Cindy Wu is a co-founder of Experiment, a crowdfunding platform for scientific research. During undergrad Cindy was funded by Howard Hughes Medical Institute to work on cell immunotherapies. In 2011 she was on the University of Washington iGEM team where they won the World Championship. Cindy dropped out of grad school to build Experiment, a Y Combinator backed startup. Experiment is creating a world where anyone can be a scientist and their mission has been profiled leading publications including Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and Science Friday. Cindy was named on the 2015 Forbes' 30 under 30 list. Bill Gates recognized Experiment as a “solution to close the gap for potentially promising but unfunded projects.
How did you get into the industry?
We created Experiment to solve our own problem. At 19, my best friend Denny and I designed an anthrax therapeutic for the U.S. army. We found that our drug could be used as an antibiotic for staph infections. Because traditional funders only fund tenured professors with PhD’s, we were told that the system doesn’t fund people like us, young inexperienced scientists with high risk ideas. To solve our own problem we built a site that allows anyone anywhere with a credit card to be a patron of science.
We got into the industry by accident, by trying to solve our own problem.
Any emerging industry trends?
The cost to do science is dropping dramatically. The cost to produce music, films, and software fell in the last few decades democratizing the process allowing anyone anywhere to be a musician, filmmaker, and software engineer. The same is happening to science. We are entering a time period where anyone anywhere has the ability to be a scientists. A decade ago it cost thousands of dollars to sequence a genome. Now it costs a few hundred dollars to sequence the genome. We can now modify DNA and genes the same way that we write and edit software.
The internet make it possible for anyone anywhere to learn how to do science and become a scientist. Experiment will be the place where all science starts online.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
The traditional funders are so conservative today that they only fund the most obvious ideas. We fund the long tail of ideas, the ideas that the traditional won’t fund, the outliers that matter.
Alexander Fleming did not discover Penicillin by following a linear path. In the same vein, when the next big discovery is made we don't expect the scientist to follow a linear path.
We created a platform where a scientist can submit a proposal raise the funding and have the money in their pocket ready to start the research in less than thirty days. Science needs to move faster and there is a real opportunity for technology to make this happen.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
We believe in a world where anyone can be a scientist. The best way to create this world is to show aspiring scientists how scientists science. There will be a place online where all science starts, we want to be that place.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
There will be a place online where all science starts, we want to be that place. The platform will support the whole science stack. This includes idea generation, hypothesis development, proposal, funding, peer review, sharing of the research process, publication of results, dissemination of science content, and commercialization of results to real world applications.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Create a world where anyone can be a scientist. Make science move faster.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Realization that my greatest competitor was myself. Stay focused and trust yourself.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
For the scientist the most valuable part of our product is finding a community of individual humans from all over the globe that believe in your research so much that they are willing to pull out their credit card and fund you. For the scientist you leave knowing you gifted your community with the opportunity to fund a real research project and the opportunity to watch the science process unfold.
For the backer the most valuable part of our product is being in the passenger’s seat next to the scientist watching the science unfold. Through lab notes the final results and interactions with the scientist you will experience what it is like to do science in the lab or in the field. And, you know that your $1 or $1,000 made a real difference in expanding our current body of knowledge.
How do you motivate others?
Show them what is possible by setting an example in yourself.
Career advice to those in your industry?
You don’t change the world by doing what you’re told.