Life Sciences

AfriLab, an online marketplace for scientific experiments

Tell us a few words about the founders and how the idea came 

Cofounder Mohamed Ben Marzouk, who has a Master Degree in Bioinformatics from the university of Sciences of Tunis (Tunisia) and more than nine years experience working as Area Sales Manager (in charge of African region) of the biggest Biomedical company in Africa and Middle East, explains that major universities often have what’s called a Core Facility — a special lab that houses the most valuable equipment, which can exceed $1 million per machine. It would obviously be cost-prohibitive to put these in each scientist’s lab, and many of them are only needed occasionally anyway.

So, instead, scientists submit their experiments to the Core Facility, where they’re carried out by resource scientists (scientists who exclusively perform these ‘outsourced’ experiments, and aren’t conducting their own research). The resource scientists then give the results back to the researcher who requested them.

 Your products and services :

It is an online marketplace for scientific experiments. Imagine eBay, but for scientific knowledge. You post an experiment that you want to outsource, and scientific service providers submit bids to do the work. The goal is to make scientific research more efficient by making it easy for researchers to access experimental expertise from core facilities with underutilized capacity.

Your success factors

AfriLab comes in. It gives researchers a way to find and outsource their experiments to experimental facilities around the world. And it also handles payments, so the entire process is much easier on both the researchers and the experimental facilities they’re working with.

The idea for the project came from Africa problems outsourcing research to other institutions. “The hardest part was paying” for such services, because universities often don’t have a protocol for how to pay for outsourced research

Your factors differentiating and disruptive compared to the existing

AfriLab is looking to help researchers in a different way : it wants to make it easier for them to conduct experiments on the expensive and sometimes-rare equipment housed at universities across the country. And eventually, the company hopes to reinvent the way scientists outsource research in the hopes of making it much more efficient.

Your business model

AfriLab functions like a freelance marketplace utilizing a model similar to Elance or ODesk. A researcher posts an experiment they would like to outsource and then receives bids from experimental service providers. The researcher selects a bid, and AfriLab facilitates communication, project management and payment via its platform. The company receives a service fee based on the value of the project.

A few words about your competitors

We are the first in Africa. Directories of core facilities do exist, but they aren’t exhaustive, and they require the researcher to contact the providers themselves. There are other outsourcing services — such as Amazon’s website — but they are for unspecialized tasks. Afrilab providers must have access to specialized equipment and be highly trained.

About the author

Mohamed Ben Marzouk

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