Science Exchange, a Y Combinator-backed company that’s helping to streamline the way scientific research is conducted, has raised $1.5 million from an elite group of investors. The round was led by Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from Yuri Milner, Crosslink Capital, Morado Venture Partners (Ash Patel), Lerer Ventures, Webb Investment Network (Maynard Webb), Start Fund, SV Angel, Sam Altman, XG Ventures, Jack Jia and Joe Eandi.
I really like Science Exchange, largely because it could actually speed up the pace of scientific research. It launched in August, offering scientists a centralized platform for accessing experimental service providers worldwide (or, if you’re more comfortable trafficking in Silicon Valley cliches, it’s an Airbnb for prohibitively expensive scientific equipment).
Here’s the gist.
Many universities across the country have what are called Core Facilities, where expensive equipment necessary for research experiments is housed. Instead of trying to juggling access to these machines between dozens or hundreds of researchers, the Core Facilities have a more efficient system: researchers submit their experiments, where they are carried out by the facility’s dedicated Resource Scientists, who in turn give the researchers the results once they’re ready.
Thing is, the system has some major inefficiencies. If a researcher wants to run an experiment on a machine that isn’t at their Core Facility, then they have to find a way to get access to another facility. But there’s no central database listing which schools have which equipment, nor is there a straightforward way to coordinate payment for the services. And, on the other side of the market, there are plenty of machines that sit unused for extended periods of time.
That’s where Science Exchange comes in. It gives researchers a way to find and outsource their experiments to experimental facilities around the world (and beyond — more on that in a moment). And it also handles payments, so the entire process is much easier on both the researchers and the experimental facilities they’re working with.
Cofounder Dan Knox says that when the service first launched, the team expected most of the experiments would be standard and common jobs, like DNA sequencing, bioinformatics, and microarray analysis. And they turned out to be right. But there are also some facilities that have signed on that are more unique — he likens them to the castles and private islands you’ll find listed on Airbnb.
So what sort of novel facilities are popping up on Science Exchange? For one, it’s possible to conduct microgravity research experiments on the International Space Station (really), which is handled by a company called Nanoracks.
Science Exchange isn’t the only academia-related startup that’s raised funding recently. Kaggle, a platform for big-data competitions, recently raised $11 million, and Academia.edu just raised $4.5 million.