This Bill Gates-backed tech startup is on a mission to fundamentally change the way scientists work

ResearchGate CEO Ijad MadischResearchGateResearchGate CEO Ijad Madisch.

Meet Ijad Madisch. He’s a Berlin-based entrepreneur on a mission to change the way scientists go about their research.

The computer science graduate and qualified doctor set up a company called ResearchGate in 2008 when he realised that scientists were making the same mistakes over and over again as a result of not sharing their work publicly.

“It’s one of the biggest problems we have in the world, especially if we are repeating mistakes made by other scientists that cost us a lot of time and money,” Madisch told Business Insider.

ResearchGate can be described as a social network for scientists. It started off as a free-to-use platform for academics but it’s become increasingly popular with scientists working in corporates, including tech firms like Google and Facebook. There are currently 1,145 Google employees registered on the platform and 199 Facebook employees. In total, ResearchGate boasts over 10 million users.

“ResearchGate has become the biggest and most active scientific social network in the world over the last couple of years,” claims Madisch. “From the beginning, the focus was on convincing scientists to share publication data.”

The company claims not to have any competitors but it’s worth noting that it was compared to London’s Mendeley and San Francisco’s in a Times Higher Education article that was published in April.

Tackling the world’s big problems with online ‘Projects’

Over the last eight years, tens of millions of pieces of scientific information have been uploaded onto ResearchGate’s platform and today more than two million scientific publications are uploaded every month. In addition to publications, scientists are also uploading general articles, conference papers, and raw data.

Now the company wants to make it even easier for scientists to collaborate on chunky problems like climate change and illnesses like HIV and cancer.

“Recently we launched a ‘Project’ feature where scientists can collaborate in real time and document what they have found within the experiment,” said Madisch.

“I envision a different way of publishing and documenting science in the future where you’re not going for results any more in larger articles but rather in way smaller updates where you don’t have to write the same things again and again.”

The Projects allow ResearchGate members to talk directly to the scientists running the experiments, possibly giving them feedback and making suggestions in the process. “Ultimately, the Projects give us a way to structure science better,” said Madisch, before going on to claim that they also make it easier for scientists to find similar studies to those that they’re working on themselves.

More than 140,000 Projects have been launched since the feature went live approximately five months ago, Madisch said, adding: “This is a total new direction.”

One ongoing Project includes Nasa scientists who are using ResearchGate’s platform to document their time in an isolated bubble on the side of a volcano in Hawaii, where conditions are designed to replicate those found on Mars.

Hawaii volcano NasaCyprien Verseux/NasaThe isolated bubble on a volcano in Hawaii where Nasa scientists are aiming to replicate conditions on Mars.

While in the bubble, the scientists’ internet access is highly restricted but ResearchGate is one of the few websites they are able to use to share what they’re working on.

Other ResearchGate Projects are aiming to tackle everything from avian influenza (bird flu) and malaria, to obesity and 3D-printing.

More than 200 employees

As ResearchGate’s userbase has ballooned, the company’s workforce has been forced to expand, with the headcount more than doubling over the last year from around 100 to 250.

The growth of the company has been fuelled by investors who believe in the ResearchGate mission.

Nasa scientist on HawaiiCyprien Verseux/NasaA scientist pours samples into a tube.

The size of ResearchGate’s initial fund raises were not disclosed but the company raised $35 million (£26.3 million) in July 2013 in a round that was lead by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates and venture capital firm Tenaya Capital.

But it hasn’t always been easy for ResearchGate to raise money.

ResearchGate is free to sign up to and company’s path to monetisation was called into question by early investors.

In 2008 and 2009, VCs were asking Madisch how he planned to make money. “I said: ‘Hey guys, you don’t get it. If this thing is going to be successful, if we change how scientists think — something that is way harder than making money with this network — then the potential is big.'”

That said, ResearchGate is now making money from selling job recruitment space to companies and individuals who want to tap into the company’s intelligent network. “We have 2,500 different institutions who have posted a job on ResearchGate,” said Madisch.

ResearchGate is also thinking about launching “a marketplace for lab services and lab equipment,” according to Madisch, who says the market is worth $30 billion (£23 billion) in the US alone.

Another one of the company’s investors is Silicon Valley venture capitalist and former Facebook VP Matt Cohler, who is now general partner at Benchmark.

“He (Cohler) didn’t ask how I wanted to make money,” said Madisch. “He asked me what my personal goal was with ResearchGate and I said I want to win the Nobel Prize and he understood that.”

While many startups are look to exit when they get to a certain size, ResearchGate plans to play the long game. “Our plan is ultimately to stay independent,” said Madisch.

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