It’s often said the best approach to starting a business is based on solving a problem that you have experienced first-hand.
For Dr. Elizabeth Iorns, Science Exchange Co-Founder & CEO, the problem was both practical and obvious – how to create an efficient, single platform that allowed scientists globally to outsource research.
It was a problem she had identified as a breast cancer researcher frustrated by the hurdles of finding potential collaborators and core facilities outside her local academic institution but having no central platform.
“To me it seemed so obvious. Provide an online marketplace for outsourcing science experiments. Our mission is to make scientific research more efficient by making it easy for researchers to access the resources and experimental expertise at any research institution.”
The Economist cleverly summed up the business describing it as “Uber for Experiments” or the latest twist on what has become known as the sharing economy.
As an accomplished scientist in her own right, Elizabeth is the first to admit starting her own business never featured in any of her early career plans.
Gaining a B.Sc. (Honours) in Biomedical Science, including being named as best overall student in the subject in her final year, before going on to complete her Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at the Institute of Cancer Research at the University of London where she received the Chairman’s Prize for Best Graduating Ph.D. student in 2007, Elizabeth’s career was already on the fast track.
Expecting to follow an established research path into academia after being appointed an Assistant Professor at the University of Miami (where she remains an Adjunct Professor), the idea of building a platform that would make a meaningful contribution to scientific research globally was an opportunity too exciting to let go.
“There has been an evolution in the way R&D is being conducted. There is a much greater focus on specialisation as well as an increasing acceleration in technological development. Today close to 50 percent of research is now being outsourced.”
Beginning life as part of Y Combinator’s start-up accelerator program in 2011, Science Exchange has already raised $US60 million in capital and is growing quickly, focusing on the development of innovative models to promote the quality and efficiency of scientific research.
Its foray into larger organizations has helped the company grow by more than 500 percent in the last year with eight out of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies now using the startup for outsourced research.
Recognised for her work establishing Science Exchange with a range of honours and awards including the Kauffman Foundation Emerging Entrepreneur Award, being named as one of Nature Magazine’s ‘Ten People Who Mattered’, and WIRED’s '50 Women Who Are Changing The World', Elizabeth takes it all in her stride.
“A great piece of advice I received was “When faced with a tough decision, ask yourself: What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” We actually made “Be Fearless” one of our company values at Science Exchange to encourage this thinking amongst our team. It is at times overwhelming, as someone who grew up in a small town in New Zealand, to be leading a company that is transforming the way an entire industry works. But I know that, throughout my career as a scientist and as an entrepreneur, it’s the times that I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone that have led to the biggest breakthroughs and the most impact.”
I’m proud of what we’ve achieved so far with Science Exchange but continue to watch this space… it really is just the beginning.”