ProQuest's investments in the discovery stage of research continued this week as the company acquired the Silicon Valley-based start-up SIPX.
The acquisition is ProQuest’s second move in two weeks to attempt to improve how scholars discover sources relevant to their research, which can often be a disjointed and frustrating process. Last month, the company announced Google Scholar would index its scholarly journals -- an acknowledgment that the library is not always the primary gateway to research.
“What we want to do is make sure that wherever the researcher starts their search, they’re going to end up being able to get access to the stuff they have the rights to -- in the library, open access, wherever that happens to be,” spokeswoman Beth Dempsey said. “We’re smoothing that path.”
SIPX began as the Stanford Intellectual Property Exchange, a project at Stanford University to prevent students from paying for course materials the institution already subscribed to -- effectively double spending on the same content. One analysis at the university found students wasted more than $100,000 during the 2010-11 academic year.
SIPX spun off in 2012 to tackle that problem of how to make faculty members and students aware of the content already available to them. The start-up has since integrated its technology in campus bookstores, learning management systems and “everywhere teaching happens” to cut down on redundant payments, said Franny Lee, co-founder of SIPX.
Lee, who will serve as the new leader of what the two companies are calling ProQuest SIPX, said the start-up has looked to find a wider market for its technology since before it spun off. ProQuest offers an “incubation-type relationship” that gives the start-up access to both the larger company’s resources and existing relationships with publishers, she said.
C.E.O. Bob Weinschenk, while a “supporter” of the acquisition, will not join ProQuest, Lee said.
As a part of ProQuest, SIPX will first grow, then identify new ways that libraries, researchers and publishers can use its technology, said Ben Lewis, senior vice president of strategy and business development at ProQuest. He declined to discuss the terms of the acquisition.
“The world isn’t like what it was 50 years ago when information could be consumed in a vacuum, meaning print something out and read it,” Lewis said. “Rather, in the modern world, to advance knowledge, one needs to see that information deeply integrated with the rest of that professional or student’s work flow.”
Lewis described a number of potential “touch points” all connected to the idea of improving the work flows of higher education. He suggested SIPX could be used to give students access to content across more devices, to help librarians understand how visitors use resources and to give publishers data about which articles and journals are popular in specific courses.
“Over the long term, I see a lot of integration potential,” Lewis said. “The lower the friction, the better the discovery, the better the search and the easier it is to get that information into the hands of students, the better the entire research process is going to be.”
The circumstances surrounding the acquisition resemble the storyline that played out earlier this year as Hobsons acquired Starfish Retention Solutions. In both cases, smaller companies wrestling with complicated challenges facing higher education -- whether student retention or access to scholarly resources -- decided that the best way to do so was to merge with a larger entity.
Lee said she agreed with the comparison, adding that those challenges “do have to be tackled in a big way.”
SIPX spun off from Stanford after three years of research and an 18-month proof-of-concept phase, later raising several million dollars in venture capital. Asked if the ed-tech landscape is less hospitable to start-ups now than three years ago, Lee said running a start-up is more about "learning as you go" and keeping up with technological advances -- including innovations in online education.
"We’re much more sophisticated in how we understand a lot of the different moving parts on campus," Lee said. "We’re definitely at a stage now where we’ve identified a lot of the use cases and needs of a university."
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