Spark Capital leads $3.3m round into Boston-based, on-demand life sciences marketplace Clora

On-demand labor marketplaces have been around for decades on the internet. Paying someone to identify a cat using Amazon Mechanical Turk or hiring someone to program a quick website on Upwork is easy — post a job, select someone, pay a few bucks and you’re done.

While hiring individuals is reasonably straightforward, building teams to accomplish specialized projects is a far more challenging problem, and few industries have as challenging a need as the pharmaceutical and medical devices industry.

Launching a new therapeutic might require hiring hundreds if not thousands of consultants, covering everything from Bayesian statistical design for clinical trials to market mapping and physician education. A single day’s delay could cost millions of dollars, so hiring the right people at the right time is crucial for a launch to go off without a hitch.

Today, that process is almost entirely manual, but Clora, a startup based in Boston, hopes to completely transform that process. The company is announcing a $3.3m seed round led by Spark Capital, with participation from Social Capital, Ludlow Ventures, Notation Capital, iSeed Ventures, v1 VC, and KohFounders.

The two founders of the startup, Rahul Chaturvedi and Leaya Martelli, came up with the concept while working day jobs in the pharmaceutical industry. Chaturvedi is a veteran of the industry, having headed up clinical affairs at Avedro, GI Dynamics, and Kaleido Biosciences over the past seven years. He worked with Martelli, a biotech recruiter, throughout those years, and constantly came back to the problem of how to hire the exact talent needed for their projects.

Leaving a promising (and safe) career in the pharma industry wasn’t easy for Chaturvedi. “The choice that I had to make was do I want to spend the next five to ten years of my life on new therapies that may or may not get to market, or spend my time and energy to build a technology platform that has the potential to fundamentally change how an industry operates?” He chose the latter, and left his job in September of 2016 to build Clora full-time.

Clora is a classic two-sided marketplace that matches biotech consultants with bio companies who need talent for projects. Where it gets tricky is the extraordinarily specific skill specialization required to complete projects. Clora’s front page funnel starts with 29 different specialities, ranging from legal and accounting to GxP Quality Assurance and Safety/Pharmacovigilance.

Chaturvedi emphasized that defining and building reputation is one of the most important long-term goals for Clora. “One of the issues with endorsements on LinkedIn is that they are noisy – anyone can endorse you. Reputation in this industry is really important.” Given that importance, Clora is designed to take into account the opinions of other experts to evaluate the work made by people on the platform. “We are able to use experts to vet other experts,” he noted.

Spark investor John Melas-Kyriazi led the round and will be joining Clora’s board. This will be Melas-Kyriazi’s third board on the East Coast, as he also holds observer seats on the boards of New York City-based Andela and Boston-based FreightFarms. I asked the SF-based investor why the heavy interest in the East Coast. “When we meet a great company we dig in, no matter where they are based.” Clearly a pattern, if not a theme.

Melas-Kyriazi noted that Spark has had a long interest in consumer marketplaces, with investments in companies like Postmates, and that while the firm has not traditionally looked at life sciences startups, the product clearly fit their investment interests. “The combination of this big problem and Rahul’s approach to using consumer product insights,” is what drove the decision to invest in the company, he said.

Ultimately, Chaturvedi hopes that the time and money saved from improving hiring processes across the pharma industry will lead to lower-priced therapeutics that also come to market much faster. “I have seen a lot that is great in the industry and a lot of what is holding us back, ” he said. With Clora, there might be a path forward to reshape how people work to build new therapies, and ultimately benefit us all.