GENAWIF is still quite young, however, it was important for us to have the opportunity to work in our own labs to let theory and practice come together in evaluating new ideas. But what if we were missing special equipment that we would need to keep on going? For example, for analytics. There is no way it would be cost efficient to buy an expensive piece of equipment just for some tests that might prove our initial idea wrong. This is also an important factor among Start-Ups from the biological or medical fields, possessing only limited funding. On the other hand, in most cases proof of principle is necessary for fund raising, leading to ”the chicken and the egg problem“: no money to show the proof-of-principle, but no proof-of-principle without money. Although for our current projects we are not facing missing laboratory infrastructure, we wanted to inform ourselves about possibilities, just in case.

Therefore, we participated in a virtual meeting on March 3rd entitled Start-ups und wissenschaftliche Einrichtungen durch den Zugang zu Laborgeräten und FuE-Kapazitäten fördern! “Kick-off des Clustermarket Marketplaces in der Metropole Ruhr!“ which would translate into “Supporting Start-Ups and scientific institutions by making laboratory infrastructure accessible!” with the kick-off event for the Clustermarket Marketplace in the German Ruhr area. The event was hold by the Ruhr University Bochum (Ruhruniversität, RUB) together with Oliver Bohnkamp, who is engaged in the BioIndustry Association (https://www.bioindustry.de/) and in the Competence Centre for Biological Safety called ‘Biosecurity’ (https://www.bio-security.de/). The main topic was the KLIC.RUHR – competence network Lifesciences.Ruhr, which addressed the problem of inadequate scientific infrastructure mentioned above. The problem was dealt with in two aspects.

The first aspect would be a network of research institutes to pool and complement their individual infrastructures and make it accessible for other investigators. For example, the technology centres Bochum, Witten, Dortmund and Bönen were the first participants in such a network to provide basic as well as special scientific infrastructure for Start-Ups and other scientists or institutions.

The second aspect addressed the management of such a pooled infrastructure, managing the information of available machines, lab space and services. For this, a lab software-based system was developed, which runs under the name clustermarket (https://clustermarket.com/) and which was presented by one of its founders, Tobias Wingbehrmühle. To get an idea of what clustermarket specifically does, the background of its development over time was quite interesting. In the beginning, it should provide information about the infrastructure in an internal network. Besides the list of machines, the software would track information about their run-time, maintenance, calibration data and name responsible staff. With this data, one can see the workload of the machines and open time slots. This information can be used in two ways: if the workload would be near 100%, the collected data would be a good argument in a grant to fund additional machines, while the machines could be open to be borrowed or used by external people if not fully used. Thus, one could also make some well needed extra money by sharing their infrastructure with others, which was the second stage of the development of clustermarket.

If Universities were to offer their infrastructure to start ups or external people with economic intent, it could be problematic because a publicly funded infrastructure could be in competition with non-publicly funded infrastructure on the open market. However, according to T. Wingbehrmühle, different participating Universities already showed that it is possible, as long as the use of the infrastructure is adequately billed to the user. This needs to be clarified beforehand with the authorities or funding institutions (like for example the German DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft)) by which the infrastructure was originally funded. Being well aware of this problem, the people from clustermarket would offer assistance for cost calculations as well as for the invoicing for the provided infrastructure. That being said, it was also interesting to note that the use of clustermarket itself would be free of charge due to the EU- and EFRE funding of this project.

There were many interesting questions from university staff and Start-Ups among the audience, for example how the invoicing would work (response: either by clustermarket or by the provider itself) and how the data privacy would be addressed (response: by EU law, since the servers are in France and Germany). One Start-Up was concerned about confidentiality within their labs: if they would offer their machines for rent and usage, other people would enter their lab and might see prototypes not meant to be seen by the public. Regarding this question, most providers would offer a service to process samples with their machines themselves, thereby preventing other people entering their labs. Additionally, there is a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) enclosed in the clustermarket’s terms of use.

Another interesting question was about liability: what would happen if an offered machine would be damaged during usage? Most Universities would cover this possibility via a liability insurance. Another aspect of liability would be about the generated data with the machine. What if the machine would be damaged or falsely calibrated, thus producing false data and possible economic damage? Regarding this question, most Universities would deal with that possibility via a special contract, excluding their liability for falsely generated data.

What conclusion do we draw from this for GENAWIF? For us, it is important to know about this marketplace, because it is very likely that we shall depend on external resources at some point. Clustermarket would be the first place to browse the offers from different providers, either in the vicinity within Germany or abroad. GENAWIF is based in Aachen, and providers from the Netherlands or Belgium would also be quite near to us. On the other hand, our association even might be able to offer some services, and clustermarket would be the right platform to start with. We have not yet made use of clustermarket ourselves, but we found this information quite useful and wanted to spread the word for others in need for laboratory infrastructure!

Jan Borlinghaus, 17.03.2022

A Marketplace for laboratory infrastructure

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