This summer, Starlims announced the strategic acquisition of Labstep, a cutting-edge Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) platform, with the aim of expanding Starlims’ portfolio to be able to support each stage of the value chain, from R&D through commercialization. We had the privilege of sitting down with Labstep’s Founder & CEO, Jake Schofield to discuss what motivated him to launch Labstep and what his strategic vision is for joining the Starlims portfolio.
How did you get involved in this field of work?
Jake Schofield: I did biomedical sciences as an undergrad at university. I followed that with a research project on genetic manipulation of a thermo bacteria for bioethanol production. So, that was my first real heavy exposure to the lab and the various frustrations with how science was recorded, captured, and how that information was shared.
Once I left academia I went to work in commercial research where I assumed, because I was getting experience inside some of these large R&D organizations, that the tools they would be using would alleviate some of these pain points that I’d been facing. However, often they’d still be using pen and paper, or the ELNs that were being used compounded on the existing challenges, rather than alleviating them.
That’s what inspired me to say, “let’s take a different approach. There’s a real opportunity here to go and build a product that can bring a huge impact to the day in the lives of individual scientists in the trenches that carry out research.” And that was what led me on this journey.
What were some of the frustrations around the existing solutions on the market?
Jake Schofield: Science is incredibly labor intensive. People are working long hours and there is this expectation that you’re going to be working 8:00 AM through to 9:00 PM, and then you’re going to have to spend time writing up a record of what you’ve done. And typically, the time between writing up the meticulous notes and the actual execution of the experiments, the average is 3 weeks. I couldn’t tell you what I had for lunch 3 weeks ago, let alone the variables of an experiment.
So, you can understand how a lot of this information gets lost and leads to challenges in reproducibility. You’re making these groundbreaking discoveries, and you’re trying to push forward the science. If you can’t recreate or reproduce or validate findings, then it’s very difficult to carry the science forward.
What we want to do is make it easy for individual researchers and scientists to create records of what’s being done, both from a compliance point-of-view, but also from a knowledge sharing and innovation point-of-view. Unfortunately, currently the burden is being put on individuals having to add to their workload.
I think the second frustration individuals have using these tools is that they look and feel like Windows 98. And if every other aspect of your life is on a super slick mobile device, why is it that we could not just deliver a seamless, intuitive process—both in the UI and UX? We also wanted to address automation of data capture and connectivity with instruments, so scientists can accelerate their research even further.
We went further and enabled our ELN to integrate with inventory—the samples and resources—so that users can run a protocol, run an experiment, and auto deduct the resources that are being used. From there it can automatically update a LIMS, making it easier for individuals to manage their inventory.
We wanted to make it very easy to plan, execute, automate, and use templates to reduce the amount of manual input and writing that’s needed for individuals to give them a much better experience. A lot of it is down to the ability of our ELN to follow protocols and SOPs at the lab bench and automatically create a record. You can also connect seamlessly to your inventory. It’s like following a recipe in the kitchen and because you followed that recipe, it will automatically deduct the eggs. So, you can just do your science, and it will do the recording for you.
What areas of science do your customers typically fall into?
Jake Schofield: If you have a look at all our customers across academia and enterprise, we have an even split between chemistry, biology, and material sciences. We have a big cohort of alternative proteins, lab-grown meats, cosmetics, and your classic biotech drug discovery.
But within that, you’re going to have people working on antibodies, people working on small molecules. Science today is full of multidisciplinary teams: the chemists on your team will be dealing with small molecules and chemical structures and want chemistry features, and biologists on your team will want to look at plasma maps and DNA. So, what makes us unique is that we are designed to be multidisciplinary because so much of science, especially at these larger R&D organizations, is often multidisciplinary. We’ve created this collaborative environment that’s catered towards a broad and varied audience.
Who would you say your biggest competitors are right now?
Jake Schofield: It’s still pen and paper. 9 times out of 10 times it’s about trying to move people away from pen and paper.
Why do you think that people struggle so much to leave pen and paper, especially when you think about our digital present?
Jake Schofield: It’s not that scientists are slow to to adopt technology. I think it’s that when it comes to the execution of lab work, they are incredibly time poor, overworked, and they have very tough deadlines. What we didn’t want to do is create a solution that would add to their workload, and typically adopting an ELN has meant researchers are going to work all day and then going to have to spend additional time manually writing up a diary of what they’ve done. So, that creates a big barrier of adoption for a lot of people. Whereas what Labstep has tried to do is look at that process, and say, how can we lower the activation energy? How can we make it easy and intuitive? How can we incorporate it into the execution of their lab work itself?
For example, researchers can plan their experimentation, execute the steps as they’re in the fume hood on a tablet, and then go back to their desk and it has automatically created a reticle of what they’ve done.
So, it becomes this intuitive way in which you can plan, execute, and record everything you’re doing rather than putting the burden squarely on you just having to be very diligent and writing down what you’ve done.
Labstep can be used on any device. Is that what I’m hearing?
Jake Schofield: Yes. We’ve built it so that it is optimized to be used both on your classic desktop, but also on tablet and mobile device in the field. And we see a lot of use cases of people that use it in high-contamination environments. You can just leave it in a mobile tablet device and it’ll automatically sync and update.
When did you connect with Starlims?
Jake Schofield: It was initially Francisco Partners that reached out to us in February 2023.
Had you heard of Starlims before Francisco Partners reached out?
Jake Schofield: Yes, I was quite excited when they reached out as it seemed very complementary. Starlims has an incredible reputation and credibility within the space. They’re a trusted provider with amazing relationships with their customers, and we were in a scenario where we felt our challenge going forward was “how can we get this in front of as many people as possible? How can we go out and build relationships with our ideal customers? Also, how can we start to integrate with some of these other informatics platforms?” Because our core thesis has always been that we want to be an operating system for science that can capture data intuitively and is integrated with analytical tools. We wanted to integrate with existing LIMS solutions, because we have many customers that have said they use a LIMS.
How do you envision the future of the ELN market and the industry at large?
Jake Schofield: I think that increasingly people are going to want to have an innovative, but all-inclusive solution. People aren’t going to want to have systems in silo. And the first steppingstone on that map to the future of science is going to be easy, intuitive, connected tools. Where all of what you’re planning to do and what you’re executing is captured and run through one system in a seamless way, and that provides a springboard for some of these other disruptive industry trends and technologies—such as artificial intelligence and machine learning—that can start to then permeate.
If there’s one thing that you want people to know about Starlims acquisition of Labstep, what is it?
Jake Schofield: Our goal at Labstep is to help researchers move away from manual record keeping and fundamentally change the way people carry out and record their science. We’ve embraced a very customer-centric approach and listened deeply to the needs and requirements of individual researchers at the lab bench. We’ve created an easy, intuitive ELN that resonates with contemporary researchers.
There is an obvious synergy between Labstep and Starlims. Researchers can seamlessly plan and execute experiments, as well as easily capture lab-based data, sample details, and consumable usage. The integration bridges the gap, enabling precise data capture and collaborative potential. This dynamic connection also unlocks enhanced value from your LIMS. For our existing customers, by joining Starlims we will have more resources and more time to focus on purely building and developing the best possible product and service for them.
It made just so much more sense to join forces with an incredible company. We jumped at the opportunity.
Thanks so much to Jake Schofield, CEO of Labstep for chatting with us about the company and this amazing new venture. Stay tuned for more information about the synergy between Starlims and Labstep, and to learn how the combined power of ELN and LIMS can streamline your R&D process from ideation to product commercialization across electronics, next-generation automotive, water, protection, and industrial technologies.