Co-founder of SoScience, a start-up which promotes responsible research while favoring high level scientific technological development for social entrepreneurs, Mélanie Marcel believes that before looking at profitability, it is necessary to first convince that open science is useful to society.
This article is an excerpt of the book Open models published in French in 2014 and translated in 2016
What does SoScience offer ?
SoScience is delivering high-level scientific research with a strong social and environmental impact. We’re setting up research projects with international social entrepreneurs and French engineering schools. SoScience is striving to develop technologies adapted in the laboratory.
What is the business model ?
Since February 2014, SoScience has operated under a SARL model (company with limited responsibility). The first ideas around this project started at the end 2011 and I’ve been working full-time on it with Eloïse Szmatula, my co-founder, since September 2013. So we’re two managers and we’re functioning in the start-up bootstrapping mode. For the moment, we’ve decided not to remunerate ourselves and so we’re not looking for investors.
What services does SoScience provide ?
SoScience offers different services. We’re setting up research projects for social entrepreneurs with some labs in order to come up with a final product. The entrepreneur pays according to their financial capacity – knowing that the price of our services is far below the cost of traditional R&D expert advice. Funding must not be an obstacle for social entrepreneurs, but because of this aspect, this service is not profitable.
How could it become profitable ?
We’re offering two more services, which have become our sources of income. First, we’re setting up paid training programs with engineering schools for students including courses, conferences and workshops. We’re also offering training programs to big companies looking for our know-how to facilitate in-house innovations. Second, we’ve created expert advice and consulting offers for companies wishing to develop their research more responsibly.
Have you thought about other sources of funding ?
We don’t exclude any new funding sources. But for the moment, we’re not looking for investors. We’re still “small” and we want to keep our freedom and horizons open. Concerning calls for projects, we’re interested in European projects H2020, a funding source related to responsible research and innovation.
What is the link between your responsible research missions and open science ?
Our mission is directed specifically to social entrepreneurs. We’re adapting by following their decisions in terms of intellectual property, which can be patented for example. However, we insisted in having shared patents with all stakeholders – which will increasingly become part of the long-term revenue for SoScience. Some of them are 100% open, and in these cases, the lab’s copybooks and research results are available online and there is no patent on the technologies. This is the case for Cesar Harada’s Protei project, founder of Open H20 group, offering to remove ocean pollution using open source drones.
Some other projects offer open source software, but the product (hardware) is closed. These choices are linked to the beliefs of entrepreneurs and the business models they have chosen to put in place. For me, a strong link with open science refers to accessibility in that entrepreneurs want to make their technology available for the greatest number. This results in projects that can be put in place by people themselves. We’re following a project of do it yourself solar ovens in Argentina, SolarInti. This open hardware policy is very important to restoring the confidence of population. Similarly, in medicine, accessibility is synoymous with low product costs. For example, UNITAID association is thinking about giving access to HIV treatment at a very low cost, even if the research linked to this objective are not, themselves, in open science.
Does open science also include the plan to open research in other areas of study? Does this align with SoScience’s values and goals ?
Yes, absolutely! We come from the world of academic research and are very attached to it. We’re acting as interpreters. We make researchers and students understand they have high scientific skills, but that entrepreneurs also have a better understanding of the field. It is often a meeting of two worlds which have a lot of problems communicating with each other. Our role is to carry out this work of translation and intermediation.
Interview by Célya Gruson-Daniel
Translation by Anne-Sophie Payen with the help of Caitlyn Hutchison