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Pioneers: the 10 science startups supercharging a dormant industry

Hold your breath because those sci-fi dreams you dreamed are back in Silicon Valley's field of vision - and elsewhere - but first, the science industry needs some innovators.

“We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”

It’s a Founders Fund motto that sums up the sometimes disappointing change of direction investment has taken over the past decade; instead of the promised, streamlined, futuristic way of living from science startups, we gained online news feeds.

But we also received a host of other new products, services, platforms and even entire markets, so most people haven’t been complaining.

Until now: Silicon Valley are wondering where their ambition went.

So investors are starting to use their imagination: 3D printed rockets launching nanosatellites, spider-venom insecticide and nuclear waste powered reactors are the sorts of ideas being backed by VCs.

Last year industrial and energy startups attracted over $1.2b in VC funding by June, whereas investment in biotechnology rose 26% in the same period to $2.9 billion and levels now are back on track, matching the 2008 peak.

For this trend to generate real traction though, unlike the last attempt, the way scientists and researchers work and glean information, actually, the way the science industry currently operates, needs to revolutionize.

Step forward these 10 science startups and companies across the world well established to do just that.


science startups Notable Labs (USA)

One of the more specific science startups, Notable Labs is a personalized testing service for brain cancer patients prioritizing combinations of FDA-approved treatments that can be immediately prescribed by a doctor.

Reportedly it takes an average of 12 years and $2.9 billion to put a new drug on the shelf so Notable Labs has made it its goal to cut down the guesswork and testing time in the lab with the use of predictive analytics from another YC-backed startup, Atomwise. It then uses a customized machine that can test thousands of combinations of drugs within the lab in a short amount of time.

By August 2014, Notable Labs had raised around $120,000 Seed from Founders Fund, First Round Capital and Steve Case’s nonprofit Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure.

It’s a powerful pitch however Notable Labs is exclusively focused on brain cancer treatments – after one of the founder’s father died of brain cancer.



science startups

Sparrho (UK)

Aggregating, distilling, and recommending the best scientific discoveries, Sparrho is a personalized recommendation platform for all things scientific.

Dr Vivian Chan and her co-founder Niluka Satharasinghe set up one of the most exciting of the UK-based science startups, their “google for science research” after becoming frustrated about the difficulty of keeping up global research on Vivian’s topic.

On Sparrho, you search using keywords and you can favourite articles; it’s an algorithm-smart platform – it will learn from your interactions and searches – that aggregates, distills and recommends content relevant to the user.

It’s not just for articles though. The search engine also covers patents, posters, events, and grants and they have recently collaborated with the British Library in order to widen and deepen its content.

Sparrho pulls its data from between 18,000 and 20,000 sources and is a free source but eventually Chan and Satharasinghe hopes to monetize the platform for corporate users having “trouble with the dissemination of internal R&D data.”

Science startups need to continually evolve: Sparrho is very close to launching a new and updated version of its system so users have more control over the results they find: users will be able perform restrictive searches or they can broaden their horizons and discover new serendipitous ideas.



science startups

Publons (New Zealand)

Publons works with reviewers, publishers, universities, and funding agencies with the vision of turning peer review into a measurable research output.

It’s uncommon to talk about startups from New Zealand, let alone science startups, but Publons has raised around $300,000 from angel investors whilst one of the main features of the company rewards top reviewers with prizes, such as credits for Amazon Web Services. This is because scientists rarely get credit for one of their most important jobs: the unpaid task of peer reviewing papers.

Publons therefore was created to encourage researchers to post their peer-review history online.

Publons has now linked with John Wiley & Sons, Inc, a global provider of knowledge-based services in areas of research, professional development, and education for a six-month pilot program. The pilot enables peer reviewers for selected Wiley journals to get credit for their peer reviews on Publons.

Currently, there are 500 Wiley reviewers on Publons, with 1,800 reviews in 400 journals. The pilot program will run across up to 12 Wiley-owned titles.



science startups

Sciencescape (Canada)

Sciencescape is quickly becoming known as one of the most comprehensive platforms for real-time streaming, exploration and sharing of peer-reviewed biomedical scientific papers in the world.

Users can stay up-to-date on all the latest publications based on personalized research paper streams that are automatically updated with the newest papers from authors, journals and any other fields they subscribe to.

This functionality is powered by the Sciencescape Knowledge Graph, a real-time dynamic map of papers and entities in the universe of biomedicine created by (tip: breathe here) the application of machine learning and big data technologies to correlate complex relationships across 24 million peer-review papers with 4,000 newly-published papers processed daily, 400 million citations, 13 million researchers, 400,000 global institutions and nearly 100 ontologies. I did say breathe.

Sciencescape was also selected out of science startups worldwide as one of The Scientist “Top 10 Innovations” in life science in 2014.


science startups

Shazino (France)

Next generation web and mobile apps for smart scientists; collaborative applications for biology researchers.

Shazino is a creator of apps specifically to streamline certain tasks to streamline the lives of researchers and scientists. It offers a multitude of apps: Lab timer, a lab timer; Fast Counter, a bacterial colony counter; Papership, a paper reference manager and; PLASMID.IO plasmid (a type of DNA molecule)-sharing platform all available on iOS.

But the science startups flagship product is now a electronic lab notebook: Hivebench.

It offers all the basics of lab notebooks including advanced text editing, integration of images and videos. The app comes with an iPhone mobile app that allows you to view and edit the notebook entries on the go whilst also being free for up to 10 team members, providing up to 10 GB of cloud storage for free.

Even handier, Hivebench can also be installed locally, which can be more interesting for larger structures.


science startups

Science Exchange (USA)

A marketplace for scientific collaboration where researchers can order experiments from the world’s best labs.

Science Research received $5.5m in 3 rounds of funding from 14 investors including Techammer, XG Ventures and Union Square Ventures in order to engage more with its market and scale.

Co-founders Dan Knox and Elizabeth Iorns set up the company, which has seen a very positive reaction to its service. Iorns was also recently named as one of Elle’s 2015 women in tech.

Big names have also come aboard: NASA has used it to work with a lab in Australia to develop a new material for satellites; most major pharmaceutical companies have used Science Exchange, too.

The premise allows companies and individuals scientists and researchers access to expertise and specialized equipment from the world’s best academic and contract labs. You can easily search, compare, order and pay for experiments from a network of verified labs.

Furthermore, the science startups verified network attracts some of the world’s best academic, government and commercial labs – 75 of top 100 US Universities apparently – including Harvard Medical School, Mayo Clinic and Sigma Life Science.


science startups

Standard Analytics IO (USA)

Standard Analytics IO wants to organize the world’s scientific information.

After raising $1,3m during 2 rounds of funding, Standard Analytics is attempting to build the world’s largest index of scientific information and making it machine readable and API accessible.

The scientific publishing market is worth $23.5bn and SAIO want to cater for it.

Co-founders Sebastien Ballesteros and Tiffany Bogich, two former scientists who were inspired by their own experience in academia, stepped her with their own company to “leverage open web standards [from HTML5 and CSS3 to JSON-LD and RDFa] and make scientific information accessible and discoverable.”

The company also benefited from the support of the Mozilla Foundation WebFWD program which has helped science startups in the past and recently graduated from Techstars NYC.



23andme (USA)

The controversial one out of the science startups list: after raising over $79m in private financing – bringing its total funding to $190m plus a $1.4m research grant from the National Institutes of Health – with investors that include Google Ventures, Johnson & Johnson, MPM Capital and New Enterprise Associates, 23andme have fallen off the radar slightly since being halted by the FDA.

Prior to the FDA’s action, the company offered a mail order gene test that sequenced part of a person’s genome for as little as $99, which was nothing short of revolutionary.

The company stopped selling the home testing kits, save a version that would return ancestry information in the US but then leaped across the pond and began selling the service in the UK, while declaring its intention to comply with FDA regulations stateside.

They submitted a clearance request for their DNA test for Bloom Syndrome, which was subsequently approved.

23andMe has been reinventing itself as a research company now, but it’s still one of the most powerful science tech companies that’s launched in recent times.

And they’ve been busy: In March, the company created a therapeutics group led by former Genentech executive Richard Scheller; in May, the group announced its first major partnership, a 5,000-subject collaboration with Pfizer to study lupus; and last month the company genotyped its one millionth customer.



science startups

Kudos (UK)

Kudos’ fundamental aim is to enhance employee engagement in any industry.

Research from Gallup indicates that in North American organizations, 71% of employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged in their work. This converts to $370 billion per year in lost productivity.

The same research also shows that companies whose employees had received recognition or praise for their efforts in the past seven days alone had 10-20% higher productivity results.

Recognition is consistently listed as one of the top four ways to engage your team and is the easiest to implement; Kudos is a corporate social network with a simple SaaS peer-to-peer platform that allows team members to give meaningful recognition and feedback in real time to one another. Kudos can help organizations connect with their teams and drive performance through engagement, collaboration and communication.


science startups

Iodine (USA)

Thomas Goetz and Matt Mohebbi founded Iodine creating a massive community of people sharing their experience with what works – and what doesn’t – in medicine.

The vision is to transform the consumer experience around health, by providing clear, actionable and trustworthy resources for better treatment decisions.

The science startups aim is to allow individuals to navigate through medical research around their own condition and demographics. Iodine’s experience database creates a map based on the information you’re submitting and searching for – think dosage limits, drug comparables and side effects – and charts a route for you to get the best possible advice for your treatment.

Iodine and the rest of these companies reflect an increasing interest and investment in digital health companies: venture investment in digital health startups in the first 2 quarters of 2014 stood at $2.3 billion – more than the whole of 2013 – according to Rock Health whilst 23% of American consumers are searching online for drug information.