Ordering, storing, tracking and disposing of laboratory supplies was among Helen Rabinovich’s assigned tasks while earning her doctorate in chemistry at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
She complained to her husband, Technion-trained industrial engineer Alex Domeshek, about the many hours these intensive duties were taking from her research time.
Domeshek came to her rescue by developing LabSuit, an innovative inventory and social-networking system for managing lab supplies. Very soon, LabSuit was in demand by chemistry labs and research facilities across the Haifa campus.
Realizing they had a startup in their hands, the couple incorporated LabSuit at the end of 2013 and brought in Ira Blekhman, an MBA student at Israel’s Open University.
Today, about 1, 000 researchers in 200 Israeli laboratories are using LabSuit and the cofounders are raising funds to market the online service internationally.
“We want to be the Airbnb of life-sciences lab management, ” Blekhman tells ISRAEL21c, explaining that the name of the company reflects that it is tailor-made for laboratories.
Saving time and money
LabSuit offers three levels. The first deals with inventory, effectively managing lab supplies and materials without Excel spreadsheets and sticky notes. The second level is a social network through which researchers can request to share or exchange materials. The third level allows for ordering materials from other laboratories as well as from commercial suppliers.
“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, ” says Blekhman. “It also creates a really awesome virtual community.”
She says that although other lab-management websites exist, the sharing component is unique to LabSuit and she feels this aspect makes it more attractive.
“We take everything researchers do and digitize it, ” says Blekhman. “The first thing an experimenter does is to see if the materials he needs are available. If he can’t find something, he’ll knock on doors of neighboring labs. We’re breaking down all the doors, letting users ask every lab registered with us, and if they can’t find what they need, they can compare prices and order it right from our website.”
Elvira Haimov, a doctoral student in chemistry at the Technion, said her lab has 17 researchers, each with his or her individual requirements and materials.
“Before using LabSuit we managed our entire inventory using Excel spreadsheets, ” she said. “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 10 minutes to do the same.”
Haimov added that the online service enables her to request samples of materials from other Technion laboratories before investing in a large order. “This provides me with flexibility as well as precise logistic and financial control.”
Science as a service
LabSuit has so far been bootstrapped by the co founders and is free of charge for users.
Just as word of the site spread virally throughout Israel, the co founders believe the same could happen overseas.
“In Israel we have only eight research institutions, so we need to go abroad, ” says Blekhman. “In Berlin alone there are 30 research institutions and each professor has an associated lab somewhere else in Europe, so we could spread very easily.”
The first step in this process is focused on the many foreign doctorate and postdoc students working in Israeli academic labs. When they go home to their own countries they will naturally inform colleagues about LabSuit, she says.
The prestige of the Technion could be a factor working in LabSuit’s favor.
“The Technion name opens up doors, ” said Domeshek. “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.”
The Technion encourages innovation through entrepreneurial courses, business accelerator programs and competitions such as BizTEC. LabSuit was a finalist in a national BizTEC entrepreneurship competition.
“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, ” said Domeshek.