A love story between two Technion graduates, Helen Rabinovich and Alex Domeshek led to the revolutionary start-up “Labsuit”, transforming the inventory management of academic laboratories. Their friend and co-founder Ira Blekhman explains that, “Our service enables considerable savings for research labs as well as a dramatic reduction in the amount of waste sent to landfills”
Managing laboratory supplies was one of the tasks Helen Rabinovich was responsible for as part of her doctoral duties. Back then, she was pursuing her degree at the Technion’s Schulich Faculty of Chemistry. Overseeing the management of supplies – which included the ordering, storage, tracking and disposal of lab materials – consumed much of her time, which she would otherwise put into to her research.
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Helen’s spouse, Alex Domeshek, who holds an engineering degree from Technion’s Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, came to her rescue by developing an innovative system for managing lab supplies – LabSuit. Rumor of the new system quickly spread throughout campus, with LabSuit being implemented in more and more chemistry laboratories as well as research facilities at other Technion faculties. Labsuit’s success at the Technion made Alex and Helen realize that they have a start-up in their hands.
The innovation sparked by Alex and Helen’s private love story transformed into a social network of labs nationwide within a few months. From a successful but small beginning amongst their peers at the Technion, over two hundred laboratories and a thousand researchers later, the numbers are growing fast.
“The Technion name opens up doors, ” confides Alex, “and this is how I managed to find a job in the Silicon Valley that was looking for a Technion graduate right after graduation. Yet by then I had already ‘caught’ the ‘innovation bug’, and I knew, even before returning from the US, that the next thing for me would be a private venture rather than entering a corporate job. Innovative thinking is nurtured and promoted at Technion through entrepreneurial courses, competitions such as BizTEC and various accelerator programs run by the Bronica Entrepreneurship Center at Technion. We have been able to capture this spirit in LabSuit.”
LabSuit was founded at the end of 2013 by Helen and Alex; their mutual friend Ira Blekhman, an MBA student at the Open University, joined the venture shortly afterward. “LabSuit is a really awesome virtual community” relates Ira, “because it is built to serve various management levels, allowing individual researchers to use it according to their momentary needs. LabSuit’s first management level is inventory, effectively managing lab supplies and materials, replacing the excel sheets, sticky notes and disgruntled comments in the corridor.
The second management level created a social network of laboratories cutting across various geographic regions and organizational affiliations to enable collective sharing of materials. Finally, the third level allows for search, exchange and ordering of materials from other laboratories as well as from commercial suppliers.”
There is an actual trade-in of materials between laboratories. “You have to understand that a laboratory stocks thousands of different materials, and actually requires much more than that. The service we offer prompts big savings for laboratories, as well as a dramatic reduction of waste sent to landfills for disposal. This is an innovative process that provides a real win-win-win for all parties: the laboratories save money and are managed in an organized manner, researchers save time and gain greater flexibility in their studies, and we enjoy seeing LabSuit grow and prosper.”
LabSuit is offered free to academic laboratories (except for delivery charges of supplies delivered directly from other institutions). At this point, in order to encourage maximum utilization of desired supplies, the delivery charges are fixed and do not vary according to the scope of the transaction, the price of supplies or quantity of materials delivered.
“When Alex had first presented his inventory system I was somewhat skeptic, but very quickly I saw how it put our lab into shape, ” confides Ilana Parti, a PhD student from Technion’s Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering. “This system enables us to contact labs all over the country, and really transformed our laboratory to a higher level of efficiency. In a lab like ours, which stocks large quantities of materials and has multiple users (which also change from time to time) keeping track of inventory is very difficult. With LabSuit I invested approximately one working day uploading all of our materials to the system, and now the search (of supplies) is fast and easy. When we run out of a particular item, we are able to find it within seconds at another Technion laboratory. Time savings are tremendous.”
Elvira Haimov, a doctoral student at the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry, is another satisfied LabSuit user. “Our lab has 17 researchers, each with their individual requirements and materials. Before using LabSuit we managed our entire inventory using Excel Spreadsheets. Every time we ran out of something, we had to start chasing down suppliers, which consisted of logging into their internet system to search for materials, comparing prices to quality and checking delivery service. This is a process that I would spend at least two hours a week on.
“Today, it takes me only ten minutes to do the same. Labsuit helped us get out of this vicious cycle, and brought a welcome change. Moreover, in some cases, when I’m not sure how to work with a new material, instead of buying even the smallest quantity – that’s still quite a bit – I search for it at other Technion laboratories and take a sample that I can test before ordering large quantities. This provides me with flexibility as well as precise logistic and financial control, and as previously mentioned – shortens the time I spend on inventory matters from two hours a week to a number of minutes.”
“Today, over a thousand researchers are using our inventory system in over 200 laboratories across Israel, ” relates Alex, “and recently, we made it to the final round of the national BizTEC entrepreneurship competition. Our dream is to market LabSuit abroad, and to have all life sciences labs using our services. We would like to do for the lab supplies market what Airbnb did to the vacation rentals market. Our motto – ‘Science as a Service’ – is intended to connect laboratories and to serve not only as a platform for sharing supplies and materials but also as a jump for collaboration and knowledge exchange.”