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Why Scientific Discovery Drives So Many New Startups


Scientific discovery never stops; there’s always something new to learn about the world around us. Sometimes, new ideas fade into the background as another stepping stone of knowledge to get to an even better place of understanding, but more often, those ideas are taken by business-minded entrepreneurs and professionals and used to create a profitable enterprise.

So why is it that so many new startups have a basis in scientific discovery, and what can science teach us about innovation?

The Latest Examples

Take, for example, these startups and organizations marrying science and entrepreneurship:

  • 23andMe. Growing popular over the course of the past year, 23andMe took advantage of the latest breakthroughs in sequencing the human genome to help everyday consumers better understand their DNA. Using a sample of saliva, 23andMe purports to tell you more about your ancestry, genetic health risks, overall wellness, traits, and carrier status for various diseases and conditions.
  • Tiax. Rather than existing by itself, Tiax is an organization that offers laboratories, scientists, engineers, technicians, and other resources to help early stage startups make new discoveries and find enterprise success. Supporting experimentation with energy storage technology (i.e., batteries), transportation tech, and wearables, Tiax remains a leading innovator helping more scientific discoveries get made and built around.
  • Protocols. In a twist on the formula, is a startup intended to facilitate more scientific discovery, rather than a scientific discovery prompting development of a startup. It’s an open access repository for scientific methods, so scientists have a convenient, smart platform to make their experiments more reproducible—a key element for publishing potential and success.

Why Science and Entrepreneurship Go Hand in Hand

So why do science and entrepreneurship make such a great pair?

  • Scientific reasoning is objective and powerful. Scientific reasoning is one of the most valuable and objective processes we have, for both decision-making and exploration. If you have a new technology but you need it to have more power, or if you have a new food item, but you need a longer shelf life, the scientific method is the best way to find a solution for your problem. Since entrepreneurship is all about solving problems for the mass market, science becomes a perfect fit.
  • Discoveries and breakthroughs are novel. By definition, new scientific discoveries are novel; they’re brand-new, unique ideas that nobody else has gotten to touch. That means, if you’re the first company to bring it to market, you can trounce the competition before it even starts to rise. That’s why it’s common for multiple startups to rise up in response to a singular idea or discovery.
  • Profitability is a powerful motivator. Remember, the relationship works both ways; science can inspire entrepreneurship, but entrepreneurship can also fuel scientific discovery. Profitability is a powerful motivator here. If an entrepreneur needs one big discovery to make their product unbeatable on the market, they’ll be inclined to do whatever it takes to make that advancement—even if it means a big, risky investment.
  • Applications are limitless. Scientific breakthroughs can be applied in unlimited ways, and sometimes, the most successful applications end up being ones that weren’t originally intended. One new material, process, or idea could fuel dozens of new technologies independently. This gives each new scientific discovery unmatched potential and makes creative entrepreneurs hungry for that inspiration.

The Challenges

Of course, there are some challenges with this partnership of ideas. For example, it often takes a long time to move from a general, lab-demonstrated concept to a consumer-ready product. Making a discovery is just the first step of the process; you then have to test the discovery under various conditions, take the concept and apply it to something that consumers will pay for, and build a business around it (all while testing it even more).

You also have to consider the scaling problem. You may be able to create a revolutionary new material or process in a lab, but can you invent a manufacturing method that allows you to produce thousands of times that original quantity to satisfy consumer demand? This is a major hurdle that some scientific breakthroughs never get.

In any case, new scientific discoveries will remain one of the most powerful sources of new entrepreneurial ideas, whether they serve as ideas in their own right, modify an existing idea, or merely change the field to allow more discoveries to take place. Entrepreneurship and science make fantastic partners and will continue to be mutual sources of information in the indefinite future.


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