Meet the Media: biotechin.asia (I)
Scientific research papers contain plenty of jargon, making it less likely for an average human with an attention span of eight seconds to get through them in one sitting. Three Ph.D. graduates from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore saw a need to simplify research articles for stakeholders in the biotechnology and healthcare industries, as well as for mainstream audiences, to easily comprehend the detailed information contained in such articles. Ms. Laxmi Iyer, Ms. Sandhya Sriram and Mr. Prasanna Kumar Juvvuna founded biotechin.asia on 21 December 2014 with the main objective of providing simplified, up-to-date news and insights from around the world.
Within two to three weeks, the website received much positive feedback from online readers. “We were overwhelmed at that time. There were a lot of people telling us that the articles were simple and short,” said Sriram, Director, Co-founder and Assistant Editor. “There are less than 500 words per article, which makes it easier to read and keeps the audience engaged.”
Subsequently, the team began featuring start-ups in the region, as the team realised that there was no single website in Asia dedicated to biotechnology and healthcare start-ups. Iyer, Co-founder and Editor, explained, “We wanted to be the social glue that connected all three communities – academia, industry and start-ups.” Biotech Media Pte. Ltd. was only incorporated in April this year when the website started earning revenue.
Both Iyer and Sriram constantly curate the news from various sources, including scientific journals, Reddit Science, Science Daily, EurekAlert, social media and press releases from universities and the industry. These materials are then sent out to more than 40 of their writers worldwide for simplification. The editorial team publishes four to six articles daily and makes sure to strike a balance among healthcare, research and environmental news.
Despite the prevalence of click-baiting in today’s world, the editors strongly believe that it is their responsibility to uphold the ethics of journalism and steer clear of sensationalism, especially while reporting science and healthcare news. Iyer stated that they always make sure to tell it as it is, and give their critical analysis of a news topic. “We do not want to engage in click-baiting, because we feel that if a story is truly newsworthy, people will read it,” she said.
biotechin.asia’s advisory panel comprises individuals from academia and the media industry, who frequently provide the editorial team with constructive criticism, as well as introduce them to other stakeholders in the biotechnology and healthcare industries.
Within a span of one year, the virtual newsroom has forged collaborations with various organisations across Singapore and worldwide, including the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Declara, National Research Foundation (NRF), and Biotech Connection Singapore, as well as Stemcell Technologies and Nanyang Technological University for media coverage, and the publication of series articles, press releases and start-ups in the region.
Testimony to the fact that biotechin.asia has been accepted as a media in Singapore was when they were asked to be partners at TechVenture 2015 in September, a major Asian conference-cum-exhibition showcasing Singapore’s Innovation and Enterprise ecosystem, and the upcoming EmTech 2016, an annual global emerging technologies conference hosted by MIT Technology Review.
Iyer calls TechVenture 2015 “one of the best collaborations we have had so far”, as it provided a stepping stone for biotechin.asia to be seen on a bigger arena.
The team achieved another milestone when they were invited to cover the opening of Fusionopolis Two by A*STAR and the government of Singapore (pictured below). Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong graced the event.
What makes all these collaborations so impressive is that biotechin.asia was able to receive recognition from the Singapore government and companies without much in-your-face publicity. “They came across our website and asked us to cover their articles. That was a big morale booster for us. After that, we kept in touch with each of their corporate communications departments and began receiving press releases regularly,” revealed Sriram.
In addition to building their business, Iyer and Sriram also give back to the community by conducting career events. Both feel that science majors do not receive enough guidance on the available options after completing their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. As a result, biotechin.asia organised its first event, “The Right Track For You”, on 27 August at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University for more than 150 students.
The talk featured speakers from various career paths in the biotechnology and biomedical science fields who shared their personal journeys in academia and the industry, along with the challenges of being part of a start-up and the variety of science allied careers that were available. According to Iyer, many students were glad to learn that they had opportunities to pursue other avenues in science if they wished to move on from research.
“We received an email from the Editor of Nature Biotechnology, which is one of the top journals in Science, and they told us to write an article on the event for their Careers and Recruitment section, which got published in October 2015. That has been a huge boost for us,” revealed Sriram. “We are not only getting recognised as a media outlet, but also a science-allied site, and all our contributors and authors are saying that we have given them a different channel to work with. So, other than science, research and studying, they are able to value add to their resumes by doing more writing and improving on that skill.”
Read part 2 of the series here.
About the Editors:
Ms. Laxmi Iyer has a PhD in Virology and entered into this profession by serendipity. She is a science enthusiast who strongly believes that biotechnology is the future and is passionate about bringing all simplified healthcare and biotech information in one place for all to benefit from. She states that the field of biomedical sciences needs to have a collaborative approach from all the stakeholders in the ecosystem if it should truly yield any gains.
Ms. Sandhya Sriram is also a science enthusiast who enjoys reading, writing and doing research. She is currently working as a Research Fellow in the Fat Metabolism and Stem Cell Group at Singapore Bioimaging Consortium, A*STAR. Sriram is also the Vice President and Publicity Chair for A*STAR Post Doc and Early Career Scientist Society. Her dream is to have a lab of her own.