This is a post from the Open Science Summit, a weekend of talks and discussion about this emerging research approach. Disclosure: Mendeley Research Networks is a sponsor of OSS2010.
Friday had a short series of talks on applying microfinance and crowdfunding models to doing science. David Vitrant from Fund Science, David Fries from SciFlies, and Jason Blue Smith from EurekaFund spoke in this session. The idea behind microfinance is to provide a alternative channel for funding high-risk research that doesn’t fit in the traditional funding channels such as federal grants or wouldn’t be eligible for foundation money. Crowdfunding is similar – it’s basically a type of targeted fundraising that brings in small amounts from many donors, tapping into people who don’t generally think of themselves as philanthropists, but want to see results more tangible and immediate than donating to a large non-profit.
One interesting speaker discussed how they developed small kits, somewhat similar to the chemistry sets I remember playing with as a kid, but focused on biology. They made the point that biotech needs to mind not only their development pipeline, but also the talent pipeline of skilled workers available to do the development. Now, I know what you’re thinking…”we’ve got excess talent in biotech right now. Experienced people are begging for jobs that are beneath them!” If you really think your company is at the point of diminishing returns in hiring smarter people, then why is R&D spending going up every year while the number of new drugs entering the market remains flat?
The three smart people who spoke here are raising money through microfinance and crowdsourcing to bring the ability to do biotech research to schools and interested small groups. What they’re doing is great, but they’ll never be able to have the kind of reach and impact that a company like Invitrogen or Merck could, if they were to start a similar initiative. I’m sure these large biotech and pharma companies are doing some sort of educational outreach, but do they know what these microfinance and open science people are doing and do they realize how effective reaching out to them could be in not only seeding the environment with smart scientists-to-be but simply getting their brand out there in the most favorable light?