Last fall, Evan Ehrenberg, a PhD student at MIT in computational neuroscience, was out around campus with colleague Cynthia Chen, checking on the flyers he had posted to recruit participants for a study. “I was checking to see how many tabs had been torn off,” remembers Ehrenberg of his attempt to gauge interest in his study.
Chen, then a student at Brown University, was surprised that there wasn’t a more sophisticated system for recruiting—that the researchers investigating some of science’s most complex problems were beholden to rudimentary flyers and advertisements on the subway to populate their studies.
It was then that Chen and Ehrenberg conceived on the idea for a marketplace that connects researchers with study participants. Within a week they filed to form Xperii, a company that aims to do just that.
The duo quickly realized that the problem was bigger than they initially realized. “This wasn’t just a problem for academic research,” says Ehrenberg. “It was also a huge problem for the clinical trial space—pharmaceutical and medical device companies trying to run clinical trials—and consumer companies trying to run focus groups.”
So Chen and Ehrenberg began interviewing customers to learn more about the types of services that they could provide. They realized that researchers not only needed help finding study participants, but also automating scheduling, measuring compliance, handling subject payments, and follow-up data collection. “Everything could fit together so nicely in one complete system,” says Ehrenberg.
On Xperii, participants can apply for a study with the click of a button. The platform is then capable to help with scheduling, communication, and tracking. “If you’re involved with a drug trial, we can automatically send notifications through our mobile app that we’re developing to remind you when to take your medication,” explains Ehrenberg. “Right after that we can ask, ‘did you take it with water or milk? Did it taste good? Was it easy to swallow? What are your symptoms and side effects?”
Additionally, the platform is capable of handling payment through PayPal or direct deposit, freeing researchers from the hassle of having to dole out petty cash.
According to Ehrenberg, most of Xperii’s competition comes from boutique marketing firms that specialize in developing customized campaigns for study or focus group participants. “There are competitors that are trying to solve the problem, but they’re not doing it in the same way we’re doing it,” he says. Specifically these companies typically do not handle aspects of management and compliance.
Xperii plans to charge researchers per participant for their service. When a researcher lists a study, Xperii calculates a custom cost based on the rarity of the people the study requires. Only once the participant completes the study is the researcher responsible for the charge. For now, the company—which consists of Ehrenberg, Chen, and 5 in-house developers—relies on a $50K angel investment from Roger Cox, a $10K investment from founder.org, and most recently a $20k round from the Dorm Room Fund.
Researchers from MIT, Brown, Boston College and Harvard, are currently working on the beta, and are recruiting for studies that are largely focused on psychology and neuroscience. Xperii plans to launch in Boston and Providence this summer, and in New York City later this year. “In about four years’ time this will be an international company, hopefully,” says Ehrenberg.
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