Outsourcing research: new eBay for science experiments

Science Exchange, the global online marketplace for science, promises access, efficiency, and good deals for researchers who want to outsource their experiments.

Science experiments meet online marketplace this month with Science Exchange, a first-of-its-kind website that allows scientists to outsource their research to others who have the right equipment to meet unmet needs.

“Imagine eBay, but for scientific knowledge,” says cofounder Elizabeth Iorns, a researcher-turned-entrepreneur with a background in breast cancer biology from the University of Miami.

So, you post an experiment that you want to outsource, and scientific service providers submit bids to do the work. And the goal: make it easier to access experimental expertise from core facilities with underutilized capacity.

Iorns tells Nature News:

I wanted to conduct some experiments outside my field, and realized that I needed an external provider. What followed was an entirely frustrating process, and when I found the provider it was difficult to pay them because they were outside my university's purchasing system. When I talked to other scientists, it became clear that this was a really big problem, but also one that could be solved with a marketplace.

How this might make research more efficient:

  • Access to tech not offered at your own institutions.
  • No waiting if your own facilities are overcapacity.
  • Likewise, institutions around the world can make the most of their existing facilities.
  • And… good deals! (Prices vary dramatically.)

Based in Palo Alto, Science Exchange is funded by Ycombinator, a start-up accelerator program in Mountain View, and by angel investors. So far, $320,000 has been raised. If the company makes a good match between the requesting researcher and provider, they take a commission of up to 5%.

Before this, according to Iorns, researchers had to contact providers themselves using non-exhaustive directories of facilities. Or they’d use other outsourcing services – like Amazon's Mechanical Turk – for unspecialized tasks. (But who do you call when you need transgenic mice made or viruses produced for transduction experiments?)

“Scientists should be spending their grant money in a way that allows them to specialize and make use of each others' specializations,” she adds. “Imagine getting paid to do other people's experiments one day a week, and then using that money to bootstrap your own research.”

Read the entire interview at Nature News.

Image: ScienceExchange.com

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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