A WeWork for Scientific Labs – Maybe Messy, Definitely Necessary

LabCentral is a launchpad for high potential, life science startups. Here, scientists share labs and equipment and coexist in the space.

LabCentral is a launchpad for high potential, life science startups. Here, scientists share labs and equipment and coexist in the space. It sounds a lot like WeWork until you consider that the members all wear long white coats and aren’t quarreling over phone booth bookings. Rather, these folks share centrifuges, fluorescent microscopes, expensive even corrosive chemicals, diseased molecules and more.

Starting a business is hard no matter what industry you’re in. Bootstrapping a life science business (i.e. outfitting a lab) is anything but cheap. In 2013 LabCentral, a 501c3 non-profit, set out to reduce the start up and operational burdens on the sector. 

LabCentral launched with a 5-million-dollar grant and began looking for startups who needed a co-working lab set up. Since then, they’ve opened a second location and built a community of 90 companies and over 500 scientists.

Sharing expensive, highly specialized lab equipment is delicate business, but it’s worth it – scientists here can focus on breakthroughs rather than finances. To maintain the balance they’ve achieved in their co-working labs, LabCentral uses LabArchives Scheduler – a resource scheduling tool.

At its core, LabArchives Scheduler is a simple product. Scientists use it to reserve lab equipment and resources. Customizable features and functions are what make it a game changer for LabCentral’s complex set up.

WeWork lab

Scientists at LabCentral research gene therapy, protein therapeutics, rare diseases, neurological diseases and are even developing antibiotics. With such a wide variety of inquiry occurring under one roof, LabCentral has been challenged to provide everything from basic tools to trendy technology from day one.

The Lab Operations team ensures each community member has what they need to direct their research. As Lab Manager Lyndsey Rissin put it, “We need to make sure the hundreds of scientists that use our space have access to what they need, when they need it while still fostering best practices and community”. It’s a big task. To get it done the team has implemented key pieces of infrastructure, equipment and an intense focus on collaboration.

LabCentral scientists originally used paper sign-up sheets to reserve equipment but “these were a total mess”. They would often get lost, bookings would last for days and experiments were frequently delayed, even ruined, when equipment wasn’t available as expected.

With so many people depending on the functionality of the space, the Lab Ops team needed a way to keep work rates high and downtime low. “We needed automation and LabArchives Scheduler makes my life and everyone else’s so much easier,” Lyndsey said.  It also supports the ever changing nature of a co-working environment.

LabCentral community

New scientists join the LabCentral community almost every day. The Ops team must quickly get them up to speed with the reservation system to keep the co-working model afloat. Luckily, LabArchives Scheduler is easy to use and quick to pick up. 

After a short introduction, new LabCentral scientists can reserve equipment and get their research done with the tools they need, when they need them. From there, the Ops team can keep track of who is using what and how often.

LabArchives Scheduler’s reports allow the Ops team to track equipment usage which removes guess work from purchasing decisions. “As a non-profit, we don’t have a lot of capital to buy new equipment all the time. When we noticed a fluorescent microscope was constantly booked we knew that the next time there was an opportunity to receive a donation, another fluorescent microscope is what we would request and we’d have hard data to justify why we needed it,” Lyndsey noted. The Ops team also customizes LabArchives Scheduler’s reservation rules to ensure equipment is shared equitably and efficiently.

At LabCentral, some equipment requires prep and/or tear down time. The Ops team accounts for this in LabArchives Scheduler with max/min reservation times. Scientists automatically see how much time they actually need to use a piece of equipment. This decreases wait times and scheduling conflicts and increases work rates. When planning experiments, scientists can look months into the future within LabArchives Scheduler to see when a certain piece of equipment is booked.

The Ops team can even analyze where equipment should be situated. Equipment with consistently high traffic is placed next to lower traffic resources to cut down on bottlenecks and congestion This one detail keeps the space and everyone in it happy and free flowing. The team also uses LabArchives Scheduler to let community members know about scheduled equipment maintenance and to send announcements. 

LabCentral building

Taking care of lab equipment is just another key tenet of LabCentral’s community focus. As a non-profit they aren’t in position to do anything less than take great care of their tools and the Ops team uses LabArchives Scheduler to hold members accountable. Some equipment is restricted to a list of approved scientists who have been trained and authorized for use. When something does get broken, the Ops team can circle back with the user and figure out what went wrong.

With LabArchives Scheduler the LabCentral team provides the ultimate, collaborative launchpad for companies doing cutting edge research with potentially huge implications for life sciences.

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