by Sonya Iverson
Anyone who has picked up a pipette in the name of science might recognize their laboratory space as a coworking environment. Researchers share equipment and reagents, leverage group purchasing for discount prices with vendors, and often benefit from the expertise of their colleagues working at the next bench over. This cooperative environment enables scientists to more efficiently perform experiments and make groundbreaking discoveries.
LabCloud Inc., a company born out of the coworking space in the UMass Boston Venture Development Center, aims to provide a fully integrated platform that incorporates all the different aspects of operations in the lab including sample tracking with barcode labels, scheduling of shared equipment, and task management. Their web-based lab management system is at the heart of LabCentral, a coworking laboratory space in Cambridge that is home to more than two dozen promising life science startup companies.
An increasing demand for a web-based lab management system like LabCloud comes as a result of major changes in the industry. “There’s been a market shift where most of the companies that are known for doing R&D (research and development) are not doing R&D anymore. They are mitigating their internal risk by moving over their R&D operations to small and medium sized companies,” says Charles Beyrouthy, CEO and co-founder of LabCloud Inc. However, these smaller companies generally cannot match the infrastructure found in the major biotech and pharmaceutical companies.
Large biotech and pharmaceutical companies generally establish a strong infrastructure with in-house proprietary Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) to track inventory, samples, and data, with barcodes affixed to every tube. Such systems are expensive to develop and maintain. For academic labs and small companies that cannot afford the cost, the lack of infrastructure increases inefficiencies and the occurrence of errors. Mistakes in ordering or unexpected maintenance requirements of crucial equipment can easily delay experiments for days or weeks costing money and slowing results.
“They are expecting the same quality of research at a lower cost and with a much weaker infrastructure,” Beyrouthy explains. “This is an emerging trend, which is why you’re seeing many of these shared spaces coming up such as LabCentral.”
“The research aspect of it is beautiful, it’s exciting. Everyone who gets into this industry is a humanitarian in their own right. But for those purposes, everybody still wants to get a return on their investment.” That, says Beyrouthy, is where LabCloud comes in.
The company intends to solve this infrastructure problem for small companies with its free web-based lab management platform. In the process, they are helping facilitate the next generation of coworking laboratory research spaces.
“LabCloud started when I saw the same problems occurring over and over again,” says LabCloud co-founder Igor Romashko. He earned his B.S. in computer science and biochemistry from University of Massachusetts Amherst and went on to study bioinformatics. “I was hired [by a pharmaceutical company] as a software engineer to build databases. But what they really needed was one integrated system that almost acts as an operating system [for the whole lab]. Essentially, if everything is connected then it’s a lot easier to get everything done.”
Through his experience in microfluidics and extracellular matrix research, Beyrouthy has an insider’s view of how researchers work on a day to day basis. As a result, one of LabCloud’s key features is a user-friendly electronic lab notebook. “How does one actually take scientific notes? We’re incorporating people being able to write things down, physically. Tablet and pen. People like to draw things. They may not like to type them,” he said.
For coworking laboratories like LabCentral, LabCloud’s platform consolidates purchasing for member companies, enabling them to receive group purchasing price quotes from vendors. These group purchasing rates are one of the major reasons for a company to join a coworking lab space. The platform also handles scheduling for shared space and equipment, reducing inefficiency and protecting against one of the largest potential downfalls of coworking-based lab research.
“We try to incorporate the data management and the procurement and the logistics part of the R&D experience onto one platform in a fully integrated fashion,” says Beyrouthy. On the procurement side, comparison shopping and purchaser authorization are designed to make ordering supplies simple and efficient. Integrated inventory management enables simple reorders, and package tracking is linked to the platform along with automatic invoicing and expense reporting.
LabCloud currently works with laboratory consumables and R&D supply vendors of all sizes and industries. For the vendor, who pays LabCloud a commission on sales, this system works almost in reverse with built-in analytics and a suite of targeted marketing tools.
Of course, LabCloud isn’t the first to take a shot at this market. Other companies offer online lab notebooks and procurement but it is difficult to create the right combination of infrastructure, utility, and intuitive integration with laboratory tasks, all in a tool that scientists enjoy using.
“A lot of times people look at these systems as if they are a burden. Most of them are,” said Beyrouthy. “We don’t want it to be a burden. We’re former scientists. We get it. We were there. We lived it. We don’t want to change the way scientists work. We just want to make it easier.”
For more information, visit www.labcloudinc.com.
For more on companies, organizations and projects created by people who cowork, check out our series Made by Coworking.