Y Combinator
Elizabeth Iorns
Founder of Science Exchange (YC S11)

Science Exchange

Science Exchange is a marketplace for scientific collaboration, where researchers can order experiments from the world's best labs. Our mission is to improve the quality and efficiency of scientific research by using market-based incentives to promote collaboration between scientists.

Q: Why did you start Science Exchange?

I was an academic researcher, focusing on understanding the development of breast cancer. It was my experience of the increasing importance of access to specialized technical experts and the difficulty of finding and incentivizing the right experts to collaborate with me that led me to found Science Exchange.

We started Science Exchange to solve my own problem. Talking about my experience as a researcher with my cofounder Dan Knox (an economist) led to the idea of a marketplace for ordering experiments from the world's best labs, and Science Exchange was born.

Q: Tell us about your experience at YC.

YC was an amazing experience. We went from just an idea to building the first iteration of Science Exchange, launching and getting actual users, and raising a round of financing– all in 3 months. We moved from Miami to Palo Alto, we attended the weekly dinners and office hours, and basically spent all the rest of the time working on Science Exchange. It was very intense but the period of focus allowed us to achieve as much as we did and was critical for getting the company off the ground.

Elizabeth Iorns

Q: What is the atmosphere like at YC during those 3 months with Demo Day approaching?

It is very intense but also very supportive. Having a group of peers going through the same process is incredibly valuable because you can share your challenges and learn what has worked for others in similar situations.

Q: Was being female either an advantage or disadvantage in working on your startup?

It was an advantage because of the interest from the tech community in encouraging women entrepreneurs. It also led to opportunities to present at conferences or be profiled in press that we might not have gotten otherwise.

Q: What was the hardest part about being a female founder?

I think it can be harder to create relationships with the VC world since it is predominantly male. These relationships are incredibly important for raising capital and so I do think being a female founder with fewer "friends" in the VC world is a disadvantage and might make it harder to raise money.

Q: Why do you think there are fewer startups with female founders than male ones?

This is a difficult question to answer, and maybe is even more difficult to answer as a female founder since I don't really understand why other women would not be willing to take the same path I took.

I think it has a lot to do with there being fewer female software engineers, since many founders of tech companies are software engineers. I think if you look at other sectors, like biotech, the ratio of female to male founders is better and this is likely because the pool of potential founders has more women.

Q: Any advice for female founders coming from a scientific background?

Being a scientist is an advantage for starting a company. Many of the same skills that you learn as a scientist are applicable to running a startup: problem solving, persistence, creativity, ability to pivot, raising money (writing grants). Essentially your training as a researcher has prepared you to be an entrepreneur!

Elizabeth Iorns

Q: How are you enjoying being a part-time partner at YC?

I love it! It is such a privilege to be involved with these amazing companies that have such great potential. On a personal level, it helps me appreciate the advice that I received from so many people at YC (and beyond) that I can share with these companies that are just starting out.

Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were 15?

Learn to code! My family (including my mother) are all software developers so I was always exposed to that world but I never learned to code myself. I am definitely glad that I chose to study cancer biology, but I think having the ability to code in addition to that training would have been really beneficial.