Scholarly as they are, it’s easy to picture chemists quibbling over atoms and molecules, but Imaginatik hopes great things will happen by letting hundreds or even thousands of scientists work together.
Imaginatik partnered with the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and with CambridgeSoft, a maker of enterprise software for biotech and chemistry organizations, to create collaboration tools on a grand scale. Dubbed ChemBioConnect, the software lets scientists around the world collaborate with illustrations of the problems they’re running into.
The software is essentially a version of CambridgeSoft’s ChemBioDraw — a widely-used graphic tool for chemists and biologists — wrapped in Imaginatik’s technology for crowdsourcing, or farming out a problem to a massive user base to get the best and fastest resolution. Imaginatik’s products, sans graphical tools, have previously been used by Xerox, Boeing and Kellogg’s.
You can see a video of ChemBioDraw in action here. As an example of what ChemBioConnect adds, let’s say Pfizer wants to reduce the use of toxic materials used in creating one of its products. Instead of using text or PowerPoint demonstrations to illustrate the problem to others, scientists can draw up hexegonal diagrams in the software, check them for simple chemistry errors and send the problem to Pfizer’s R&D operations around the world. The software does translate into other languages.
ChemBioConnect also creates personality profiles, giving attributes such as “inquisitive” and “creative” to scientists and allowing researchers to choose the kinds of collaborators they want. When data starts coming back, the software organizes it into threads and uses evaluation tools to help scientists pick the best ideas.
CambridgeSoft has a competitor in Symyx and its Symyx Draw software. Imaginatik Founder and CEO Mark Turrell admits that both companies offer similar products, but he argues that the crowdsourcing of ChemBioConnect gives CambridgeSoft the advantage.
This is interesting stuff if you’re into the pharmaceutical world, but what makes ChemBioConnect novel to the rest of us is its potential for other uses. Turrell sees the collaborative software expanding to the oil, chemical and food science industries and eventually branching out into non-medical applications. For example, he said, a company such as Boeing could allow its engineers to collaborate on CAD drawings.
Imaginatik will charge between $50,000 and $500,000 per year for ChemBioConnect, depending on the size of the operation, but companies that already use ChemBioDraw won’t have to pay as much just to get the crowdsourcing features. CambridgeSoft hopes to gain more clients out of the partnership and sell additional plug-ins for its graphical chemistry interface.
Pfizer invested roughly $1 million in Imaginatik at the beginning of 2007, shortly after the company went public, and since then Imaginatik has raised just short of $6 million. Turrell declined to speak about the company’s upcoming funding ambitions. Imaginatik employs roughly 40 people, with offices in New York Boston and London.