Startups as the Ultimate Petri Dish

Startups as the Ultimate Petri Dish

I’m obsessed with interdisciplinarity, finding connections between disparate fields and seeing how new ideas can exist in the liminal spaces between domains.

While I’ve long thought that some of this interdisciplinary progress is best suited for the world of startups, what happens in startups alone is often not enough. Startups—particularly those steeped in the world of deep science and technology—can flourish best when drawing upon the free-ranging findings from the world of research. When a startup is experimenting and searching for solutions to hard problems, it is important to look in unconventional places, including the world of research and academia. And conversely, the world of research can also benefit from the experimentation that can only be found in the living laboratory of the startup world—an environment filled with pressure, constraints, and high consequence decisions. At Lux, we’ve been spending a lot of time connecting numerous researchers to our portfolio companies, exposing them to new ideas and potential avenues to explore.

We’ve connected those at the forefront of open data and scientific reproducibility to our companies that are reinventing how science is done. We’ve brought data visualization experts together with our biology startups, and linked applied mathematicians to our companies that are rethinking the world of manufacturing. We’ve even connected a science fiction writer to an AI startup, because Who knows? Over time, we’ve been building a stable of top-notch researchers, engaged in ideas from all across technology and the sciences.

As we’ve been making these connections, doing our best to link numerous areas of science and technology together, it’s become clear that these informal interactions are the beginning of something bigger: our portfolio of companies can, and should, act as a laboratory for research ideas, providing a way for both founders and researchers to connect their work and apply the findings from academia practically and commercially. Researchers will gain from exposure to a real-world laboratory and startups will gain from exposure to ideas that they might never have otherwise come across.

So, as we continue to link the world of startups with research, let’s make this call explicit: are you an academic or researcher interested in using our portfolio as a laboratory for ideas, applying your research and strengthening one of our startups? We want to know.

written by
Samuel Arbesman, PhD
Scientist in Residence

Samuel Arbesman is a complexity scientist and writer. He is passionate about bringing together seemingly unrelated ideas from science and technology. Samuel works with companies and founders that recognize that the future happens at these boundaries, in such areas as open science, tools for thought, managing massive complexity, artificial intelligence, and infusing computation into everything from biology to manufacturing.

Samuel’s scientific research examines such areas as scientific discovery and network science. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic, and he was previously a contributing writer for Wired. Samuel is the award-winning author of Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension and The Half-Life of Facts.

The most exciting phrase to hear in science is not "Eureka" but "That’s funny..." –Attributed to Isaac Asimov

In addition, Samuel is a Senior Fellow of The Silicon Flatirons Center at The University of Colorado, and a Research Fellow at The Long Now Foundation. Previously, Samuel was a Senior Scholar in Research and Policy at The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and a Research Fellow in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School. He completed a PhD in computational biology at Cornell University and earned a BA in computer science and biology at Brandeis University.

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Startups as the Ultimate Petri Dish

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