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The Airbnb of Scientific Research: A Platform for Sharing Lab Equipment and Resources (Part 1)
“Democratize access to scientific research and development, and create a world where anyone can experiment freely.” This is the vision of Co-LABO MAKER, a sharing platform for lab equipment and technology.
Co-LABO MAKER is the winner of the highest award at the business incubation program cosponsored by SB Media Holdings Corp and GuildWorks called “MVP Award,” and is also a recipient of TECH LAB PAAK Award at BRAVE seed accelerator program.
The founder and CEO, Yuki Furuya, worked at two research labs as a university student, and he went on to work for a major chemical manufacturer in research and development of semi-conductor technology. He launched Co-LABO MAKER in April 2017, and he currently holds position at a startup C&A Corporation, supported by Tohoku University, where he is in charge of research and development of single crystal growth technology. In Part 1, we asked Yuki about the challenges he wanted to tackle with Co-LABO MAKER and the reasons for its success in winning recognition. In Part 2, we feature business trends that interest him and his outlook on the future of shared services industry in Japan.
——Please tell us about Co-LABO MAKER’s business model.
Co-LABO MAKER is a sharing platform for lab equipment and technology where anyone has easy access to look up and try out tools or technology. We carefully match corporations or labs that have the resources of equipment and technology with researchers who want to conduct experiments. And our goal is to generate income for underused facilities and to revitalize collaborative research and development. Basically, the idea is Airbnb for lab equipment.
——What inspired you to start a sharing platform for lab equipment and technology?
As a researcher, I was frustrated by the situation where you wanted to outsource equipment or a device but there was no comprehensive listing that described which facility had what or how to access it. The only thing you could do was look up online or ask someone that you met through conferences. But if you don’t even know the name of the equipment, it can be difficult to find what you are looking for.
So if there were ‘a platform to easily search for lab equipment necessary for the research’ I thought it would solve this problem. I wanted to create a system curating for scientists where they can take on an experiment, even something outside of their area of expertise, with a limited budget.
As for the providing end, they want to make the most out of their equipment that are collecting dust in their facility. They may have spent a fortune on the equipment that they seldom operate. There are many labs and organizations that are willing to put their unused equipment to work and generate extra revenue. If we could make these equipment and technology visible and set up a system to make them available for anyone, then not only can we provide a proposition to both ends but also contribute to the issues that come with further development and research. In addition, we believed that it would lead to more opportunities for exchange of information and connecting people, and a more fertile environment for collaborative projects and innovations.
——How did you get the feeling of “This idea will work”?
America had already launched a collaboration platform called “Science Exchange (https://www.scienceexchange.com/)” in 2011 where researchers can request various experiments and lab equipment from labs worldwide, and it is continuing to expand. We can say such precedent influenced us.
First, using a simple website builder called “Peraichi” we built a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), as our landing page, in order to enter competitive events like the MVP Award. Along sharing it with people and receiving feedback, I began to become confident in its potential as a real business. Also from my experience as a researcher I was already familiar with the creative problem solving process like brainstorming alone, so I actually already had a blueprint for the platform in mind. In ‘Gyakusetsu No Startup Shikou’, the author Takaaki Umada explains, “A business model is something that one ‘notices’ and not ‘thinks.’” In my case this is spoke to my truth.
——Why do you think your product was so well received?
There are two factors that contributed in winning the award. First, the problem in hand came out of my own real-life experiences, and its solution had the potential to bring big change to our society. Second, when we actually built the landing page for Co-LABO MAKER and made it public, we received an overall positive response from researchers. MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product, a product with bare-bones features, so the award gave preferences to a methodology similar to a lean startup method, being a cycle of identifying the demands and issues and then testing with the MVP. That is exactly what we did.
What was interesting about this experimenting process was that the reactions from labs were quite polarized. Labs that preferred to work in-house were uncomfortable with the idea of sharing equipment with other facilities expressing a negative response. On the contrary, labs that have incorporated an open innovation approach enthusiastically welcomed our idea.
The trail and error process helped us recognize new issues to address on our side for its commercialization. We learned that handling intellectual property and regulations on public disclosure of equipment inventory differ by each university, so we take all of this into consideration in development.