Interview: Dr. Ijad Madisch, Co-Founder and CEO of ResearchGate

The virologist and computer scientist, Dr. Ijad Madisch, has created one of the world’s most important start-ups with ResearchGate – a kind of Facebook for scientists. He founded the Berlin-based online platform 2008 with his friends Sören Hofmayer and Horst Fickenscher, with the aim of making research more efficient. Members can share their experiments and projects there and discuss them with other scientists. It recently came to light that Madisch’s network managed to bring in 52.6 million US dollars in a financing round from the investors Wellcome Trust, Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, and Four Rivers Group. In an interview, the 36-year-old, who has Syrian parents, talks about the advantages of Open Science and networking with peers. You can see him for yourself at the BIONNALE on May 17 in Berlin, where he will give a keynote speech.



Dr. Madisch, you have accomplished a lot in only a few years, including convincing Bill Gates and other investors to bet 35 million US dollars on your idea. What are the best arguments in favor of ResearchGate?

The 12 million members the network now has are the best arguments for ResearchGate. They make it the place where research happens today. They have already made more than 140 million connections. They share more than half a million updates on their research every day and over 2.5 million scientific publications a month, including some that would traditionally not be shared, such as code or negative results. Last year, we launched “Projects”. This is a feature that researchers use to collaborate on projects in real time, in view of their peers and the public. Since then, our members have created over 600,000 such projects, offering an insight into what’s currently happening in labs worldwide. All content that the scientists share publicly on their profiles can be seen by everybody – even people who don’t have a ResearchGate profile. ResearchGate supports the principle of Open Science, similar to the Open Source principle: all knowledge in the research world should be accessible to everyone.

What significance do social networks like ResearchGate have for the field of research?

Social networks in general don’t have particularly high importance in the world of science– aside from ResearchGate. Several surveys have proven this, for example one from the scientific magazine “Nature”, which found that 88 percent of scientists surveyed had heard of ResearchGate. This makes the network better known than Twitter or Google+. Researchers use the network to exchange knowledge and share their research. What ResearchGate offers that other networks do not is the peer feedback that scientists need to drive their own research forward.

How important are the Life Sciences in ResearchGate?

They’re very important: 29 percent of our members work in the fields of medicine or biology.

ResearchGate has evolved into the largest scientific social network in only a few years. How would you explain this success?

The growth of the network is actually overwhelming. Around 10,000 new members join the network every day, adding to the 12 million members we currently have. What’s important to note is  that all our members are scientists. You can only register using an email address from an accredited institution or company, or via an individual process where you provide some evidence of your involvement in research. One reason  we’ve grown so successfully is because all the ResearchGate co-founders have a research background themselves, and therefore know researchers’ needs firsthand. That’s why from the very beginning, we had the clear goal of bringing scientists together and opening up science. We focused on building the network in a way that made it more valuable for our members as the community grew. These network effects then led to large-scale, sustainable growth. Another factor that contributed to our success is our team: 300 people from more than 40 countries who all identify with our mission to “connect the world of science – make research open to all” and who drive the network’s growth.

What do you have planned for the platform? 

We want to continue to grow and become the place for all scientific data online. Our members have shared millions of technical papers on their profiles, and by doing this have made a significant contribution to making research more open. However, these papers form only one small part of scientific work. The much larger parts consist of research data that is traditionally not shared. Even if they are published, they are usually stored in databases without reference to sources or any contextual information. That’s despite the fact that this research data – stored in context – is crucial for researchers to understand and build upon today’s scientific work in the future. On ResearchGate, scientists can share research data to their profiles and connect it to to projects, providing a context for the data. This makes it easier for other researchers to understand and work with this data.