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MyScienceWork, a scientific platform in open access

The MyScienceWork scientific platform was launched in 2012 by Virginie Simon and Tristan Davaille with the aim of making scientific knowledge accessible to the largest possible public. A part of the open access movement, it now provides access to 70 million multidisciplinary scientific articles and 12 million patents. The main activity of this start-up, which has offices in Paris, Luxembourg and San Francisco, consists of the analysis of scientific data, which it undertakes both for educational and research institutions and for businesses.

7
February 2018
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Executive Summary

MyScienceWork grew out of the convergence between an interest for multidisciplinarity and the realization of how difficult it is to gain access to scientific knowledge. The founders created a tool that they would have liked to have had during their studies: a global scientific platform where one can find, in open access, as large a range of multidisciplinary contents as possible, which are available with a single click via an intelligent search engine. Today, the platform provides over 70 million scientific articles, coming from both the hard sciences and the social sciences, as well as 12 million patents. Open access is a fight that has already been won. We need to go further and rethink the way science is done. Is it normal that researchers have to pay to be published? Is it adequate to evaluate them as a function of the impact factors of scholarly journals? The answer is no. Everything is in the process of being revolutionized: thanks, notably, to start-ups like MyScienceWork.

Paris Innovation Review — How did you get the idea to create MyScienceWork?

Virginie Simon — MyScienceWork grew out of the convergence between the interest that I have always had in multidisciplinarity and the realization, during my studies, of how difficult it is to gain access to scientific knowledge. I went to a school of engineering, the University of Technology of Compiègne, which I chose precisely because it was not exclusively dedicated to biotechnology. We were mixed together with students from other disciplines. During my last year of studies, I also did a “Masters 2” in genetics at the Pierre and Marie Curie University at the same time. For my end-of-studies internship, still guided by the same wish for multidisciplinarity, I joined a start-up that develops innovative cancer therapies based on nanoparticles, Nanobiotix. I stayed to do my doctoral thesis in the framework of the CIFRE program. I was a cellular biologist and I had to work with animal biologists, pharmacologists, chemists, and physicists. I always liked not staying confined to my specialty, but rather collaborating with other sciences, in order to innovate better.

Before joining Inserm within the framework of my thesis work, I was confronted by how difficult it is to gain access to scientific knowledge. I spent a lot more time looking for information than dealing with it. I had to take into account an extremely vast sector, viz. that of nanotechnology as applied to cancer research; but I had no access to scientific literature, because the start-up in which I was working could not subscribe to all the necessary journals. I had to depend on 15 line abstracts, in order to decide whether or not to buy an article for 40 dollars. It was very limiting and very expensive. When I joined Inserm, I suddenly had access to everything I needed. I found it crazy that scientific knowledge is locked up in this way and I began to think about alternatives.

Apart from this realization and my interest in multidisciplinarity, I was also already drawn to entrepreneurship. Working in a start-up reinforced my desire to give it a try myself. This was also the time when social networks were emerging: platforms proposing innovative new tools of communication and collaboration. It was in this context that our idea was born: that of a global scientific platform where one could find, in open access, as large a range of multidisciplinary contents as possible, available with a single click via an intelligent search engine, and on which scholars could enter into contact with one another and share their research. 

What were the major stages in the development of MyScienceWork?

MyScienceWork was born in Paris in August 2010, but the platform, in the way that we conceived it, was not launched until December 2012. In the meanwhile, we had to raise funds. We started with what was free: creating a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a blog to describe what we wanted to do and to write on related topics (open access, tools 2.0, valorization of the doctoral degree. the place of women in the sciences…). We thus began to create a community, and then we were asked to do scientific communication by research institutions. The press began to talk about us and we received our first awards. All of this allowed us to have a sufficiently strong case to raise funds in 2012 in Luxembourg. Thanks to this funding (1.2 million euros), we were able to hire IT developers to create the platform that we had in mind from the start.

In 2013, we concentrated on the development of the platform contents, analyzing the quality of all the open access sources and making agreements with the publishers.  Everything is automated now: We automatically harvest contents from scholarly journals, in order to process this data and incorporate it into the platform.   Today, we count 70 million scientific articles, coming from the hard sciences and social science (law, economics), even if there are more articles in biology, medicine and chemistry, since these are the disciplines in which one publishes most. Since last year, we also provide access to 12 million patents.

In 2014, we launched Polaris: our first innovative offering intended for academic milieus (universities, research institutions, schools of engineering, etc.). We put together institutional archives for them: an exhaustive database that they can use to follow in real time, on their dashboards, the number of scientific publications that their members are publishing, the number of co-authors, the number of international collaborations, the number of inventors, the sectors in which these invention have been realized, the number of citations, the impact factors, the number of doctoral students… a mass of indicators that are indispensable for the administration, the library and the public relations department of these institutions. 

The same year, we were chosen for a start-up acceleration program in Silicon Valley. We spent three months there, to test our Polaris product on the American market. It was a success and, hence, we opened a branch in San Francisco in October 2014. Today, our team consists of 15 people working in Paris, Luxembourg and San Francisco.

What did opening a branch in the United States change?

It made a huge change. Working from our San Francisco location, we stopped being viewed as a far-away player, in order to become a full member of the ecosystem. This makes things easier in terms of forming partnerships. Thus, we very quickly made agreements: for example, with PLOS ONE, the leading open access publisher, and with Google Scholar, which references our database. Both of them are neighbors of ours. Our R&D has developed enormously. Here, we are at the very heart of innovation: We have constant access to presentations, workshops and conferences. It is extremely stimulating. We also provide in return a much more positive picture of Europe.

How do you fit into the open access movement?

Open access aims to make scientific knowledge accessible to all. But making scientific articles available for free does not mean ignoring the law. On the contrary. We have always condemned initiatives that make research documents freely accessible in any illegal manner. This is not at all a good solution. In the last few years, open access has become a major political issue and there has been real progress in liberating knowledge, while still respecting the law. For example, the European Union now requires that all publications resulting from research conducted with European funding should be placed in open access following an embargo period. Under Obama, many measures were also taken that favor open access, thus forcing publishers to adapt. In my opinion, open access is a fight that has already been won. Publishers have understood this and are presently looking for other business models.

We need to go beyond open access and rethink the way science is done. 

But we need to go beyond open access and rethink the way science is done. Is it normal that researchers have to pay to be published? Is it adequate to evaluate them as a function of the impact factors of journals? The answer is no. Everything is in the processes of being revolutionized: thanks, notably, to start-ups like MyScienceWork. There are multiple perspectives in terms of how knowledge is made available, collaborative spaces of evaluation, financing research by way of patents, and partnerships with the private sector, etc. It is exciting to be present in this moment in the life of the research process.

What are your relations with the scientific publishers? 

We are working hand in hand with the publishers. Obtaining content directly from them allows us to guarantee quality, to respect the embargo dates, and not to take in contents from sources that could be corrupted. For the paid articles, we have established partnerships with specialized actors in this domain, like DeepDyve or Research Solution, who themselves have agreements with the publishers, such as to be able to offer the lowest possible prices. For example, it is possible to rent a publication for a few hours, which is much less expensive than buying it. 

What is your business model?

Our core business is analyzing data thanks to different artificial intelligence techniques, like machine learning and natural language processing. We have two featured products: Polaris and Sirius. The latter is an à la carte service that we offer to academic milieus and also to businesses. We are doing scientific big data with all the content of our platform, by analyzing the research tendencies with respect to a given topic. We can thus analyze all the publications written on a topic, in order to answer several questions: Who is doing the most work on this subject? Who is applying for the most patents? Who are the researchers and the inventors who are on the cutting edge? What international collaborations are there? On the request of our clients, we recently included patents in our platform, and it is very interesting to be able to make the link between scientific publications and inventions.

When do you expect to be profitable?

This year! Until now, we were largely financed by external funding (we raised a total 5 million euros). But we expect to reach the break-even point this year, thanks to Polaris and Sirius.

What are the next stages of development?

We want to continue growing our R&D division. Thus, we are going to hire five people in our Parisian location this year, which, on our scale, represents major growth. We want to offer innovative new tools. We have loads of ideas in mind. We also want to strengthen our presence in the United States, which is a competitive and highly innovative market. We have gained recognition – we have a million visitors per month in traffic – but we want to become a key player in the sector of collaborative platforms for scientific contents.

You were elected the best French female entrepreneur in California last year. What was your reaction?

The French American Business Awards (FABA) were created in 2014, but the “Women Role Model” category was only launched last year. It was the most highly anticipated award of the evening and I was very surprised to win it. As a scientist, engineer, founder of a business at 28, and mother of a little 4-year-old boy, I hope to serve as inspiration for others. It is important that young women know that it is possible. The question of the place of women in the sciences and in entrepreneurship has long been a concern of mine. When starting the MyScienceWork adventure, we made the choice to join the Paris Pionnières incubator, the particularity of which is to incorporate starts-ups whose founding members include at least one woman. In France, there is still a lot of work to be done, but things are really moving in the right direction. On the other hand, when I arrived in Silicon Valley, it really was a major shock for me! I would have trouble citing more than 15 female CEOs in tech industries in San Francisco. When I go to events, nine times out of ten, I am the only female CEO. But, at the moment, I notice that there is really a growing awareness of the problem. You can see new initiatives emerging. For example, with several different actors in the sector, we have created a discussion and work group to establish mechanisms for encouraging entrepreneurs, whether French or not, to come to Silicon Valley, to raise funds, and to spend a few months or even to move there.  We are going to share our address book with them, so that they can benefit from the ecosystem, speak to investors, meet other entrepreneurs, go see potential partners, and take advantage of the special dynamism of Silicon Valley.

Virginie Simon
Co-founder and president, MyScienceWork