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

2/23/11Follow @gthuang

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which is build the product and then try to find the customers,” he says. What institutions really needed, he says, was a tool to help them build the right teams to tackle specific problems.

From that feedback, iAMscientist was born—starting with profiles of scientists that began on Orwik. Researchers can log in and create their own pages—with their publications, expert areas, and so forth—but they have to be invited by other members first. So far about 25,000 scientists and doctors (about 60 percent are in the U.S.) have created profiles on the site, including department chairmen, institute directors, senior faculty, and at least a couple of Nobel Laureates, Shakhnovich says.

The company also has a broader, global database of millions of researchers and their specialties, which is based on public records, he says. Organizing this sort of information is what iAMscientist is really about—being able to serve up the right expert for the right problem (and the right price). Companies and other organizations pay to post job listings and other opportunities, reach out to network members, and search through the iAMscientist database.

One recent example: A financial institution was doing due diligence on a technology for developing an AIDS vaccine. The iAMscientist team used its own platform to find a dozen people with relevant experience in vaccine clinical trials, all within 24 hours, Shakhnovich says. The institution ended up hiring a senior executive at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative as a consultant.

The broader business opportunity for iAMscientist lies in helping biotech institutes, pharmaceutical companies, and other firms “make difficult decisions about where to invest their research money and how to productize” across biology, medicine, energy, and other fields, says Shakhnovich.

His startup, which has 15 people, closed its most recent angel investment round last month. Shakhnovich says he’s looking to build out his sales and marketing team with some new hires. For now, the company isn’t aiming to raise more money. Shakhnovich hinted that a strategic partnership with a large company is on the horizon—and that this deal, which will come with an investment, will increase iAMscientist’s membership by a factor of 10. (That plus a dedicated referral system helps answer the perennial question of how this network plans to recruit new members.)

The Boston area makes a lot of sense as the home of this startup. Our region has arguably the world’s greatest concentration of intellectual horsepower in science, technology, and medicine, coupled with a distinguished history in computing and networking. (I’m told Facebook started here, or something.) What other city could give birth to an Internet startup whose goal is, as iAMscientist’s blog proclaims, “engaging the world’s smartest to solve the world’s most difficult challenges”?

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. Follow @gthuang

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