Elizabeth Iorns founded Science Exchange to address the challenges she encountered as a cancer researcher. She needed to conduct immunology experiments while studying mechanisms of breast cancer development and progression at the University of Miami, but had difficulty finding collaborators and providers. She realized that the cumbersome process of outsourcing R&D, a $140 billion market that consumes an estimated 40 percent of R&D spending, could be disrupted to drive greater efficiency and innovation. So, she started Science Exchange, which offers a software platform that enables scientists to easily outsource their research to scientific institutions such as universities or commercial contract research organizations.
Science Exchange has grown strategic-sourcing agreements with leading pharmaceutical companies by more than 2,000 percent over the past two years. Through the Science Exchange platform, researchers are finding easy, secure access to more than 2,500 of the world’s premier outsourced R&D service providers—contract research organizations, contract manufacturers, academic labs and government facilities. Its procure-to-pay platform allows scientists to order services from this large and diverse network of qualified providers.
At the heart of Science Exchange is the value proposition to “remove barriers and establish an environment in which new opportunities can blossom among scientists who are freed to focus their creative energy on research, not paperwork.”
Iorns, a native New Zealander, has built her company’s team to 70 people and a customer-base of more 1,000 companies –including 12 of the world’s top 20 pharmaceutical companies — that are purchasing scientific services via Science Exchange’s platform. Today, Science Exchange offers more than 6,000 services from some 2,500 service providers. Half of their business comes from the U.S., 35 percent from Europe, and 15 percent from Asia.
Finding Great Research Services Shouldn’t be a Hassle
Researchers are traditionally faced with a large, fragmented landscape of contract research organizations and scientific service providers around the world, all varying in their areas of specialty and commitment to quality. For a researcher, trying to find the provider with the right equipment or service can be a frustrating, costly and time-consuming chore. And after they find one, scientists then face the hassle of navigating a maze of pricing negotiations, contracts and compliance forms.
This less-than-ideal process is simplified by the Science Exchange platform, which provides a single point of access to its 2,500 service providers, all with pre-established contracts that protect users’ intellectual property and confidentiality. Researchers from Science Exchange’s enterprise customers can search on the platform, consider the reviews from past users, gather quotes from multiple providers, and connect directly with the provider to gauge their fit for the project. And when it’s time to select a provider, the researcher can begin work immediately, as contracts are already in place.
“Modern scientists are collaborators who need to efficiently connect to other facilities and expert scientists to get their work done,” Iorns said. “We see scientists wanting to outsource work with specific facilities and scientists and it’s challenging for them to vet and manage projects that go beyond their own capabilities,” she added.
A Guiding FORCE
Building Science Exchange into a strong company involved the challenges faced by every entrepreneur–hiring and retaining people and creating a culture where people find value worth staying for. For Iorns, the key was creating a company with a culture in which she herself would want to work, with the objective of making an impact for good.
Her company follows the principles of FORCE: be fearless, open, respectful, curious and entrepreneurial. FORCE guides their hiring practices, promotions, even company celebrations. “What matters to me is not whether we have a pool table or games but whether we’re making an impact on the world,” Iorns said. “Culture is something a lot of people talk about but we’ve found that you need to build it out deliberately.”
Support for The Reproducibility Initiative
Science Exchange has made strong progress over the past six years. In August 2012, Iorns advanced her longtime involvement with reproducibility in academic research when Science Exchange partnered with the open-access scientific publisher Public Library of Science (PLOS). Together they launched the Reproducibility Initiative to help researchers validate their findings by repeating their experiments through independent laboratories. Science Exchange facilitates the program with its platform, which matches scientists with experimental service providers according to areas of expertise.
Looking ahead, Iorns knows her company has just scratched the surface. Beyond biopharma, Science Exchange is already helping to solve outsourcing challenges in agriculture, cosmetics, aerospace, industrial chemicals and beyond. In doing so, Science Exchange facilitates the collaboration at the heart of modern scientists’ work, “as they need to collaborate efficiently and effectively to drive their work forward, and ultimately accelerate scientific discovery,” Iorns said.