what inspired you to move to the sales side of the business?

Life has a way of moving you in a different direction than you expect. After I got my science degree I started working in the lab, because that is what you normally do with a science degree. Over time I became fascinated by the companies sending the products in to be tested by Alkemist Labs, and wondered why were they making them, what their thought process of using this botanical in that product was, and who are these people are. I wanted to develop relationships to help them build the products I see on store shelves or use myself. Elan thought that I could bring the science side to sales, and help clients in more ways than just taking the order. He said “let’s give it a shot and see if it works,” and it has. Alkemist has a customer-centric mentality, so helping customers with the technical aspects of their orders is a big part of our service.

 

How do you work with diverse kinds of customers to meet their varied needs?

We work with many different types of companies, from start-ups to multi-million dollar world-wide companies. Having a scientific and lab background helps me help them understand the most appropriate testing that needs to be done based upon their specifications. I work with quality departments to help them perform routine compliance that so they meet their specs. I help R&D departments working with new botanicals figure out how to test for it. Purchasing department interaction often includes education; I help them understand what they are buying. It’s important that they think beyond price alone and appreciate the role quality plays in the botanicals they purchase from overseas because the products are going on the shelves, and in people’s bodies.

When samples fail and don’t meet specs I use my lab background to guide them through the steps to investigate the sample and determine if it’s material they can or can’t use.

 

Do clients usually expand their testing programs over time? For example, do they start asking for ID testing and end up buying botanical reference standards?

Clients typically start with ID and assay testing and the amount of testing they do expands in those categories as they grow. When our clients grow that means they need more testing.

We also serve as a back up lab for companies with in house labs in several different ways. Often they purchase reference standards from us. When products fail their in house testing they send those materials to us to confirm those results, and because of our expertise we are able to give them more information about why it failed. It could be a species issue or a plant part issue or a quality issue.

We have the advantage of our herbarium with 15,000 botanical reference materials that have been collected over more than 25 years. Companies getting into botanical testing don’t have that herbarium resource, so they have less data points, which means less confidence in their results. They come to use because we have so many data points, we can give more information for failed results, which is needed resolve those situations.

 

What is the process you go through when a sample fails?

It gets reported to the client, then the client either calls us or we call them. We look at the data on the CofA and go through it with them to explain that the material doesn’t meet specifications, and why.

We go through the results together and discuss possible reasons for the failure. The next step is opening lines of communication with purchasing, and/or the supplier to get answers to the questions that we need to resolve or explain the inconsistencies we’re seeing in the data. Sometimes it’s as simple as we were given the wrong information. If they gave us the wrong Latin name, then we tested the identity for the wrong material so of course it didn’t meet that specification – a justified failure, so that’s an easy fix. Sometimes it’s more complicated, and we help our customers determine next steps. On a lot of occasions it involves going back to supplier and working with them directly to resolve the failure and get the right specs to properly test the materials.

 

What’s the most rewarding part of your work?

That’s a hard question, because there are a lot of things. Many products we test, I take, so my work helps me have confidence in what I personally use. It’s satisfying to know that the testing we do for clients helps them guard against any of the pitfalls that could cause serious problems if the wrong materials entered their manufacturing stream. We help clients avoid making huge mistakes, so that’s enormously important.

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