The 2011 Business Plan Competition at The Paul Merage School of Business

The 2011 Business Plan Competition at The Paul Merage School of Business

All contestants:
Pleiades
Location: 40928 Arroyo Drive, Irvine, California, United States United States
Founded in: 2011
Stage: Pre-launch
Number of employees: 1-5
Short URL: vator.co/pleiades
Followers (6)
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Pleiades

Make research more efficient, accessible, and cost effective
Startup/business
Irvine, California, United States United States
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Company description

Throughout the academic world there is a lack of a centralized portal that offers a multitude of features for the promotion and facilitation of a collaborative research environment. Pleiades offers an exclusive academic platform providing information on equipment, expertise, funding and employment opportunities to connect one scholarly peer to another.

PRODUCT OR SERVICE

Pleiades: sharing a common motion through space. Pleiades understands the importance of collaboration in the university setting. The accessibility of knowledge and equipment to facilitate meaningful and cutting edge research is essential for the success of the university and its researchers. This site is designed to be a home page for the scientist and the engineer. In addition to the primary functionality, Pleiades offers a variety of widgets to personalize its homepage specific to the user; widgets such as weather, upcoming conferences, latest journal articles, upcoming university presentations, etc., give an informative update of a scientist’s academic life. Further, features to implement ones Google calendar, add deadlines, and edit a schedule can also be added for a more personalized feel.

The platform will be divided into a series of valuable subsections that users can access based on their needs and the needs of their laboratory. Key subsections that will be highlighted include:

§  Profile:  Each user will register on the site and create a username and profile to access the portal. This profile can contain keywords and a description about the researcher and his or her interests. These keywords will be up to the discretion of the user and will allow their work to be easily identifiable. Any post in a subsequent section can be traced back to the profile with appropriate contact information. The profile will have a built-in mailbox to host inquiries regarding potential collaborations.

§  Equipment: Many researchers require complex and expensive equipment to conduct laboratory research. Pleiades will provide a variety of different avenues to aid the researcher in gaining access to the necessary equipment. Specifically, modes of buying, selling, trading, renting, and donating will be available on this portal for others to view. In addition, through Pleiades, researchers can consult other colleagues who have purchased equipment for specific applications and gain first-hand assessments of available technologies and companies. Moreover, many institutions purchase costly machines with the intention of renting the machine to others to help cover costs. This site would allow universities to make larger purchases knowing that a variety of users exist who are interested in renting the product to pay for additional costs. Pleiades will also facilitate equipment turnover as technology evolves by acting as a forum for selling, trading, and giving away equipment that no longer sees use in a laboratory. Smaller universities, as well as high schools, could especially benefit as recipients of excess laboratory equipment.

§  Expertise: Characteristically, progress in the academic sector is based on the dissemination of knowledge. The necessity of sharing information, knowledge, and skills is essential for this market. The expertise section of Pleiades will focus on training, information sharing, and collaboration in the academic sector. For example, the training tab will allow researchers to publicize their public training events and opportunities. Based on an individual’s profile keywords, the researcher can be informed of upcoming training and lecture events that are of particular interest to his or her field. The Pleiades expertise section can also facilitate the collaborative efforts of different researchers by enabling the posting and discussion of requirements for a collaborator on a given project.

§  Conference: A considerable amount of a scholar’s career focuses on presenting research material at academic conferences, both domestically and on an international level. This subsection of Pleiades will be dedicated to providing information on upcoming conferences and deadlines. As opposed to manually looking for relevant conferences to displace your material, Pleiades will itemize conferences based on research topics to provide an easy-to-find listing of opportunities to summarize which conferences are most relevant to a given area of research.

§  Job Section: This section will provide an opportunity for universities and companies to publicize job opportunities for professionals, students, and recent graduates. Opportunities for researchers, undergraduates, graduates, and post-doctoral students, as well as laboratory personnel and staff, can, for example, be advertised on this site. Graduate students looking for research topics can use this site to better guide their graduate careers. Moreover, those companies looking for recent graduates of all levels can use this site to recruit researchers for industry openings.

§  Funding Opportunities: Ample funding is a major constraint of any university laboratory. By providing a section that would list opportunities for both federal and private funds, Pleiades offers primary investigators a better knowledge of available funds to minimize time spent searching and emailing. Funding opportunities, from large federal grants to smaller graduate student fellowships, could all be searched within the funding database of Pleiades.


Team
Business model

Craigslist in 2010 earned an estimated $121 million, with recruitment advertising in 19 metro markets accounting for $65.3 million of the total earnings.1 As compared to Craigslist, Pleiades caters to a much more exclusive market consisting of academic professionals and students, and thus revenue expectations from recruitment advertisements (e.g. job postings) are relatively conservative. Based on a 4-week breakdown of the top-ten job types posted on Craigslist in the New York area in May-April 2009, recruitment advertisements in medical, health, and education related fields account for approximately 20% of all job postings on the website.2 Assuming that statistics in the nation’s major metro markets do not differ significantly from those of the New York area, we expect revenue from recruitment advertisements in excess of $13 million. Further, this conservative estimate does not yet consider the much more lucrative business models of other job sites, such as Monster.com, and we therefore expect revenue from recruitment advertisements to increase in subsequent years.

We expect ad revenue from scientific, technology, and medical companies, and in particular, laboratory supply companies, to provide significant earnings as our site popularity increases. Craigslist reports an estimated 20 billion page views per month; assuming, as before, 20% market share relative to Craigslist and $0.10 ad revenue per page view, Pleiades could potentially achieve estimated ad revenue of $480 million.3,4 To provide a more user-friendly interface, we at Pleiades plan to offer a subtle ad scheme, advertising on only 10% of page views. As such, we expect ad revenue to total $48 million using our original website model.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, as of 2007 there are 4,861 colleges and universities with 18,248,128 students in the United States. In January of 2007, the National Association of College and University Business Officers revealed that the top 765 U.S. Colleges and Universities had a combined $340 billion in endowments. Additionally, for the 2007 fiscal year, there were 160 U.S. institutions with at least $40 million in federal research expenditures.5 These large numbers and budgets exemplify the future market potential for Pleiades.

In offering an exclusive academic platform to share equipment, ideas, and opportunities, Pleiades aims to pioneer a new model of collaborative research to facilitate the formation of partnerships across departments, disciplines, institutions, and contexts. The evolution of the academic environment has emerged a trend towards increased collaboration, and there thus now exists a need for a multifunctional portal to combine collaborative tools in a single setting.

Government and private funding agencies are increasingly favoring the formation of interdisciplinary and collaborative teams.6 No matter the scope, from equipment sharing to project partnerships, collaborations meet the demands of a competitive academic environment by fostering a joining of ideas and methodologies to enhance not only the scientific and technological credibility of an endeavor, but the commercial interest of it as well.

Collaborations further meet the existing demand for expanded capacity in contemporary research. As research continues to evolve to include the grander scope, experts from diverse disciplines will need to interact for the advancement of the project and equipment, supplies, and personnel will need to be made available. Pleiades caters to the evolving academic environment by providing a single mechanism by which collaboration of any scope can be established.

Competitive advantage

Pleiades is the first to offer an exclusive peer-to-peer academic platform
that facilitates the daily needs of a researcher. As the first company to
introduce this concept, we currently hold a competitive advantage due to
the time-to-market gap of any subsequent opposition. Since the success of
all peer-to-peer platforms is primarily dependent on the amount of users,
this gap in time will enable the build-up of a loyal customer base. This
build-up will effectively impede entry of other competitors into this
niche market. Pleiades also holds copyright intellectual property for the
website software code which prevents others from copying the current
design. Moreover, the management team is composed of research scientists
who have immediate experience with the research and academic sector.
Therefore the team is able to design Pleiades based on their own personal
first-hand experience.