You may have been seeing photographs of equipment and supplies coming into the lab via the Project Marilyn Facebook Page. I’m excited to report to the donors (and the public!) the story behind this.
I wasn’t sure how exactly one starts up a lab. With a limited budget of around $60,000, maximizing savings for indysci is an important priority. (Academic labs typically get in the hundreds of thousands to millions in startup funds). A few weeks into my move to San Francisco, I was introduced to Tom Ruginis, who runs a startup called Happilabs, which is dedicated to removing the friction involved in ordering lab supplies for biology startups.
As it turns out, most suppliers extract very large (rebranding) margins on the products that they’re selling to biology and chemistry research outfits. The optimal strategy for purchasing is a mish-mash of finding ‘special offer deals’ from the main suppliers, hunting out ‘second-tier’ suppliers, amazon, ebay(!), and in some cases, directly requesting special deals. Many research organizations have staff dedicated to ordering, who have special relationships with vendors and can extract this value communally for the labs under their umbrella; for small start-ups (like indysci, or for-profit startups) hiring full-time staff for this is not really an option. Hence Happilabs.
One factor I wasn’t aware of (that I’m really glad was done for me): Happilabs has the whole process of setting up accounts with different vendors figured out. In retrospect, this is not something that I would have wanted to deal with myself: there can be a substantial amount of red tape involved, and the process itself is naturally not unified across vendors. Thus being able to access a broader array of market options, Happilabs extended a stronger negotiating hand to indysci.
Since this was a bit of an experiment, for this process I paid out of pocket (but next time I think it’s worth using donor funds) and Tom agreed to help out indysci. Basically Tom instructed me to provide a list of things I was looking for. I dumped a spreadsheet to happilabs and he and his associate Liz went through the process of hunting for deals and pinged me back a handful of times when a items needed special approval. In one case, I called on my personal social network for a special ordering tip (Silica Gel from Silicycle), and in addition to taking care of the nitty-gritty of the ordering process, the savings will be passed on to future silical gel customers.
Bottom line: I budgeted for $8k-$10k in startup costs and after the ordering process we are under-budget, giving wiggle room for other expenses down the line.
Here is the total savings report that Tom assembled for Project Marilyn:
Lab Spending Report
You can also see the full list of what I ordered for Project Marilyn here:
All Project Marilyn Orders