Collaborating to Transform Scientific Research

Max Hodak

Max Hodak is being honored as a Champion of Change for his accomplishments as a crowdfunding pioneer.

I started Transcriptic when I realized that science is driven forward at least as much by tools, and the availability of tools, as it is by the flashes of insight ordinarily associated with the research process.  It costs hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars today to build a lab, and as much over the following few years to operate it.  Especially considering the fact that much of basic research is publicly-funded on tight budgets, this means that there are very harsh constraints on what questions are asked and how quickly those that are asked may be answered.  At Transcriptic we—all seven of us—hope to change that by building for the life sciences what “cloud computing” has been for the Internet over the last decade.

When we started the company, Transcriptic was funded in part by a group of over sixty “angel” investors, investing alongside several traditional venture capital funds.  This was not an obvious financing decision, and it has had some interesting side effects.  Businesses are often seen as an “us-versus-them” propositions—handling competitive threats, negotiating deals, and winning market share are adversarial processes.  But having so many people bought in, and including them in our company, changed the tone.

Startups are hard, and as much as we tune it out, it does make a difference to hear the world cheering you on instead of listing all the reasons why what you’re doing won’t work.  We’re used to being skeptical and cautious and pessimistic.  Since so many startups do fail, these traits will make you correct the majority of the time.  Any successful new venture requires suspension of disbelief at some point, though.  You can’t overcome the countless obstacles between you and changing the world if you believe that you are likely to work extremely hard and still fail anyway.

Crowdfunding is ultimately about being more inclusive—about making it us and them instead of us versus them.  It allows a wide range of people to participate in a young company’s growth and see firsthand their successes and setbacks along the way.  It’s a risky investment, but it’s about more than just the financial return.  It’s about connecting individuals with the innovation that represents our future.  It’s about being involved and having an impact in your world. 

When investment-based crowdfunding becomes available under the JOBS Act, it will make the new venture creation process more collaborative and open, encouraging the earliest stages of many new companies.  It will be about changing the discussion from all of the reasons why a crazy idea won’t work to figuring out how to solve them.  I am very excited to see what comes out of this new, more open and supportive environment.

Max Hodak is Founder of Transcriptic.

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