Darrell Etherington August 17, 2012
London-based Mendeley, a research collaboration platform that’s host to over 270 million research papers and documents, today announced that it has acquired SciLife, a German social network which also facilitates online collaboration between professionals in the scientific community, for an undisclosed amount. For Mendeley and its German founding team, the acquisition is a return to the beginning, and a way to add significant German content, access to institutions and a devoted user base to its growing platform.
On its own, Mendeley had already managed to accumulate 1.9 million users in the global research community, through a conscious effort on the founding team’s part to target the English-speaking world initially, since the U.S. and the UK represent two of the largest markets for research-driven products in the world. The acquisition also virtually fell into Mendeley’s lap – SciLife approached them, not the other way around.
“They approached us with the question of whether we’d be interested in taking over SciLife, and whether we’d be interested in taking over all the active collaborations that they still had at the German educational institutions they supported,” Mendeley founder and CEO Dr. Victor Henning said in an interview. “Since we just happened to start rolling out institutional versions of Mendeley, including Stanford, and we just introduced our Mendeley Data Dashboard, which allows universities to see what articles and scientific journals are particularly popular at that institution, SciLife fit with that strategy.”
Mendeley had decent exposure in Germany, particularly at the Max Planck Society, but Henning notes that SciLife just had a much bigger presence there. Existing SciLife users will be rolled into the Mendeley platform, research and collaboration projects included, a process which Henning believes should go smoothly since it’s relatively simple, given the similarity of the two products.
Henning says this acquisition was basically just taking advantage of a lucky opportunity, and doesn’t believe future acquisitions are in the cards. Instead, the company hopes to continue its growth via the same word-of-mouth marketing that’s helped it get this far. Researchers are the company’s strongest advocates, since they use the product and want to get those they collaborate with on the platform, too. Now that the company is going after institutions, too, with affordable plans and analytics that they might not be able to get from traditional paid databases, they’re hoping to see that growth accelerate.
Since Mendeley encourages the uploading of full-text scientific article content in the form of PDFs, and offers a lot of its functionality free, it might seem like something journals would be dead set against. But Henning says that since the content is only generally shared between collaborating parties, and it actually helps increase the visibility and discoverability of journal content, many academic publications are starting to partner with the startup in order to make their catalogues available to researchers. And the new Data Dashboard only enhances Mendeley’s appeal as an academic research sales channel.
Just last month, we saw genetic research-focused 23andMe make an acquisition aimed at helping it grow its community. This Mendeley deal may be a one-off for the startup, but it’s another example of a web-based research communities coalescing around recent companies with innovative approaches to academic needs. Now, Mendeley just has to continue to impress in order to keep on the path of becoming the tool of choice for collaborative institutional research.