Bringing Science into the World: BeyondLab.
As a young scientist, problems are part of the game — you encounter them every day at your job. But some problems are systemic, going beyond the usual scope. What are the applications of my work? How could I go further? Where can I found people to help me with that? A laboratory is designed to help you answer scientific problems, not really any of those other issues. And sometimes you find people telling you, “It’s not possible.”
You didn’t get into science to hear that. Science is precisely the disciplined way to make the unknown known, to define what is possible and what is not. Then you will communicate what you’ve learned, getting feedback and establishing collaborations with your peers. That process is the foundation of science. The problem is that it mostly takes place only between scientists who share a common vision and common habits.
But recently, we’ve seen in the last 10 years the rise of a new era in entrepreneurship, driven by the digital economy. Here everything aims at a product and its applications. And now the lack of connections between labs and the outside world has never been so important. The barriers to entry for creating a product have been erased, while the difficulties of research have grown.
This problem is both cultural and structural. On the cultural side, we see that knowledge today is hampered by dogmatism, divided between disciplines, separated into silos. Too many constraints come from races for subsidies and political considerations. The current rewards system pushes researchers to publish only for their peers, rather than thinking about the broader social and economical value of their work. And so the gap remains between researchers and entrepreneurs, to say nothing of researchers working in different fields. Entrepreneurs feel this, too. We meet people every day who want to know what is going on in laboratories, but who feel intimidated by the scientific world, with the result being that results remain unknown and talents remain inaccessible.
On the structural side, the timeframes and infrastructures of research aren’t made for creating interactions. There is a rigid framework for science that must be rethought to develop transdisciplinarity. And similarly, organizations built for entrepreneurs are not equally adapted for science projects. There are very few entities able to properly invest the capital necessary to build lasting organizations uniting the lab to the startup. There is no “Valley of death,” but rather just “death” for most of these projects.
We must go beyond disciplines and open science to multiply its possibilities. We need holistic approaches to develop a new generation of solutions. We believe there is an opportunity here to fill the gap between both worlds. There is room to develop an organization whose interface isn’t academic or for-profit, but which shares the cultural values of both and understands their structural limitations.
That is why BeyondLab was made: create the intersections that empower inventors to take science a step further. It is dedicated to overcome the current situation by going beyond beliefs, skills, institutions, fields and technologies. Our approach is based on transdisciplinarity that crosses cultural borders.
We are a community that nurture projects through an informed use of scientific know-how and knowledge.
Our value is being able at:
- revealing hidden science knowledge with great potential;
- gathering talented people with a common interest;
- making them collaborate together and propose solutions for specific problems.
BeyondLab is a non-profit organization that aggregates local ecosystems and enhances their impact at a global level. We operate on the path from Science to Innovation. We aim to maintain our distance from private interests by being a non-profit organization whose governance is defined by its network of field volunteers. This network is based on autonomous and transdisciplinary hubs located in different cities around the world: the Labs.
We focus our efforts on making great events. Organizing them is difficult but rewarding. It helps us to be at the heart of ecosystems, knowing the experts and projects and working with stakeholders. For our volunteers, it generates a number of benefits:
- Networking: Belonging to highly-qualified communities who collaborate to go beyond the status quo of our society and contribute to serving it at large;
- Education: Deepening our knowledge regarding the latest tech trends with the best local experts while also overcoming tech myths;
- Visibility: Being at the heart of action provides with in-depth exposure to thought-leaders at the local and global level in R&D, industry, academics, politics, entrepreneurship, etc.
- Experience: Further developing skills & capabilities and putting them into practice in advancing specific goals (leadership, management, communication, etc.);
- Creation: Launching or being involved in the generation of new startups at the forefront of innovation.
We think scientists and entrepreneurs are most productive when they can spend most of their time building something great rather than hunting for subsidies or trying to understand each other. Even if our main action is creating meetups, let’s be clear — we are not only obsessed with the beginning of the project. Our ultimate goal is to create an environment where you can focus on building projects.
We believe that innovation appears at random, stemming from chaos rather than heavy planning. A top-down approach is a good way to forecast the best technologies according to market trends. But innovation itself is unpredictable and startup success follows a “chaotic” process influenced by local ecosystems. Indeed, at the beginning, success is strongly related to the realities of a territory rather than global trends. For this reason, we prefer high-frequency bottom-up actions to find the new generation of impactful solutions based on individual strong attributes.
We believe in transdisciplinarity over any “magic methods”. We can use creativity or design thinkings tools but they only help in taking steps forward. The key is learning to interact with complementary profiles by putting together a unique goal for a defined group and seeking to involve every person in the audience. What we ask is demanding but it’s needed to step up the quality of networking and create strong future collaborations.
There is no unique source for good projects. “Techno-push”? “Market-pull”? Those are case-study concepts used in consulting firms but innovation comes from anywhere. Our philosophy is one of helping scientists to highlight their expertise and breakthroughs. By starting from their point of view we overcome cultural barriers and move toward profiles that can unlock the potential of future projects.
We are not a hierarchy but a network. The former consists of approval and processes while the latter is a broadly affiliated set of leaders that work in parallel. It promotes formative pressure and cooperative behaviors in order to lead to positive externalities. A distributed organization also helps us to be more relevant in selecting projects and people. Only those who are best adapted to a certain ecosystem and specific conditions are promoted.
There are already trendy hot spots that could be qualified as “clusters of innovation” and where thousands of organizations are operating. But the future is not only in those developed places but rather also in developing ones. We focus on young ecosystems where high-potential technologies are emerging. Our purpose is to give a platform to those who don’t have one yet.
The most important things aren’t breakthroughs, publications or patents, but rather the people behind them. At our events, if entrepreneurs want to do more, they can always go back to the scientist to develop an ad hoc solution. In other words, patents and publications are just an initial set of tools for communicating and they do not define the success of a project. You need to focus rather on the knowledge and know-how of the people instead of purely technical aspects.
#7 People, Part II
Our events are our secret sauce, and our algorithm is reliable thanks to people, not code. Therefore our primary goal is forming a community of talented individuals in multiple fields at the heart of tech innovation (scientists, entrepreneurs, VCs, startups, companies, etc.) rather than a network of projects. And even though we are not a startup launcher, we highlight great projects that sometimes turn into great startups.
We believe that technology is not the answer to everything: technology can only be a means to an end. In other words, science alone can’t solve everything. Many times science reveals a situation rather than solving it. Why? Because the root cause lies elsewhere. For example, when there is a drought in California, it does no good to launch a startup competition to collect water; there is instead a need to act at the source, reducing human impact and the wasting of water. Likewise, BeyondLab gives insights and connections that can help people educate themselves about science and properly use it in their own endeavors.
Stanford professor Paul Saffo put it this way:
“It takes 30 years for a new idea to seep into the culture. Technology does not drive change. It is our collective response to the options and opportunities presented by technology that drives change.”
BeyondLab is not a marketing conference used to sell something. No sponsor guides our thoughts or actions and we follow only one agenda: finding the greatest people and projects without having any predefined boxes decided by a startup context or a sponsor’s jury. And since we are not an academic or a for-profit organization, we can be at the intersection of those two worlds while maintaining our strong culture.
We do not promote business plans or pseudo-concepts. We have a long-term perspective, trying to avoid stand-alone events from which nothing emerges. We prefer regular events that connect people efficiently. That’s why we don’t stop at “inspiring speeches” but instead engage with our attendees and our community on a more rewarding journey to create concrete opportunities.
When we pitch BeyondLab, people are amazed by the idea. But they do not realize it’s extremely complicated — gathering people with different cultures requires discipline & pushing them to share ideas requires pedagogy. Science is inspiring but demanding, which is why we develop a standard event where an issue is illustrated through 4–6 science projects to a group of 40–50 attendees. An event always follows this sequence:
- An introduction to the topic/issue of the event by an expert in the area;
- A 1st speech session where speakers/projects introduce themselves. The goal is to popularize skills, know-how and science knowledge while ALSO proposing a specific issue to discuss with the community;
- A group discussion session where attendees can help the speaker to solve their problems;
- A 2nd speech session where discussions are summarized with feedback from the discussion;
- A networking time with cocktail.
We believe that we achieve the right level of experience to properly adapt to any situation. The key question to solve here is, “How to create a unique level of understanding between people from different origins and help them to work together?” And we solve that aspect in the presentation of the scientist; not only they do promote their specialty but moreover they ask for insights on a specific issue. For instance, it could be:
- A very early stage project where the scientist introduces results and wonders about possible applications;
- A science project with direct applications (like in medicine), where the need is finding insights about the right strategy for moving forward;
- A startup (or soon to be startup) with more specific questions about communicating, funding processes, etc.
In this way, in the group discussion, all the participants have the same goal (clearly identified by the speaker as “the issue to discuss”). They align with each other to converge toward this point. We usually help people in that process by facilitating the discussion with our dual culture (science / entrepreneurship) and with our methodology.
BeyondLab promotes innovative projects only if they have a strong scientific component and are early stage. We are generally looking for scientists with a technology or a skill/know-how who are wanting to develop an application from their research/results. Entrepreneurs and startups with no deeptech core, but who wanting to have tech feedback and connections with laboratories, are welcomed as attendees in order to enrich the discussions. The quality of our audience is therefore the other side of the coin which makes our events truly valuable. The size is designed to maximize interactions and to welcome only qualified and motivated people, which is why there are no more than 30–50 attendees. These traditionally include people working in academic, tech and business areas with a ratio of about ⅓ scientists and tech profiles (researchers, engineers, etc.), ⅓ business profiles (entrepreneurs, managers, etc.) and ⅓ other types of profiles (law, design, etc.).
A biosphere is a self-regulating system containing ecosystems. It implies being dynamic and interdependent. The biosphere we’re growing is composed of our own “Labs” (local hubs gathering teams through events), our Partners (public institutions, laboratories, companies co-branding our events to provide funds, projects or attendees), and our followers (attendees of our events, network of experts, groups around projects). We’ve had the chance to have been at the beginning of promising startups in all fields such as Flyability (drone), Diabeloop (diabetes), Glowee (bio-lighting), DreamQuark (AI for MedTech) and Lancey (energy storage).
“Meeting with different profiles is still very useful. The focus group time helped us to ask new, more relevant questions especially about innovating beyond our lighting system, which is far more than simple fluorescent stickers!”
Sandra Rey, CEO Glowee
“Beyond Lab allowed us to discover new startups and create new contacts that helped us to structure our project. It was a way to receive very constructive feedback on the project but also on how to present it.”
Nicolas Meric, CEO DreamQuark
In addition, we’ve had the chance to work with large companies (such as Aldebaran, EDF, BNP Paribas) and renowned institutions (EPFL, CEA, Inria). Today, we are proudly followed by TheFamily, who is helping us grow in the best way.
Finally, the activities of the community are dedicated to leaders, innovators, and people interested in Science, Technology and their applications. We are looking for craftsmen and pioneers to come up with fresh perspectives & uncommon ideas to grow projects beyond all limits.
Today, BeyondLab is mainly in France and Japan. Our idea is to promote the initiative all around the world, but always with a symbiotic relationship between all of our Labs and their environments. So far we have already organized more than 50 events, gathering more than 1300 people and roughly 100 projects.
In January 2014, we introduced “beyond-the-lab”, the first event of what became “BeyondLab”. As pragmatists dreamers for enlightened applications of science, we were interested in developing great and ambitious projects. We want the ones that propose uncommon solutions, the ones that explore uncharted horizons, the ones that bring men beyond their limits. We’ve reflected on Solar Impulse, NASA, energy sustainability, and much more.
So, the question: how do you see BeyondLab in the next 5 or 10 years? Think about your own great project.
Our long term vision is to make it real.
Thanks to Kyle Hall for helping us.