There are estimated to be over 13 million scientists globally, almost all of whom have to enter the results of their work manually, often by hand in a notebook. Sure, much of it gets entered into computers. But time is wasted managing data, and productivity suffers. The implications are pretty bad given the year we live in. Over 50% of R&D time is wasted, there’s significant material loss, and vital life-saving drugs take much longer than they should to get to market. Currently, it costs $2B to discover a new medicine.
But what if a scientific instrument could log the data itself automatically ‘watch’ experiments? It could be far faster to get results and scientists could free up their time for other important matters. And it could save vast amounts of money. That’s the goal of TetraScience, a Y Combinator startup from the Summer 2015 batch.
Their team provides labs with both software and hardware that connects existing scientific equipment to the web. Researchers can then remotely monitor and control instruments, receive alerts, and automatically log data. In other words, this is ‘Cloud monitoring’ of lab equipment, and it could accelerate the pace of scientific advances by an enormous amount.
Take a laboratory freezer which preserves invaluable and irreplaceable samples. Unfortunately, these freezers fail frequently and their contents spoil. TetraScience’s hardware can measure the temperature of the freezer in real-time, report it and proactively alert someone when the freezer fails. At Stanford alone, there are over $2.5B worth of samples in their freezers and a single freezer could hold $100,000+ of insulin, vaccines, etc. And freezers are just the tip of the iceberg.
TetraScience has come up with a plug-and-play platform which can interact with hundreds of lab instruments because it is instrument and manufacturer agnostic. Other solutions on the market are vendor specific.
The team should know the space. They met at Harvard/MIT where they were researchers and grad students. They started the company after a particularly frustrating time performing a simple experiment, and realized that the same technology used by Nest to monitor homes could monitor scientific instruments instead.
In terms of traction they now have nearly a dozen paying customers ranging from large pharmaceutical companies, prominent biotech, top hospitals, and prestigious universities. TetraScience supports approximately 60 active data streams at the moment and they say they are on track to hit 100 by mid-August.
Here’s how it works. TetraScience Link, the hardware module, is like an Apple TV. A researcher can buy a Link, plug their scientific instrument in to it, and connect to the web via Wifi or Ethernet. Once online, a researcher can log in to their TetraScience account, enter their credentials, and activate their newly purchased Link. This process takes less than 5 minutes. On this dashboard, the researcher can monitor that instrument in real-time and control its behavior. Furthermore, the researcher can also set thresholds for alarms/alerts (e.g. hazardous overheating) and notifications (e.g. e-mail, SMS). Since the instrument is connected to the web, the data produced by the device is automatically stored in the cloud. Like with Facebook, they provide researchers with a timeline of experiments/events that occur with the experiments (e.g. the user and timestamp for starting/stopping an experiment).
They assured me they have several layers of security, so the results can’t be hacked into.
Other startups in this space include Benchling which is Angel-backed, and Transcriptic.
To date, TetraScience has raised over half a million dollars from YC and angels in clouding Dorm Room Fund and Rough Draft Ventures.