February 27, 2017

How Protocols.io is Advancing Life Sciences Through the Sharing of Protocols


Protocols.io is a start-up company founded in 2012, based in Berkeley, CA, the heart of one of the US’ most renowned scientific research communities. The company has devised a unique way to solve the age old issue of reinventing the wheel. In the life sciences world, this equates to rediscovering knowledge that another scientist or researcher already has, but did not have time to publish and/or developing improvements to existing protocols without a channel to share these improvements with others in the community.

They have developed a protocol database which the company describes as a repository of science methods and a collaborative protocol-centered platform. The database is a central open access interactive platform that lets scientists search for, document and share information. In turn, scientists can make more discoveries and breakthroughs using up to date protocols knowledge.

The Platform and How It Works

One of the many benefits of the platform is that it allows scientists to post their improvements side by side with the original protocol with the bonus of allowing the scientists to get credit for the improvements. Scientists can share their posts privately with certain individuals or publicly. In other words, the platform allows scientists to share the wealth.

This platform has a mobile app that can be used at the bench. Scientists are able to run experiments following protocols on the platform and if appropriate make revisions to it as they go. Protocols.io believes in turn that this will yield better reproducibility of results. The platform allows scientists to connect in real time with comments, questions and live discussions. Its clients include the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University and Berkeley.

Irina Makkaveeva, one of the co-founders and Chief Financial Officer of Protocols.io, is helping to lead her company. Irina has an impressive educational and professional background which has supported Protocols.io’s success and growth.

She started her career in the financial sector as a software engineer and research analyst. Irina holds a Masters degree in computer science. She then went on to get her MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management, after which she worked in industry for a number of years. Irina’s focus during her MBA program was on finance and strategy which has served Protocols.io well in starting and growing its business.

Irina’s background in computer science has been a boon to the company, as she has the background to explain the more technical details of the product to clients and investors. She possesses extensive experience with Android and iOS mobile application development.

An Interview with Irina

SynBioBeta: What inspired you to start/join protocols.io?

Irina: I’ve always liked a challenge. Alexei and I have been thinking about various business opportunities for a long time. We have been working on various mobile applications and were on the lookout for a good idea. Once, we brainstormed different business ideas with Lenny and Alexei just for fun, and Lenny had mentioned the need to create a public protocols repository.

This seemed like a unique field of opportunity where surprisingly not that much was developed at the moment. Between the three of us we had the right combination of skills: software development expertise in many fields, real experience of doing research in a biology lab, business strategy and finance background. Also, it helped that we have been friends with Lenny for a very long time and what could be more fun than starting a business with friends.

SynBioBeta: How do you develop your company talent, helping people grow to their next level and be their best?

Irina: As a small start-up we believe in treating our employees as partners and giving them as much responsibility as they are willing to take on. We think that by making them take active part in decision making process in their area of expertise and also by providing them with enough challenges and learning opportunities, they can grow and expand their professional skills.

We don’t have much of a hierarchy yet, so everyone has a chance to be an active contributor to the success of the company, and that is, in my opinion, the best motivator for growth and development.

SynBioBeta: How does protocols.io differentiate themselves from your competitors?

Irina: As I mentioned before, I think we have a unique combination of skills and experience that puts us aside from our potential competitors. Also, Lenny knows the lab research from inside out, which gives us insights into what researchers working in the lab need to most, and we can directly address all those needs. In addition, our understanding of the rules as well as the trends of development of the academic publishing industry and understanding of the reagent vendors and alignment with their business strategy uniquely positions our startup. On the other hand, since we are not a service from an existing publisher, we are a neutral platform for publishing protocols and that helps us partner with competing vendors and publishers. We also put a lot of effort into listening to the community, getting feedback from scientists, and making sure we are building an intuitive tool that serves the researchers.

SynBioBeta: Does protocols.io have any key company milestones you are looking to achieve in the next 6-12 months that you can discuss?

Irina: We have several major milestones we are currently working toward. First, we are in the middle of reworking the UI and UX of the platform. The release is just a couple of months ahead on the roadmap, we will introduce completely reworked mobile apps and a ton of functional and visual improvements to the website. Second, we are focused on increasing the number of partnerships with academic journals, so that researchers get into the habit of sharing detailed protocols together with the publication of their manuscripts. We should be announcing a pilot with a major publisher in May-June. Third, we are aiming to triple our revenue from subscriptions to analytics and private groups over the coming year.

Irina at SynBioBeta London 2017

Irina Makkaveeva

Irina will be a speaker at SynBioBeta London 2017 being held from April 4 to April 6 at Imperial College London. Irina’s unique experience and background as both a computer scientist and business person made her a natural choice for the conference session addressing the topic of Hardware, Software and Automation. She will be discussing Protocols.io’s platform and specifically focusing on how scientists can increase reproducibility via detailed shared protocols.

In addition, Protocol.io’s platform was a great fit for this session which looks to have a dialogue on the scientific field’s growing ability to collect increasingly large amounts of data from biological systems along with the obligation to reliably store, analyze and manipulate this information. These technologies are making scientific tools more autonomous and allowing them to better communicate with each other in order to complete protocols and accomplish experiments as designed. The session will also address changes that will be brought about by these technologies and how will they affect synthetic biology. In the session, Irina will be joined by other industry leading experts in big data and machine learning to explain the paramount roles of these technologies.

The Expanding Role of Women in Synthetic Biology

One of the goals that SynBioBeta set while planning its annual London conference was to highlight the expanding role of women in the field of synthetic biology. The roster of women speakers that SynBioBeta has gathered for this conference demonstrates this commitment, with Irina Makkaveeva being a perfect example.