an "EBay for Science": Experiments Farmed out on a budget

Fast Company's Michael J. Coren gives a “Hat Tip” to Nature News. We give one to him for this article.


Instead of being held captive by massive startup and infrastructure costs, Science Exchange allows anyone to have an experiment performed for them–for a fee.

Scientific research is an expensive proposition. Sophisticated laboratory equipment, technicians, and massive buildings mean few except well-endowed universities and cash-rich companies make the investment. That leaves a lot of science–and a lot of scientists–out of the process. But those barriers may be falling, thanks to the Science Exchange, which allows anyone to farm out research tasks to a global network of “providers” for a small fee.

By connecting researchers with underutilized (or just cheaper) facilities and equipment to meet research needs, the business of scientific discovery may be on the verge of what Exchange's co-founder Elizabeth Iorns said in an interview with Nature News is “totally disruptive” change that  “could transform the current very inefficient use of funds and dramatically change the way in which scientists do research.” 

The way it works is simple. “Imagine eBay, but for scientific knowledge,” says Iorns. “You post an experiment that you want to outsource, and scientific service providers submit bids to do the work.”

So far, Exchange reports about 1,000 scientists have signed up, with 70 institutions including Stanford, Harvard and University of Miami also registering on the site. As many as 100 new researchers are joining every day,  Although many of its clients are public institutions, the private firm has definite intentions to make money. They've taken on $320,000 in venture capital and plan to raise $1 million more. Science Exchange takes a 5% cut for all transactions under $5,000 (and less as values go up).

But look for competitors–particularly non-profit versions–to pop up soon. We're in a time of great innovation, and that's going to take a lot of R&D. Depending on who provides the best service, a potentially lucrative scientific market is up for grabs. For now, Science Exchange  is charging ahead. “We have big plans to expand,” says Iorns.

[Hat tip: Nature News]

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