What Do Startups Do?

In the LinkedIn LIMS/LI group, I started a discussion for a friend of mine who is going to work at a new startup. The questions is regarding how he could create something better than an Excel spreadsheet to handle the multitude of samples he thinks he’ll have to deal with. He doesn’t think an Excel spreadsheet will be the right kind of tool to help him keep up on his testing and, since he probably has to manage it all alone, possibly being a one-man testing department, at least for a while, he is already planning how to stay on top of it all.

Unfortunately for him, he will basically have no budget and will be so busy trying to perform and manage testing that it’s a stretch to imagine that he would build or even configure a LIMS or ELN for his lab.

I asked the question to the LIMS/LI group in the spirit of helping him, and he’s neither a member of the group nor particularly interested in IT topics of discussion, overall. However, this is actually something I’ve always wondered. I know a number of people who have worked at startups, struggled with Excel spreadsheets or other tools that often don’t work that well for them, and wondered if doing anything else is even practical.

Also, think of it this way – if you don’t have time to finish your testing and don’t have time to try to install new software, you might not be able to spend the time developing the requirements to know what software to purchase. I’m not trying to be negative about this, just saying to any CEOs reading this that you shouldn’t expect to see a fully-fledged LIMS or ELN popping out of your startup lab any time, soon.

Starting this discussion has been somewhat interesting to me, because I sometimes get the impression there are people reading the post thinking that “zero” money means “just a few hundred thousand” or something of that nature, but I think most participants do realize that the startups we hear about in the news as being well-capitalized and making money hand-over-fist are probably the minority. Lots of them quite possibly struggle to get any amount of money and most probably never make it to the product stage.

The other tough thing is that no-one probably needs help more than a startup. No-one probably runs as lean as they do. Unfortunately, they don’t have the money to hire anyone to help them nor would they have the time to work with anyone they might bring in to help them out, either. While I’m sure there must be consultants out there who work specifically to help startups, I haven’t run into one. Of course, since I don’t myself work with startups I would meet others consultants such as myself who are working with the medium-sized and larger customers. Still, it remains an unanswered question in my mind regarding whether I have a startup counterpart out in the world, somewhere.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

3 thoughts on “What Do Startups Do?

  1. There are solutions to these challenges but you have to let necessity drive it. If lab operations get to be a big enough pain, then there will be the motivation to deal with it. There are a lot of solutions ranging from free and up. There are a ton of information resources to steer you to those solutions and a ton of information to help you become successful with a low cost solution. The bottom line is motivation.

  2. I don’t work for a startup – rather, petrochem – but we do have some labs that are so small, the cost of a LIMS isn’t justified (imagine one or two lab techs and 10 instruments). For these, paper for results records, spreadsheets for calculations, and email for data distribution are the tools of choice. If the regulatory environment becomes so complex that they can’t bear the paper burden, they have to prove a ROI on the LIMS investment. We have managed to get the cost of LIMS implementation down to $150K for a small lab – but it takes a lot of time saved to justify that cost if you’re a small lab. Good question though – interested in the responses.

  3. In my company, we deal with large, medium, small and micro sized labs. Micro is a one person lab. It is very reasonable and realistic to provide a LIMS to a small lab such that it gives them an excellent ROI. However, it is not possible if you try to make it act like a regulated lab when it is not. If it is regulated, then they are obligated to have a LIMS or just suffer without one and the ROI quickly becomes irrelevant so they will probably do the least needed to comply with regulations.

    There are over 300 Lab Informatics products on the market. The LIMS market is supposed to be $300M per year. The LIS market is between 1 and 2B: http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/laboratory-information-system-market-232312738.html

    When you look at nearly any submarket within the LIMS industry, it pretty much qualifies as a niche, boutique market and yet there are still over 300 LIMS companies to choose from and in the LIS market there is less than 30.

    The reason all of this is relevant is that a lab that needs a LIMS can be of nearly any size or type and there is very little that is standardized between them except in the LIS market where things are pretty cookie cutter.

    In the LIS market we are able to serve small Physician Office Labs with a free cloud based LIS. In manufacturing we have served a 3 person lab for less than $10,000. For a large pharma research lab we did it for less than $100K and for a small pharma it took nearly $500K and for a mid sized government lab we did it for just under $2M. There is disparity everywhere in these prices. The bottom line is that you cannot say that any particular lab that needs a LIMS fits into any particular hole. Their requirements and their qualifications and corporate personality dictates how much they will need to spend. So a small lab can most definitely get a good quality LIMS for a low cost. It all depends on their needs, how savvy and experienced they are and whether they will be a pain to deal with or a pleasure.

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