A case study: how to efficiently set up a research lab

Congratulations! You’ve got a new job, and you get to set up a research lab. If you’ve never done this before, you may think it will go something like this:

1. Figure out what you need
2. Place orders
3. Science!

Sadly, in the real world, setting up a new lab goes something more like this:

1. Figure out what you need

2. Decide which vendors you may want/need to purchase from

3. Start setting up accounts with vendors (don’t forget to ask for new lab discounts!)
a. fill out forms to verify your lab exists*
b. phone call with company to verify your lab exists*,
c. fill out more forms to verify your lab exists*
d. FINALLY get accounts confirmed*

4. Take a break and get some coffee/beer/fresh air

5. Shop around for the best price
a. or don’t…it’s your $
b. spend time on phone with sales reps to get quotes
c. email sales reps to follow up on promised quotes*

6. Create spreadsheet with pricing information

7. Decide which items to order from each vendor

8. Try to place an order

aspirin9. Get frustrated with online ordering system

10. Take a walk and buy aspirin at the local drug store for headache – your first purchase!

11. Place an order.

12. Place a second order.

13. …wait for order confirmations
a. call or email to follow up on order confirmation*
14. …wait for shipping information
a. call or email to follow up on shipping – where is your stuff?!*
15. …wait for invoices
a. call or email to follow up on invoices*

16. Receive items


*not all companies

It’s a lot more complicated than you want it to be. While HappiLabs can’t decide for you what items you’ll need to conduct your research, we are PhD scientists and we have a good idea of what it takes to set up a lab. We are happy to review your lab wish list for things you may have forgotten (test tube racks? autoclave tape? tubing for your shiny new pump?).

Additionally, we are experts at comparison shopping and can help you save valuable start-up dollars. For example, HappiLabs recently went through this process with the crowd-funded, non-profit research organization: IndySci.org.

Our budget was $10,000. The list price for all the items needed to set up this lab was ~$12,700. We shopped around, negotiated with vendors, took advantage of the used market, and utilized new lab start up discounts and got start-up costs down to ~$7,300 – an overall savings of ~$5,400 or 42%!

As you may expect, Chemicals and Lab Equipment were the two largest expenses in purchasing for a new lab. They were also the two categories we were able to save the most money in:IndySci_SavingsByCategory

           Total Savings: $5,400
           (over list prices)

     Savings on Chemicals: $2,980

Savings on Lab Equipment: $1,260

Saving $5,400 does take some time and effort. Here is a breakdown of the time consumption:

IndySci Time Graphic

When trying to maximize your budget, you want to use your money AND time efficiently. Do you have 20+ hours for this job? If you’re starting up a lab, you can turn product research and ordering processes over to your friendly neighborhood Virtual Lab Manager. We’ll handle your lab set-up process with a smile so that you can focus on other, more important things, such as science and business development.

(The lab setup and this writeup was mostly managed by our Virtual Lab Manager Liz Sacho, PhD aka @ejsacho)

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