Knimbus seeks to connect researchers; Can its premium paid model outgrow ResearchGate's free networking platform for scientists?

9 May, 2012

Facebook is, well, Facebook, in India and everywhere else. But there are new, niche social networking platforms which are now cropping up just like vertical e-com sites do as standalone businesses, challenging horizontal or general e-tailers. In fact, niche social networking is a segment where a local networking platform can still generate traction. One such area is social networking for scientists and researchers at large. No offence to solo researchers but research, after all, is all about collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

This is where two-year-old, Delhi-headquartered Knimbus Online Pvt Ltd is trying to carve a niche for itself. Knimbus was started in 2010 by Rahul Agarwalla and Tarun Arora. Prior to starting Knimbus, Agarwalla was based in Japan and working with Uchida Spectrum Inc, where he was heading its international business. Arora is currently the CEO at GIST, a content reseller targeting the research community.

Knimbus seeks to link researchers through a networking platform and one can also search for relevant research materials here. In a nutshell, it aims to become a combine of LinkedIn and Google, for researchers across the globe.

However, it is not the only player in this game. A year before it started, ResearchGate was born in Berlin, to connect researchers on a social platform. ResearchGate, which has already received two rounds of funding, has grown to 1.5 million users and is reportedly adding 50,000 users a month on the free platform.

Knimbus, in contrast, has a few thousand individual users and is targeting to reach 200,000 users by the end of this year. "But the main differentiator is that we give our users an option to search information as well," said Agarwalla. Besides the usual tagging, sharing and liking options, it has also created a Knimbus search bar, which is there on the sites of the institutes with whom it has tied up. Students can directly search for materials on Knimbus with the help of this tool. Update: ResearchGate inform us it also has search options and researchers can find any content within its network through the search bar.

Knimbus mainly targets institutions and it has built a subscription model for those, offering services such as access to classified journals, e-books and reading materials. The site claims to have signed up some 450 institutions, including Delhi University, IITs and CSIR labs, among others.

Individual users can register for free but they don't have access to all the features which come with the institutional subscription package. And this might explain the much lower traction compared to ResearchGate, which is now looking to (not started yet) make money through job placements on its site and also through an online marketplace for lab equipment.

In the future, Knimbus is looking to add more premium services which would help in monetisation. Currently, it is bootstrapped by both the founders, but looking to raise a series A funding at the end of this year.

Another player in this business is JGate, which is more of a study material aggregator, and hence, not a direct competitor. But who would count out a pivot in the Indian tech startup ecosystem?