2020 has been a difficult year for most industries, not least for event and tradeshow providers. Luke Gibson, Founding Director of Open Pharma Research and Lab of the Future, shares his experience of running events in the laboratory industry, and what makes Lab of the Future such a unique event.
Luke, please tell us a bit more about yourself and Lab of the Future
My name is Luke Gibson, and I am one of the three founding directors of Open Pharma Research. I have 30 plus years of experience in developing and running events, primarily in the financial and trade and commodity sectors. My colleagues Kirianne Marshall and Zahid Tharia bring a similar level of experience to the company.
Kirianne has had many years of experience in managing the commercial side of large congresses, such as Partnering in Clinical Trials, and research and development congresses. Zahid has 30 years of events experience too, particularly in running life science portfolios, and launching congresses/events. Our paths have crossed many times throughout our years working in events, and we eventually hit a point where all 3 of us had the capacity to try something new – something that was worthwhile, fun, and different to the corporate worlds we had become accustomed to. So that was why we created Lab of the Future – with a view to running events in a different way.
Did you feel that there was a gap in the market for this type of event?
I’m not sure if I would describe it as a gap in the market, more an ambition to do things differently. There was a desire from all of us to build an event with a different approach to the one we would take when working for large organisations, because when you’re working on a large portfolio of global events that cover a variety of topics, you and your team are always looking ahead to the next event, and the focus on the longevity of a single event isn’t always there.
We wanted something that we can nurture and grow, something that we can work on year-round without getting distracted by the next thing on our list. It also allows us to stay within this space and build our community, without having to face pressures such as a year-on-year development strategy or diverse P&L. Our desire was to avoid these constraints, and create an event that we can continue to work on for a long time.
Are you building just the one event, or are you looking at hosting a series? Has your business plan changed since starting?
We want to be able to live and breathe Lab of the Future, but one of the interesting things about it is that it’s such a broad concept. On the one hand we deal with informatics, but on the other hand, we deal with equipment, technology, and all the connectivity between them – but even that’s just one part of it. We are not an informatics conference; we are not strictly an instrumentation conference; we also look at the innovation side of things.
I think the best way to describe how we see Lab of the Future is as a proxy for how you do science in the future. Everything pertains to more efficient processes; better results; or ways of creating breakthrough innovation, and these are all part of the picture of science in the future. And that is the lab of the future – where the lab is the proxy for the environment where you do the science that matters.
So what is the main focus for Lab of the Future?
When we started off, we found we received a lot of queries from industry contacts who wanted to get involved, but certain topics they wanted to discuss didn’t necessarily pertain to the physical laboratory itself. But if it was relevant to science, then it was relevant to us. Things like data clouds and outsourced services may not be directly linked to the lab, but they still relate to how you work. So, within that, the scope for the Lab of the Future gets wider still, looking at areas such as how we can create virtual clinical trials, or use real world-data to feed back into R&D.
People are also keen to learn more from their peers and from other areas of the industry. Lab of the Future allows us to host senior speakers and keynotes who can tell us where we’re heading, and show us how the efforts of one area within life science feed into other areas. It presents us with an almost ever-changing jigsaw image, and it’s this strategic element that I think sets us apart from other events.
Who is your main audience for Lab of the Future?
We attract a real mix of attendees, and that’s what I love about it. You can run a conference for people in a specific job function, such as a data scientist or an R&D manager, but what people really want to know is what the people around them are doing, to almost give them context of the industry as a whole. So, our conference doesn’t just exist to help you do your own job better, but it helps you to develop a concept of where your department is heading in the future, and what you should think about longer term. We aren’t telling scientists how to do their job today; we’re helping them think about their responsibilities for delivery in the future. Lab of the Future is about the delivery of science of the future.
Our sponsors and solution providers that support the conference are also very much part of our community, as they’re all innovating and making waves in this space as well. They’re in a space that’s always evolving to build the Lab of the Future; and they are part of that solution. So, we don’t merely facilitate a conference of buying and selling between providers and services, we offer a space where everyone is evolving together. It’s a real melting pot, and that’s the fun bit really.
How do you build the Lab of the Future Community?
Zahid’s background in life sciences definitely gave us a starting point. Further to that, we’ve found that every time we put something out, that our community engages, and as a consequence we’re introduced to people we never expected to be introduced to. The fact we’re always talking to people enriches our content – the people we meet and conversations we have change our way of thinking, and shape what we’re doing.
Although I’m in charge of our marketing operations, I have to say I’m not always sure where some of our contacts come from! One thing I’ve found quite surprising is the lack of reliance on a database – there’s a lot of power in word-of-mouth, especially in this space where everyone is working on something – why not share that? As we’re seen as adding value to the conversation, it allows people to find us through their connections and our supporters.
Scimcon is proud to sponsor Lab of the Future, and we can’t wait to see you at the Autumn virtual congress on 26 – 27th October 2021. Contact us today to learn more about our participation in the event, and stay tuned on our Opinion page for part 2 of our conversation with Luke.