The Airbnb of Scientific Research: Co-LABO MAKER (Part 2)

“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. (Click here for Part 1)

——I heard that you developed your startup while working full-time at a chemical manufacturer and now you are working at a university startup company. You are an inspiration for many corporate workers with entrepreneurial aspirations. Could you tell us about the advantages of juggling your job and business?

I think treating your startup as a side business to your corporate job keeps you from getting overwhelmed with pressure to make it commercial. Of course the level of commitment will be different once you leave your day job.But I believe a project that creates a new product or service develops through several stages. In the beginning, you are only trying to determine whether there is a real demand for your product with some trial and error, so it was really helpful to maintain a stable income to support my family.The big advantage was that the service’s user audiences were right here at my workplace and I got to know them really well. It resembled as a participant observation for the study of ethnography in design concepts. At Tohoku University we are able to get referrals from professors who would tell us, “Go ask this person for this topic.” I know what it is like to work in research and development for a major corporation and now I am at a university startup. We owe our success to having first-hand experiences of both sides of our Co-LABO MAKER users.We have definitely had our share of challenges such as effectively allocating limited resources from both parties while maintaining our focus. If I worked late into the night to do catch-ups, it strained the relationship with my family. We are in the midst of trying to figure out how to earn more support and understanding from our families and also spend more quality time with them.

——From the way you talk I can clearly tell that you genuinely love working with the process of research and development.

Research and development is a process of validating a hypothesis of “If I do this, will this happen?” to explore new, unanswered questions. It is satisfying when my hypothesis and actual data yield similar results, and even when the results are completely unexpected I enjoy the process of figuring out the causes. I used to think that working in research and development was too specialized and I would not be able to apply the skills towards my next career move. But then I realized that its process is very similar to lean startup method. Essentially they both revolve around a continuous cycle of hypothesis validation, and it struck me that the ability to manage research and development operations itself is extremely versatile and valuable.

——True. They do sound very similar in process. And how do you think the sharing structure in services will continue to spread in Japan?

In Japan, sharing services are still new and unfamiliar to many. In urban areas of China, bike-sharing services are very popular, whereas in Japan, there are still people who have never heard of Airbnb.My guess is that sharing services will grow gradually instead of becoming widespread all of a sudden. Take E-commerce, for example. When Amazon or Rakuten first launched their websites, many people were hesitant to register their credit card and other personal information online. But nowadays registering your personal information is becoming the norm for using a website or an application. In the same manner, I believe the sharing services will gradually but surely grow as part of our everyday lives. 

——Are there any trends in Japan that you find interesting and relevant for our future?

Open innovation is growing exponentially since 2016, and the number of business accelerators in any industry is increasing. I think this is because more people are accepting the fact that corporations, startups, and universities must work together to compete in the global economy. The increase in number of open innovation platforms like 01Booster and Creww definitely is  contribution as well. It is definitely generating a basis, but the speed at which it’s spreading is alarmingly slow. Our country is lagging behind in open innovation movement, and we need to face this issue for a more robust research and development system. This is precisely the mission for Co-LABO MAKER. 

——Lastly, please tell us about your goals for the future.

My immediate goal is the official launch of our service by summer of 2017, and we would like to expand nationwide with a strong home base in Tohoku. Our long-term goal is to expand coverage by establishing Co-LABO MAKER as an infrastructure for science. For now we expect organizations like universities and startups to be our main audience, as both users and providers. But eventually we want to make our service available to independent researchers as well. You may not have your own lab, but you can get involved in research and development or open innovation projects as an independent contractor. We are very interested in starting a movement that creates new jobs for facilitating such collaborative projects and new ways of working.In a corporate work environment, there are many constraints that keep you from pursuing research that you really want to do. I experienced this frustration myself, so I am also seeking ways to support “underground researches” in which one pursues his or her true passion outside of work hours, and to foster subsequent “underground innovations.”

——We look forward to your official launch. Thank you very much for sharing your story with us!

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