A few years ago, Ijad Madisch was a geek with a gripe. The radiology researcher at Boston’s prestigious Massachusetts General Hospital had a nut he just couldn’t crack, and efforts to find fellow scientists who could offer insights on the problem proved fruitless.
Then Madisch had his Isaac Newton moment: If scientists and researchers around the world were running into the same dead ends, why not create a social network where they could compare notes and call for help? That’s how ResearchGate was born. In the five years since, with backing from Benchmark Capital and Founder’s Fund, the Berlin-based company has grown to serve nearly 3 million scientists, running the gamut from physicians to physicists, computer scientists to chemists.
On Tuesday morning, Madisch will announce he’s bagged the big kahuna. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, whose charitable foundation has poured billions of dollars into global health initiatives, is leading a $35 million investment in ResearchGate, the company’s third and largest funding round. Call it ResearchGates.
Madisch points to the recent example of a Nigerian researcher stumped by the death of a newborn patient. Using ResearchGate, he hooked up with an Italian scientists who reviewed tissue samples from the child. “They found a new infectious agent that was never detected before, which usually affects plants,” Madisch said.
And, he believes, many more such breakthroughs will follow as more scientists share their failures as well as their successes.
“I was very frustrated with the fact that as a scientist, you’re not sharing all the results and data you’ve created,” he said. “This is leading to a lot of inefficiencies, wasting time and money.”
Making money, of course, is the goal of the new funding round, in which Woodside’s Tenaya Capital also participated. Madisch plans to use the loot to monetize his site’s recruitment marketplace and add an e-commerce component for things like cell cultures and DNA sequencers.
He also sees a big opportunity to disrupt the world of scientific journals, which he said put a double hit on taxpayers. “Fifty percent of all research in the US in 2007 was funded by the public,” Madisch said. “If a scientist wants to publish, he has to pay the magazines, which are behind a paywall; libraries have to buy them back again using our tax money.
“We want to be the new way of publishing information,” Madisch added. “The number of people uploading to our system has been increasing exponentially in the last 15 months.”
Benchmark’s Matt Cohler, who sits on ResearchGate’s board along with Luke Nosek of Founder’s Fund, has seen first-hand the power of network effects. He was employee no. 7 at Facebook and, before that, vice president of LinkedIn during its first two years of existence.
“It’s been shown time and again that if you have a network-effect product that reaches scale, it tends to be transformative of the market that it’s in,” Cohler told me. “The network of scientists who’ve come onto ResearchGate has the potential to change the world of research.”