Scrazzl: A Better Way of Sourcing Lab Supplies

Scrazzl is a service which aims to allow scientists better and more specific access to manufacturers of lab materials. The company was founded in 2009 by PhD students David Kavanagh and Desmond O’ Shea whose experience of research and lab work, an “experience that kind of cultivated what Scrazzl has become and helped us understand the pain we’re trying to solve,” says Waterford native David, Scrazzl’s CEO.

The “pain” David describes is the frustration of being unable to source lab materials from a consistent and reliable source.

“I’ll give you the best example I have. Everything in labs now is bought in. Be it plastic-ware, an antibody or a centrifuge, it’s all really bought from suppliers, you don’t really make anything anymore,” continues David.

“I had a number of experiences where I bought in an antibody, spent six weeks trying to optimize an experiment, and the antibody didn’t work. And it’s a lot of pain. You’ve had six weeks of just trying to get an experiment to work and it doesn’t work and it’s because the product was defective. And there’s no way to know, because what you rely on is the supplier telling you ‘Yes, this works’. There’s no independent place you can go that can fundamentally say, ‘Yes, this works.’ And that was the pain that started us on this journey.”

To solve this problem, Scrazzl will allow prospective buyers of lab materials to browse academic papers and see what material were used, and to purchase these materials safe in the knowledge that they have a reliable track-record.

“There are some good companies and some bad companies producing these tools, but there’s no way for the consumer, who’s the scientist, to make an objective decision about it.”

“We’ve built a tool for research scientists. As they read a research article online, a scholarly journal, they turn on our tool in the browser by just pressing a button on the page, and it semantically enables the content and it makes materials mentioned in the materials section clickable. So they can click on an antibody, and it supplements the term with the publication record of that product, so if it has been mentioned in eighty publications, they can see that straight away. The social element of Scrazzl means that they can see who within their collaborative network has used that product before.”

“Our customers are the people who make the products. We’re two-sided in that we provide a solution to a scientist’s pain when it comes to making a decision about those products, but we really are a marketing service for the people who make the products. A more intelligent way of marketing these products to the end-user.”

Although the idea for Scrazzl came from a desire to solve a particular problem, this was not the sole factor in driving David down the entrepreneurial path.

“I think fundamentally I always had a desire to be in business. I was never one for conventional jobs, I was always searching for something a bit more. Having a vision and executing it, that idea attracted me, and I thought that I was going to find that in my PhD but what I really encountered wasn’t quite that. I didn’t have that control that I wanted.”

Coming from a purely academic background was a struggle initially. David had to balance his academic research and his commitments to the company early on, ”double-jobbing” which he admits “has been quite difficult on a personal level”.

“It’s been incredibly rewarding, though. To come from a PhD to sitting in the offices of major publishers and talking about what you’re doing and have them respond to it and seeing it as something unique is a great thrill for me.”

That transition has been aided by both Enterprise Ireland’s Propel programme and the LaunchPad initiative from the National Digital Research Institute.

“They’ve helped. I think they’ve knocked the corners off me commercially. I would have come to this with a not-particularly commercial way of thinking, which is required. If you’re going to start any kind of business you’re going to have to have some sense of how to close deals, how to really understand the numbers and respond to the numbers.”

“I think a lot of tech companies get stuck on their technology. They fall in love with it, and they lose the point of what they’re doing, and the point of what any business is doing is to make money. Definitely, LaunchPad and Propel, in different ways, have added to that, and conveyed in a strong way that it was really important. It gave me a sense that you don’t compete just on the product, you compete on a commercial footing and in a commercial landscape, so that means winning customers. The product doesn’t have to be built to the nth degree to do that, to have that divergent commercial development on one side, and actual physical product development on the other.”

David is confident in his product and is clearly encouraged by the reception Scrazzl has received within the lab materials industry, but has a clear image of where the business needs to go and of the work ahead.

“We’ve a bit to go. We’ve gotten some great feedback from our customers. We’ve been in touch with major science manufacturers here in Silicon Valley who are global brands, are recognised in labs all across the globe, and they’re saying‘This is great. We’ve never seen anything like this, we will do business with you, once it’s running’. That’s where we’re at, I guess, we’ve got that validation that we need, we’ve a lot of development done but we’re not fully there. We’re kind of at that point where within three to four months we’ll be in good shape.”

Additional material and co-authorship credit to Conor Harrington..

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