Peter Kafka

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Science Exchange Raises $3 Million to Help Outsource Experiments

SE_Logo_HorizontalIf the Internet can let you rent someone’s futon, car or cooking skills, it can certainly help you get your hands on some spare scientists or lab time.

Right? Right. That’s the premise behind Science Exchange, a Palo Alto-based startup that lets researchers buy or sell access to people and equipment they can use to run lab tests and experiments.

Scientists are already used to outsourcing certain kinds of work, either because they don’t have the time or the resources to do it themselves. So Science Exchange isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel — they’re just digitizing it and putting it up for bid on the Web, like everything else.

“We’re not creating an entirely new behavior,” said co-founder Dan Knox. “We’re just making it easier to do.”

So far, Knox said, the thesis is proving out. Since launching in the summer of 2011, the startup has helped people conduct 1,000 transactions, and the volume is ramping up. Four months into 2013, Science Exchange has already equaled its volume from 2012, Knox said.

Since these deals involve expensive machines and/or trained people, they tend to run a lot higher than your average Etsy transaction: Knox said they average $3,000 a pop, with Science Exchange taking between 3 percent and 9 percent for brokering the deal.

Those numbers have been enough to help the company land a $3 million Series A round, led by Union Square Ventures, along with O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures. Earlier investors who had helped the Y Combinator company raise a $1.5 million seed round are also back; they include Yuri Milner, Lerer Ventures and XG Ventures.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work