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Efficiency Squared – Streamlining science: Lab 2.0

William Bowen, discusses Efficiency Squared, a start-up he created with James Coates to streamline simple tasks which researchers do every day.

At the outset of 2019, I found myself sitting at dinner with a family friend, James Coates, discussing challenges that medical research teams are facing globally. Funding, of course, he remarked is always a crucial component of any research project but James pointed out to me that he felt specific but essential processes in research laboratories could likely be improved, saving time and resources on a very large scale. So began Efficiency Squared, a start-up that James and I co-founded shortly thereafter to further explore optimisation of medical research.

 Specifically, Efficiency Squared seeks to streamline simple tasks that researchers do every day – often relating to data management or data recording, but the scope of the venture really has no limits, hence our excitement. A few months in, I approached Ben Molony, an engineering graduate Durham University, who helped us render our product concepts. Together, the three of us acquired a grant from Durham University to develop prototypes of many of our ideas.

Paralleling the scientific peer review process, we then sought feedback on our prototypes from lab teams across the country and abroad – the nice thing about science is not it shouldn’t change from one lab, or country, to the next. The result was hugely positive, culminating in the manufacturing and deployment of our first product, Stampy96 – a stamp of a 96-well microplate. Yes, a stamp.

In the world of laboratory-based biology, microplates are often used for conducting scientific experiments, albeit in cancer research or infectious diseases, and they come in various shapes and sizes. Of all microplates, the 96-well version is the most common globally. James alone uses anywhere between one to ten every week in his research at Oxford! Importantly, their design is immutable, adhering to specific millimetre-precise dimensions and arrangements. Stampy96 allows researchers who use such plates to reproducibly design their experiments in lab books quickly and alleviates headaches when errors are made at the planning stage – in retrospect, I probably should have asked James whether his experimental planning was uniquely error-prone! Following this success, we gained further funding from Durham University’s Blueprint Challenge, which enabled us to launch our website and distribute Stampy96 to lab teams at Oxford, Harvard, and Durham universities.

Our belief at Efficiency Squared is that science is about innovation and data integrity is at the heart of scientific research. Put simply, we believe that data is the new oil. In the long run, we aim to conceptualise and equip the data-driven laboratory of the future – a concept we coin Lab 2.0. Stampy96 was the first step in this direction. Through the deployment of physical and virtual solutions, we will empower high-quality science, supporting data-driven optimisation. Our Lab 2.0 platform will increase researcher transparency without sacrificing individual user privacy in order to maximise team-led research project performance – albeit for industry or academia. Given the recent pressures on laboratories amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that efficient lab teams will only become more important to society over time.

We come from a diverse range of academic and professional backgrounds. Prior to Efficiency Squared, I worked in retail in Shanghai, which allowed me to become fluent in Chinese and gave me a vast range of experiences in sales, management, and e-commerce. This experience sparked a drive and interest in entrepreneurship to run my own business in the future. James has nearly a decade of experience in medical research and previously received honours from McGill University and the University of Oxford. This year, James became a Fellow at Harvard where he continues to pursue cancer research in academia. Our lead design engineer, Ben, has worked on projects ranging from sustainable retrofittable infrastructure for Peruvian housing to the design of a microsatellite carbon detection fleet. Together, we’ve launched efficiencysquared.com in order to streamline your science.

Photo: Wang An Qi / shutterstock.com

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