Breaking the change management mould – leading successful laboratory information system projects and digital transformations?

Laboratory-based organisations have consistently undergone change, whether provisioning new analytical techniques, instrumentation, information system implementations, or incorporating new regulatory requirements. This is especially true today, when we are undertaking initiatives such as digital transformation and the introduction of AI/ML. In fact, one definition of transformation is ‘a radical change’.

What’s clear is that change is constant. However, managing change effectively is essential to success when undergoing these types of projects. Well-run lab informatics projects manage change within the software project lifecycle. Examples of project change include adjusting functional scope; raising change requests as functionality is demonstrated; and variation of costs. Yet, one key area of change is often neglected.

The problem arises when change management for lab informatics projects focuses solely on the technical delivery of the software. In these cases, very little effort is allocated to the change that will need to occur within the laboratory to accommodate the new system. If lab change management is considered, it is often dealt with ad-hoc and separately from the software delivery part of the project, leading to misalignment, misunderstanding, and missed timelines.

75% of the lab is indifferent to your project.

Lab Manager reports that in a typical change environment, 25% of staff will be early adopters, 25% will actively resist change, and about 50% will be ‘on the fence’ in the early stages.1

These statistics are backed up by experience. Scimcon is often called in to resolve issues within ‘in-flight’ informatics projects. All too often, the route cause analysis reveals the lab community only understood the true impact of the new system too late to adopt it, adapt lab workflow, and change procedures. Rectifying the issues after the fact is seldom quick or low-cost.

Informatics projects don’t operate in a vacuum.

Informatics software does not function in isolation, so change management needs to consider the physical working procedures, workflows, SOPs, job roles, quality system, and other areas that will be impacted within the laboratory.

For example, the implementation of a new LIMS could trigger changes such as:

Given that a lab informatics project will generate a large number of change items similar to the above examples, they must be managed appropriately.

In many respects, these changes are very similar to a system’s user requirements, except they are related to the lab processes as opposed to software functionality. With this in mind, they need to be handled in a similar fashion. Create a team with a project lead and subject matter experts who represent the laboratory. The lab change team should be tasked with actively gathering and maintaining the backlog of change items throughout the project life cycle. Each change should be assessed for impact and priority, added to the change management plan, and allocated to team members to be actioned.

Planning for change starts early.

Before making any significant lab Informatics investment within an organisation, it is likely a business case will be required. If you are serious about managing all aspects of change this is where you should begin. Business cases generally do an excellent job of covering benefits, costs, and ROI – however, change management, specifically within the physical lab, is often not called out in terms of impact, approach or importantly the resources and associated costs.

Not highlighting the lab change management process, resources and costs at this stage will make it considerably more difficult for change management to become embedded in your project at a later stage.

Benefits of effective change management.

The benefits of effectively integrating laboratory change management alongside traditional change management for lab informatics project cannot be ignored. New systems can get up and running faster, and can, importantly, deliver improved lab processes and be met with enthusiasm rather than reluctance, scepticism, or apprehension.

Scimcon consultants are on-hand to support lab leaders overseeing change. As many of our consultants have lab experience themselves, they have seen first-hand the impact of change in the lab, and can provide in-depth knowledge on how to ensure success.

For more information about how Scimcon can support your next big project, contact us.

References:

  1. ‘A Guide to Successful Change Management’ Lab Manager, https://www.labmanager.com/a-guide-to-successful-change-management-27457 [accessed 02/11/23]
Digital Transformation in the lab: where to begin??

Digital transformation is not a new concept, it is just expanding the use of technology as it advances. Today’s laboratory users expect a certain level of usability and synchronicity. After all, in other aspects of their daily lives they are accustomed to having, for example, a seamless digital shopping experience via Amazon.

So, with demand for digital transformation coming from the lab users themselves, and often from the organisation, establishing what it really means to you and what’s achievable, as well as where you are already on the path to digital transformation, is a useful starting point.

What is digital transformation in the lab?

Digital transformation requires constantly improving the environment and the platforms in the lab to give the scientists the best tools possible and make their lives easier. It’s not a single project or something that will be completed in a year, or two.

For some organisations, the first step on their digital transformation might be putting in a new LIMS or ELN – which drastically improves their operations, but could be a huge undertaking depending on the scale of the organisation and the legacy infrastructure. For others, it might be establishing the tools and connections to enable the online monitoring of instrument status, automatic ordering of consumables, reserving instrument time and auto-tracking utilisation, for example. Plus, there are many iterations in between.

What’s important for any lab embarking on, or evolving, a digital transformation journey, is to determine where they are, what their goals are and what’s achievable.

How Scimcon can help

We understand the scale of the digital transformation challenge, as well as what is needed to overcome limitations and ensure improvements are made. Our team of experienced consultants – scientists themselves – are ideally placed to help you define and progress your digital transformation journey.

Efforts will continue in the coming years to achieve a truly digital laboratory. However, this will not be a linear journey. Advancements are constantly emerging and the latest technology will build upon the success of others, meaning the ‘latest thing’ is always evolving. Navigating this process successfully will allow laboratories to achieve increased productivity and optimised workflows – giving scientists back more time to spend on getting results.  

Advancing your digital transformation journey can be a challenge, but, if done well, can transform your lab and its results. Through a wealth of experience in this area, Scimcon can help you to identify your digital transformation goals and help make them a reality in the short, medium, and long term.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you with your digital transformation journey.

Scimcon sponsors SmartLab Exchange EU and USA and identifies key themes at Europe event for 2023 lab informatics?

The SmartLab Exchange Europe 2023, whichtook place from 22-23 February in Amsterdam, Netherlands, is one of the global meetings for lab informatics leaders. Scimcon continues its proud sponsorship of this event, as well as this month’s North American event in San Diego on 22-23 March, facilitating one-to-one meetings with a number of informatics customers from all major lab-centric sectors. The continued sponsorship of the event provides access to the community of senior R&D, Quality Assurance and Quality Control decision-makers from industry in both North America and Europe.

Feedback and voice of the Industry

Attending from Scimcon was co-founder and lead consultant, Geoff Parker, who took the opportunity to poll attendees and delegates of the attending organisations, to identify the current 2023 trends in the lab informatics industry. This includes R&D executives, Quality Assurance and Control leaders, and Regulatory specialists from organisations such as GSK, P&G, AstraZeneca, BioNTech, and more.

Summary of trends in lab informatics for the modern lab

In the informal poll of attendees at SmartLab Exchange, Scimcon has been able to identify key trends and themes that are important to the modern lab in 2023.

Of the total 73 delegates polled, 68 delegates – with budgets ranging between 500k to millions in GBP – volunteered which technologies they are interested in investing in within the coming 12 months.

Some of the key investment priorities included:

  • 30.8% flagged digitalisation as a priority in 2023 (21 delegates)
  • 20.6% noted automation as a priority investment area (14 delegates)
  • 13% cited LIMS as 2023 priority (9 delegates)

Scimcon sponsors SmartLab Exchange for another year, and reports on the delegate priorities in 2023.

When asked about additional investment priorities, 7 delegates stated that the following areas were also of interest this coming year:

  • Digitalisation, Agile process, AI
  • Automated Analytics/Analysis
  • Harmonisation
  • People/Talent
  • Risk assessment, based methodologies, toxicology, product expertise
  • Reducing QC Testing
  • Infrastructure

Attendees also ranked their interests and what topics they wanted to address at SmartLab. As illustrated, lab automation, and AI/ML in particular, are high priorities for lab leaders in 2023, with other high priority areas including data quality and integrity, instrument connectivity and IoT, and data integration.

This year’s event also saw the Scimcon team hosting the opening panel discussion, ‘What is the future for human scientists as AI and ML deliver the promised step change in laboratory practice?’, where key opinion leaders were invited to participate in the discussion to kick off the event. Panellists at the European conference were Edith Gardenier from Genmab, and Andy Phillips and Robin Brouwer from AstraZeneca.

Geoff summarises “As lab informatics consultants with a global customer base in leading lab centric organisations, it is important to us to check in frequently with influential decision-makers from the lab. SmartLab Exchange offers us a useful ability to poll the attendees and see trends that will impact the modern lab decision-maker, and will help us at Scimcon to hone the way we partner with our customers. The attendees we spoke to were split between R&D and QA/QC – with 43% in R&D, 24% in Quality, and 16% in both. We very much look forward to catching up with delegates at the US event in March, and it will be interesting to see how trends and priorities differ or align between the US and Europe.”

SmartLab Exchange is attended by invite-only decision-makers. The unique invite-only format of the event means that both sponsors, speakers and delegates can access a closed community that meets their individual needs. 

Scimcon is proud to continue its sponsorship of the SmartLab Exchange Europe and US events in 2023, and the team is excited to connect with delegates at the US event on 22-23rd March 2023.

To learn more about how Scimcon supports science centric organisations with data solutions and lab digitalisation, or to organise a meeting at the US event, contact us today.

To catch up on the themes discussed in our EU panel discussion, you can read our blog here.

Scimcon officially sponsors SmartLab Exchange US and leads panel discussing how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will impact the modern laboratory?

The countdown to SmartLab Exchange US is on, and we will be officially sponsoring the event and taking part in an insightful panel discussion on Wednesday 22nd March 2023. After our success at SmartLab Exchange EU this year, we are delighted to be travelling to San Diego for the US summit from 22nd to the 23rd March 2023. Here, we will explore what the two-day event will involve.

Our co-founder Geoff Parker, will be leading the opening panel discussion on how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) is will affect the flesh and blood scientists of the future. A cohort of industry leaders will join our lead consultant, including Robert Pluim from Genmab, Miu-Ling Lau from Merck, and Scott Stanley from the University of Kentucky.

The conference in San Diego, North America takes place annually and provides leading experts in the lab informatics field with the opportunity to build connections and take part in thought-leadership discussions. As the event is invite-only, this means that attendees share the same mindset, enabling attendees to connect with the right people and extract the most value out of interactions.

What can we expect to see from Scimcon at the event?

After a short welcome and opening address from NASA data scientist, Timothy Darrah, the panel on ‘What Is The Future For Human Scientists As AI & ML Deliver the Promised Step Change in Laboratory Practice?’, will commence at 8.40am on Wednesday 22nd March 2023. As a panel chair at the event, Geoff will be leading the discussion with key opinion leaders across the lab informatics space, facilitating the discussion among US delegates on what the future benefits may hold for human scientists as AI and ML come to the fore. From 10am onwards, there will be an opportunity for one-to-one business meetings, as well as peer-to-peer networking for delegates and attendees to form new and lasting connections with other industry experts.

Why attend SmartLab Exchange US?

At Scimcon, we find real value in attending conferences and tradeshows on a global scale, to meet with informatics industry experts: particularly as SmartLab Exchange US provides us with a platform to debate themes such as: Lab of the Future, Data, Digitalisation, Quality Management and Standardisation, AI and ML, and more. Throughout the event, you can expect to receive expert advice on laboratory digitalisation through automation, cutting-edge informatics tools and technologies that will become part of our daily lab life.

Scimcon’s unique hands-on experience in the lab makes us a trusted partner for many of our clients, as knowing the science as well as the systems is at the heart of what we do. If you’re someone that benefits from face-to-face interactions and networking, come along to the US summit and organise a meeting to find out more about how we can support your informatics endeavours.

Can’t make it to SmartLab Exchange US? Then look out for our upcoming blog that will detail the next event Scimcon is attending…

To organise a meeting with our team at the event, or to learn more about how Scimcon can support your digital lab transformation, contact us today.

Learn more about Scimcon and the extensive lab informatics services and consultancy we provide.?

By working with lab-based companies and organisations, we aim to make science more connected, which we achieve through over 20 years’ experience in the laboratory informatics. Our consultants come from scientific backgrounds, which means we understand the lab environment and day-to-day concerns. This also means we can help to deliver complex projects more smoothly, and ensure project success.

To better explain the role we play in lab informatics projects, we’ve created a short video to offer insight into the services we provide, and explain how we can support lab centred organisations with digital transformation, IS strategy, informatics projects, maintain compliance, and more.

Watch the full video here and share with your colleagues to help solve their lab informatics challenges:

Scimcon leads SmartLab Exchange panel session ‘What is the future for human scientists as AI and ML deliver the promised step change in laboratory practice?’?

In February and March 2023, Scimcon is hosting panel discussions at both SmartLab Exchange Europe and SmartLab Exchange US. The events, taking place in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and San Diego, North America take place on an annual basis as a forum for scientists in the modern lab to interact, form new connections, and learn more about the evolving technology that is disrupting the lab.  Attendees and speakers will debate themes including: Lab of the Future, Data, Digitalisation, Quality Management and Standardisation during the conferences.   

As a sponsor and panel chair in 2023, Scimcon’s opening panel discussion ‘What Is The Future For Human Scientists as AI & ML Deliver the Promised Step Change in Laboratory Practice?’ explored the future of human input in the lab, and how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) could impact the structures and processes in place.

Following introductions by Birthe Nielsen of the Pistoia Alliance, the session discussions will be led by Geoff Parker, co-founder of Scimcon. The panel discussion in Amsterdam took place on Wednesday 22nd February 2023, and featured key opinion leaders on the panel including, Edith Gardenier from Genmab, and Andy Phillips and Robin Brouwer from AstraZeneca. The San Diego panel is scheduled for Wednesday 22nd March 2023, and panel participants include Robert Pluim from Genmab, Miu-Ling Lau from Merck, and Scott Stanley from the University of Kentucky.

Discussing AI and ML at SmartLab Exchange

AI and ML are everywhere we look – in the news, on our phones and other smart devices, and are increasingly making their way into other areas of our daily lives. In transport, we’re seeing steps being made towards self-driving vehicles. But what will happen to those engaged with the transport sector when human input is no longer required?

The same questions can be asked about the lab. We have seen similar disruptions in the past, and many scientists will still remember the days of cutting out chromatograms to weigh them and calculate peak areas – a task which now is fully automated. Through the employment of similar automated technologies – from sample prep, to HTS, and sophisticated instrumentation – we have been able to give more time back to scientists, to allow them to spend longer on the science that matters.

Our panel at SmartLab Exchange Europe and US will dig deeper into AI and ML, and how it will impact the role played by human scientists in years to come.

Tackling the AI & ML questions for scientists

The panellists will debate the big questions facing scientists on the topics of AI and ML during the sessions, including:

Following the SmartLab Exchange, Scimcon will summarize topics of key interest to the audiences in a future blog.

To join the discussion and hear more how AI/ML will impact laboratories and scientific operations, contact our team for more information.

Hosting tradeshows in a virtual world – Lab of the Future LIVE?

2020 saw the migration of in-person events to virtual. Although this was a difficult decision for many organisers, online events do present organisers with the opportunity to reach their audience in new and innovative ways.

As a follow up to his first blog, we caught up with Luke Gibson, Founding Director of Open Pharma Research, about his experience moving Lab of the Future online in April 2021.

2020 was an odd year, especially in tradeshows – do you expect to remain online or return to in-person events?

We debated going virtual for quite a long time, whilst many events organisers around us made the jump quite quickly. We looked at a lot of different platforms but had some doubts, as we are very sensitive about putting out a poor quality product and we know that you can’t just mimic online what you offer in person.

So, we decided to dip our toe in the water with our range of Digital Dialogues, which are essentially a variety of debates and discussions which keep us talking with our community. Following the success of these, we took the plunge and went ahead with our virtual conference in April 2021. It went really well, and not only did we learn a lot from the event, but we managed to reach a lot of people as well – we had 1,500 registrants, and at any one time we had over 550 people online in at the same time.

It sounds like the move online paid off for Lab of the Future this year – does this mean you’ll be continuing with the virtual approach?

It definitely appeals to us to explore this approach further. We were growing anyway, and every time we hosted a new Digital Dialogue we were reaching new people, so there are definitely positives to moving online – you get a wider audience, it’s more accessible for a lot of people, and it does really allow you to go global.

On the flip side, the interactivity isn’t the same as with an in-person event. Physical events gather a lot of momentum each year they take place, and we had exciting growth expectations, which do tend to flatline when you pause physical activity. Stimulating the activity of people online takes a lot more management as well, but there are definitely elements we can take forward. On the whole though, I think people are looking forward to a return to physical events.

What did you find were the main differences in terms of virtual vs in-person experiences?

In terms of technology, the conference industry has actually had the opportunity to go virtual for around 20 years now. Although we’ve known that everything can be delivered online, we’ve continued with physical events, and it’s because they give you that human interactivity which can’t be mirrored online. The same sentiment can be applied to concerts – it’s just not the same streaming a live show as it is being in the crowd, and there is also a higher level of technology risk, such as those experienced in the recent Glastonbury event where users weren’t able to log in.

Virtual events don’t allow you to break down barriers the way that comes naturally in a physical environment, such as just chatting with someone in the coffee queue. Because you have that shared experience of being at the same event, you already have that common ground that opens up communication. A lot of people attend conferences due to the networking aspect, which can only occur when you’re surrounded by like-minded people.

So I think the value of physical conferences has been reinforced by their absence. However, our Digital Dialogues have been wonderful and relatively easy to do, so we’ve gained from this experience and will definitely look to continue those in the future. The debate we face now is what would hybrid events look like? There is a lot to consider; the main thing is that, rather than compromising and delivering an event that is part virtual and part physical, you need to offer a virtual component in addition to a full physical event. For example, you want to be able to host an event that is open to people who may not necessarily be able to travel or attend in person, so that would be an addition to the event. What you don’t want is people deciding to host talks and keynotes from the comfort of their own office because it is easier than making the trip, losing the network opportunity. Physical events would be the goal, with virtual access as an added opportunity.

Have scientists changed over the last 12 months?

The speed at which vaccines were brought to market to target COVID-19 has been an incredible win over the last 12 months. It has allowed us to break down the assumption of “we have to do things this way because that’s how we’ve always done it.” If we use the COVID-19 vaccine development as a case study, we can apply this attitude to other areas within life science. What else can we do in half the time? How can we unlock innovation?

This goes further still in showing us that scientists are able to work in different environments too. I think a lot of scientists have been surprised by what they’ve managed to achieve even when they’ve not been able to go to the lab. When people have an appetite to see the job through, and are trusted to deliver on their objectives, its remarkable to see how they can adapt and push through. It creates a whole other mindset, which feeds into notions of what the Lab of the Future looks like.

What’s in the future for Lab of the Future?

Realistically, we’ve always been focused on the innovation and the people. We’ve looked at the data and the technology, but it’s the people that make everything happen. This whole experience of 2020 and 2021 so far has been a disruption, and any disruption that makes you stop and think differently about how people work is part of Lab of the Future.

Going forward, we would prefer to hold fire as opposed to putting something out that’s only halfway there. So, we’ve decided that we’ll be hosting virtual again in the Autumn, on 26th & 27th October 2021, and return to physical events in Boston, MA in Spring 2022 on 22nd & 23rd March, and Amsterdam, Europe on 3rd & 4th October 2022.

What were some of the main take-aways from Lab of the Future Spring 2021?

One thing we did note was that the energy of the keynote speakers was truly remarkable. We felt it was important to host our talks live, so our presenters were collaborating on developing their presentations, so they got a lot out of it, and that was really reflected in the enthusiasm of their messages. Working together provided energy, which really came across, and having these events live and interactive definitely added to the buzz of these talks.

Another key take-away was the role played by attendance analysis. Although it is useful being able to monitor activity through analytics, it has a potential flip side. We had to really blend our conversations with any product discussion to ensure that it wasn’t a case of people ‘skipping the ads’ in a sense and only tuning into case studies. We blended discussions on the variety of solutions with operational content from life science practitioners to make it one conversation, so this wasn’t an issue.

I think a lot of events organisers may have some trepidation around the use of data, as it can give you perhaps more information than you want to know. But a bonus on that point for us is that you gain a real insight into customer profiles, which in turn makes it easier to communicate and highlight relevant areas. We’ve definitely learnt from our experience of hosting the event virtually, and I think we’ve proven to ourselves that it is possible to deliver a great product, at times different to our expectation and our business plan! We’ve found a new way of working, and even with 30 years of experience each, we’ve challenged our past learnings and we’re now looking at how this could shape our future – which is exactly what Lab of the Future sets out to achieve.


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 visit part 1 of our conversation with Luke to learn more about Lab of the Future.

Industry leader interview: Luke Gibson?

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.

Industry leader interviews – Ajit Nagral. An insight into the world of scientific entrepreneurship?

Ajit, please introduce yourself. 

My career history is uncomplicated because straight out of college I started working for myself, and it has been that way for my entire career. I graduated in the US with a background in computing science and I decided I did not want to take the traditional path of finding a job and building a career that way. I always liked to be doing things differently. Coming out of college with very little money and a limited skillset, the reasonable thing to do was to get into software consulting because that did not require a whole lot of capital. Since then, I have founded four companies in the life science sector.

What led you to the science industry?

I ended up in the pharma and life science industry very early on by chance. After I graduated, I was in Boston with database and computing skills, and I started a small consulting company called Megaware. I found out there was a large life science vendor in Massachusetts which had some opportunities around a new life science product they were building. After a lot of persistence, the CIO reluctantly gave me 15 minutes to speak with him. I told him about my background and what I was attempting to do – he said they didn’t have anything for me within his organisation, but he would connect me to his counterpart at their analytical instrument division. I then got a contract to help this analytical instrument company build a part of their (then) new product, the first database driven instrument software, and that was my entry into the pharma world. That seems simple, but it was fortuitous and persistence more than anything else.

Can you give us a potted history of each of your companies? 

My first company was Megaware. Back in those days labs were making the transition from VAX.VMS-based systems to PC-based systems. Enterprises had huge investments in VAX.VMS systems and in HP printers. We produced a product to be able to print from a VAX.VMS system onto a HP printer. It seems straightforward (but it was not!) because you are printing to a Windows-based printer but from a non-Windows system. We built a whole system to rectify this issue. I ran and built Megaware for 4 – 5 years and it was then sold to a boutique consulting company.

NuGenesis was my second company. We identified the issue that labs had several different instruments, from different vendors, but they did not talk to each other. You had large pharma companies, printing reams of paper, spending $millions of dollars on running labs across the globe and eventually all of that intellectual property ended up on paper! In those times when they submitted a new drug application, those applications were on tens of hundreds of pieces of paper which were carried to the regulatory agencies on trucks for review! It made no sense that something started out electronically and ended up on paper to be read by somebody manually. We were able to intercept print streams and capture a lot of information to make the data live. It is remarkable that 20 years later it is still being used – that says a lot about the value and sustainability of NuGenesis. I sold the business to Waters in 2004.

After I sold NuGenesis I was clear I wanted to stay in life sciences but do something different. I went back to many of my clients and ask what problems they are facing – that is when I landed into outsourcing in the area of drug safety, clinical and regulatory.

What was new and different was an area called pharmacovigilance. If you recall, there were a couple of landmark cases related to drugs in the market that had caused deaths. That is when the regulatory agencies realised they do not have a handle around adverse events. They approve drugs, they come to market and years later you start seeing adverse reactions that you did not see during the trial period. The regulatory agencies started mandating reporting of all adverse effects. With the visibility and potential liability, the biopharma industry sprang into action and the flood gates opened to drug safety outsourcing. This was when we launched Sciformix – a scientific knowledge-based outsourcing provider for the life science industry. Any given year when we got to the maturity stage we were doing around 1 million cases. We did everything from cancer drugs to consumer products, from cancer medication to sunscreen lotion. Our success at Sciformix was due to our ability to combine enough science and a very good process. Again, the company grew very rapidly to over 1300-1400 people globally, and it came to a point where it felt like the time was right to divest in 2018. Sciformix was acquired by LabCorp/Covance, a top three CRO (and currently a leader in COVID19 diagnostic testing).

What was the motivation behind the launch of Scitara? 

Having done tech, services and global delivery, I thought I should combine these skills and focus on my finale!

Our core team believes Scitara is more than just a business, it is a goal of ours to solve a major problem that still exists in the scientific laboratory: data connectivity. We are pioneering a new digital revolution when it comes to lab data connectivity. We have invented a platform called Scitara DLX (data lab exchange), and our goal with this platform is to connect your instrument, application, or anything else you use in the lab to our platform and we guarantee they can talk to each other.

Our goal is that science labs can log into any system that they are currently using and can access data from any other system that is in the lab. We have a mantra of ‘no application or instrument left behind’. For us to achieve this goal we need cooperation from the industry, which is why I am calling this a finale. It will require all our connections we have made over the years and the reputation we have built to reach out to everyone in the ecosystem. Companies are making significant headway in their digital transformation initiatives, except they do not know how to get their lab data onto their digital platforms, and that is where we come in.

How did you find your entrepreneurial drive?

I am very driven to be independent. I am useless when it comes to working for someone else and fortunately, I have never had to. My personality drives me to try new things and dive into uncertainty and this has always pushed me into something completely new.

The building of my companies motivated me. What excites me is the building from the ground up. Each time the building is easier, but the expectations are higher. I do not build to divest – I build to create value, disrupt, and hopefully deliver a meaningful impact, and the rest takes care of itself.

If anyone comes to me for advice or mentoring, I ask them why? Why do you want to do it? Why you? What is the motivation? That tells a lot very early on about the chances of success that a person may or may not achieve. It does not guarantee success, but if you have a good understanding of the ‘why’ it helps you go a long way. Beyond that I’d say it is important to find a mentor from the industry – people need to recognise that investments happen in teams not necessarily ideas. Do not latch onto an idea too much because things can change.

Create a loyal fanbase, people often think I have 500+ clients, but it is not the number that counts, it is whether you have a handful of loyal clients who make a lot of noise and reopen doors. That becomes exceedingly important.

What would you say makes you a successful entrepreneur? 

We do not rely on big sales engines in our industry. It is about building solid connections and networks. When clients learn that I created the concept behind several successful companies, people admire that. There is no better way to connect with a client than something that they are fond of and that I am proud of.

I have learnt the hard way; you build the best partnerships in tough times. When things do not go right, it is how you react that defines not only your relationship but your career as an entrepreneur. I have sold to the same clients across multiple companies. Most of those clients I have had difficult moments with, and it has made our relationship much more resilient.

Having a non-scientific viewpoint has also really helped, particularly when it comes to products. To be able to look at the consumer world, or industrial world or finance world and understand how technology has evolved there and bring those learnings into the scientific world is invaluable.

What does the future hold for Ajit Nagral? 

This is the first time after having done this for 20+ years that I have the liberty and luxury to say if this part of my journey were to end, what would be my new journey? It is the first time I have thought about it, and I think it comes with experience and the safety net I have built for me and my family. I am eternally grateful to my customer, employees and investors to put me in this position.

Hopefully Scitara is my last company, as an operating founder. There are many other things I want to do. In addition to being a tech guy I am also a musician. There are things I am doing in music production that I have started already – hopefully in a few years once I am done with Scitara, that is where I will end up!

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