Bill Gates-Backed Research Network Targets Advertising Revenue

  • ResearchGate has 11 million researchers and scientists on site
  • Berlin-based startup says advertising allows it to remain free

ResearchGate, a networking website that millions of scientists and researchers use to share and collaborate, has so far largely avoided the thorny work of turning a profit. With $35 million in backing from Bill Gates and several prominent venture capitalists, the company has had the luxury of focusing on growing its service.

Now the Berlin-based company is taking aggressive steps to become a money-making enterprise, rolling out new advertising products to allow businesses to target ads toward its 11 millions users.

ResearchGate is getting about 10,000 new sign-ups per day, with roughly 2.5 million research items shared on the site every month, according to the company. In addition to academic and research institutions, the company also has thousands of users from technology companies including Facebook Inc. and Google.

However, researchers studying the latest developments in specialist subjects, from ankle bio-mechanics to advanced machine learning, may not warm to pop-up ads.

"The major difference is if you’re on Facebook and browsing, you see things which people try to sell to you even if you don’t need them," said ResearchGate Chief Executive Officer Ijad Madisch. "But if you read a scientific article and a microscope is being mentioned, and you’re seeing an ad for that microscope, that’s useful."

Advertisers will be able to target ads based on details such as a user’s research areas, job title and geography. Madisch says advertising will allow ResearchGate to keep its promise of remaining free, allowing anybody to set up an account and share their research and read the work of others. The only kind of advertising the company won’t accept presently is for weapons research.

Madisch, a doctor and computer-science graduate, started ResearchGate in 2008 after seeing scientists repeating mistakes because they weren’t sharing their work. In 2013 he attracted funding from Gates, the company’s lead investor, and venture capital firms Benchmark, Accel Partners and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.

ResearchGate currently has about 300 employees, including a sales staff of 100, Madisch said. He says the company isn’t profitable now, but will be at break-even within two years.

"This is the next step, for us to create a monetization model and remain independent," Madisch said.

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