E-mail and a smarter notebook could be enough to handle communication for projects or experiments within a team in a lab in a university basement. But with about 200 scientists working to discover something new – such as a new drug – this communication process will quickly collapse, and Sajith Wickramasekara, sitting somewhere between science and software.
That's the goal for Benching which Wickramasekara hopes will make life easier for researchers and simplify and accelerate the process of scientific discovery. Bioscience Specialist, Benchling aims to create a comprehensive suite of tools that help researchers log their processes thoroughly and collaborate among other scientists. Benchling wants to provide a rigorous platform that can do a lot of work for researchers, who instead document everything in emails, spreadsheets, or just anywhere in a notebook. According to Benchling, a financing round of $ 14.5 million was conducted, led by Benchmark Capital with the participation of F-Prime Capital and Thrive Capital. Eric Vishria of Benchmark joins the company's Board of Directors.
"I've always wanted to go to a high school to become a scientist," Wickramasekara said. "Since I work here, I obviously made a left turn, and as someone who did both science and software, on the software side, I had the feeling that I had great tools for working with other people, and on the scientific side I feel that there are really great scientific tools, but no great tools to work with other people. "
At its core, Benchling is a suite of applications and tools that includes ways to design experiments and to document them during this process. Researchers can track the materials they produce, manage their physical inventory – such as tubes or containers – and help scientists standardize and easily interrogate information from existing or previous runs. The service seeks to capture all of this in a unified platform that a company can provide to a whole fleet of researchers and teams. Wickramasekara says more than 100,000 scientists use the platform.
Benchling was originally born as a kind of smart notebook for scientists and academics. While it started there – and where much of the learning has happened – the team has finally created something more formal that could sell it as an actual product. This step proved more challenging as academics work either alone or in small teams, so they do not necessarily need the robust tools that a product like Benchling could have on the market.
"The free form of a lab notebook is actually sufficient [for academia]" said Wickramasekara. "In the industry, this is where the whole structure comes in. We have a team as part of our customer success and implementation, we help our customers find the right model, the right complexity, and adjust their business processes but we're probably working with more than 80 clients and 25 doing antibody research so we can figure out all the best practices over time, helping our clients think about tradeoffs over one data model for another. "
Benchling also offers these employees a set of auditing tools that would make Wickramasekara crucial to moving to larger companies dealing with more sensitive IP. For a company looking for new medicines, it's especially important to keep this process under tight control – especially when working with organizations like the FDA. Benchmarking administrators gain a comprehensive overview of who is doing what within the system and documentation guidelines.
Part of the challenge will be to satisfy all niches and needs of these individual companies during their own unique experimentation process. Each lab is different, with its own quirks, and Benchling aims to be a unified platform that covers as many scenarios as possible, even with help and adjustable models. This means that there is room for other tools that can tap into other niches and become one-size-fits-all. But over time and with enough data, a tool like Benchling has not only been able to find the best practices for specific labs, but also those that should use them – and then cover all of these fundamentals.
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