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How a tech social enterprise is democratising access to health research

by Mirabelle Morah / July 2022

The labels ‘tech start-up’ and ‘social enterprise’ are rarely heard in conjunction with one another. Labfront is shattering that misconception and helping pave the way for other technology companies to enter the social enterprise space and realign themselves with a ‘tech for good’ vision. 

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Labfront (formerly known as Kiipo) is a social enterprise that creates affordable tools for health researchers looking to remotely collect physiological data from their study participants. According to Co-founder Jordan Masys, “the majority of research tools currently cater to the pharmaceutical industry, because that’s where most of the money is. Academic researchers, as well as independent researchers with brilliant ideas but less access to capital were being “left behind”. And from there, Labfront was born. 

Labfront International medical team in face masks having team-building

Increasing accessibility to health research 

Lowering the Cost

At a fraction of the price of other research tools in this sector, built into the company’s ethos is accessibility and one way they embody that is by providing an option to use the platform for free. With a limitation on participant numbers only, Labfront ensures that researchers of all backgrounds can capture the varied data they need and have the ability to run their studies and contribute their findings to the community. Additionally, Labfront has begun offering global research grant initiatives to individuals of all research backgrounds interested in collecting data. You can learn more and stay up to date on Labfront’s research grants here.  

Shattering the technical barrier

Technical barriers exist when it comes to incorporating biomarker data into research studies. Previously, if researchers wanted to collect objective biometric data such as heart rate, stress and sleep, they would need to hire a web developer to pull the data from the smartwatches. Similarly to what Wix/WordPress did for website building, Labfront’s innovative software provides researchers with a solution that doesn’t require any coding expertise, thus widening their reach and aiding more in the sector.

Labfront Academy is a free resource library that is meant to support young as well as seasoned researchers with the tools they need to flourish in their studies.

Educating through Labfront Academy

While it’s great to provide grant funding and free software capabilities, a new tech tool without adequate training resources is a bit like a kayak without a paddle. In an effort to mitigate the existing knowledge gap between scientists and new technology, Labfront launched their online Academy. Labfront Academy is a free resource library that is meant to support young as well as seasoned researchers with the tools they need to flourish in their studies.

LabFront_setWhat Labfront’s been up to

In just over a year and a half since its official launch date, Labfront has been supporting researchers spanning five continents and in over nine countries, and counting! They’ve been working with organisations and labs researching topics ranging from “How Covid impacted frontline healthcare workers in the first few months of outbreak” to “How Heart Rate Variability (derived from collecting heart rate data from the smartwatches) is related to mental health and overall wellness.”

How SEWF has helped 

Labfront (formerly known as Kiipo) has been closely affiliated with the SEWF for years. Co-founder Jordan has both attended and spoken at SEWF events in the past, in addition to being a member of the 2021 Youth Advisory Group.

“SEWF’s annual events gave us the opportunity to connect and partner with others to create meaningful cross-collaborative projects, such as the Data for a Difference (DFAD) competition,” according to Jessica, Managing Director of non-profit PhysioQ and former member of the SEWF Youth Group.

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Co-founders Chris Peng and Jordan Masys at SEWF 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Data for a Difference was launched by Labfront-PhysioQ in collaboration with non-profit CustomED and brought together high school students during the pandemic, working in groups to research and solve community problems. One group using smartwatches to study social media’s impact on teen wellness (monitoring sleep, heart rate and stress) have decided to move forward and take their study nationwide. You can learn more about their project which has earned them widespread media coverage here

A Message to Tech Entrepreneurs

According to Labfront Co-Founders Jordan Masys and Chris Peng, “Everyone’s journey looks different. We moved away from a non-profit model to a social enterprise and got criticism from both ends – we were either ‘selling out’ by removing the non-profit status, or we were not ‘corporate’ enough by adopting the social enterprise model”. 

Peng added, “It doesn’t need to be one extreme or the other; do what is right for you and your business. Non-profits often need to rely on donations and grants and when you are dealing with the fast pace and high costs of creating and updating software, for us that just was no longer a viable option.

We love the social enterprise model because it allows us to stay aligned with our mission while also innovating and scaling to make the biggest possible impact”.

Startup Business People Teamwork Cooperation Hands Together

Community Connections

“Connect with a community of other like-minded people. Those that truly understand your mission and vision will be your biggest supporters and key people to lean on when times get tough and you hit bumps in the road (and trust me, you will hit many, but the bumps are all part of the beauty of the journey!).

On that note, we are really looking forward to meeting and connecting with everyone at this year’s SEWF in Brisbane, Australia!” – Chris and Jordan

Mirabelle Morah is the community and communications manager at SEWF