iAMscientist, Backed by George Whitesides, Tries to Help Firms and Institutes Find Top Talent

2/23/11Follow @gthuang

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connect researchers. As academics were the first big group to populate the Web with their faculty pages, perhaps it’s surprising that there isn’t a unified social site for them. On the other hand, the combination of Google, university websites, and e-mail lists has been mostly good enough.

Until now. I’m broad-brushing here, but academic disciplines have become so specialized—and there are so many new journals and papers being published, especially in biology and medicine—that it has become exceedingly difficult for researchers to keep up with what other groups are doing, even within their own field. Just like the rest of us, scientists face a serious information overload (and, some say, underload) problem. And their careers depend on finding and digesting all that information.

iAMscientist differs from other similar-looking sites in that it’s focused less on networking among peers and more on helping institutions find the right people, Shakhnovich says. And its members tend to be senior faculty and elite researchers, rather than junior faculty, students, or people with casual interest in a field. “We have the top of the pyramid,” he says. “Our [network] is closed, more like Facebook in the early days. You have to be invited in and verified as an expert in your field.”

Shakhnovich (who also goes by Boris) seems like the right guy to work on this project, because he has firsthand experience leading research teams and building a network. From 2004 to 2006, he was an assistant professor at Boston University, teaching courses in bioinformatics. He then did a research fellowship at Harvard, focused on doing experiments in systems biology. But he eventually tired of the slow pace of lab work and left his budding academic career to become an entrepreneur.

“It was really boring waiting for things to grow,” he says. “The majority of your time is waiting for yeast to shake.”

So in 2008 he started a company called Orwik, which stands for “organic wisdom knowledgebase.” The goal was to help scientists and institutions accelerate their discoveries and “translational research” for clinical applications by providing online tools for presenting scientific results, managing collaborative projects, and developing community networks. (Xconomy mentioned the project back in 2009, when Orwik was in Dogpatch Labs.)

As a business, that didn’t really go anywhere. “We made the classic entrepreneur mistake, … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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