by Y Combinator8/31/2016
Instrumentl helps scientists win more money by matching them with the best grants for their research. There are more than 10 million researchers in the US seeking over $140B in funding each year. Instrumentl streamlines that process. We sat down with Angela Braren, Katharine Corriveau, and Gauri Manglik to talk about what they’re building.
What YC Likes About Instrumentl:
“The Instrumentl team is taking on a real problem for researchers everywhere: finding, applying, and winning the right grants. Instrumentl streamlines and reinvents the grant application process which, perhaps ironically, has seen little innovation until now. We decided to fund Instrumentl because the team, comprised of two experienced scientists and an expert programmer, is tackling a huge opportunity.” -Geoff Ralston, Partner, Y Combinator
YC : How did the idea for Instrumentl come about? Angela: As scientists, Katharine and I both experienced the difficulty of finding grants for our research. Even after you find a grant, winning it is is another story. When we started talking to our friends, this same problem surfaced. We often heard stories of friends working odd jobs on the side in order to support their work. My friend even had to trim bushes in Humboldt County as a side job while she was working on her PhD.
Previously, I was a grant administrator at the Global Fund so I saw the other side of the table as well. There’s a lack of efficiency in how grants are matched with researchers because grants are very specific and missing just one criteria can disqualify you. We saw a huge opportunity for technology to simplify the process.
YC : How are researchers applying to grants today? Angela: They mostly find them through Google and track them on a spreadsheet or Microsoft Word. This is really inefficient because you have to manually look at each grant’s specific criteria to see if you’re a match. At one point I was on page 18 of Google search before I found a grant I could apply to. What ends up happening is that each researcher will build their own mini database of grants.
YC : How does applying for grants on Instrumentl change the process? Angela: When researchers sign up they enter information about the project they’re trying to find grants for. We ask for things like whether they’re a postdoc or faculty, where they work or go to school, the scope of their project, their location, and things like that. Knowing all that makes a difference because you can think you fit all the criteria for a grant only to find out later that it’s specific to one location. For example, a grant can have one line that says it’ll only fund your project if it’s conducted in Haiti. So you go through all this work and get all excited only to find out that this grant was not a good match after all.
Our goal is to make sure that you’re actually eligible for every grant that we present to you.
YC : Do you have an example of how specific grants can get? Katherine: Yeah, a graduate student from Italy found and won a grant through Instrumentl. He was studying salamanders in caves and apparently there are grants specifically for cave research. Interestingly, it was an American funder. Researchers often overlook grants that fund research beyond their own country, which is another opportunity Instrumentl unlocks for researchers.
Angela: Many people who use our platform find grants they never knew existed. A lot of scientists rely heavily on government grants, like the NSF and NIH, because that’s all they know. But there’s actually a lot of funding coming from the private sector and corporate institutions. So, for the first time, they’re able to see the whole landscape and find the best ones rather than fight over the same government grants.
YC : What sort of challenges did you face when building Instrumentl? Gauri; We’re trying to aggregate all the grants out there so that’s definitely challenging. Right now we’re focusing on grants funding biological sciences and natural resources research. Those two verticals alone have more than 10,000 grants. Because there’s no comprehensive database, no one knows how many grants and how much funding is out there. Which makes what we’re doing both challenging and exciting.
YC : Why is now the right time for this product? Angela: Federal funding is declining but more researchers are coming out of academia, which means the landscape will get very competitive. Because of this, universities are looking for solutions that give their researchers an advantage which is where we come in.
YC : What’s the long-term vision? Angela: We want to make research funding accessible, efficient, and intelligent. Once we solve the discovery and recommendation problem for grants, we’ll move into helping researchers with the rest of the grant lifecycle like applying and reporting. There is also a massive opportunity in front of us to directly connect the funders to the researchers to build a one of a kind marketplace for science funding.
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