Empowering the Next Generation of Scientists

Michael Bodekaer, 30 and Mads Bonde, 29, founded Labster, an internationally focused company dedicated to the development of pioneering online tools for teaching science globally.
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Michael Bodekaer, 30 and Mads Bonde, 29, founded Labster, an internationally focused company dedicated to the development of pioneering online tools for teaching science globally. I conducted this interview for Truth Atlas' "Driving Innovation" series which celebrates successful entrepreneurs. It was originally published on June 9, 2014 on truthatlas.com.


You founded Labster together. What challenge are you trying to solve and what is your biggest goal as a change maker?

Michael: Our vision at Labster is to "empower the next-generation of scientists to save the world." Whenever we talk with students and science teachers, we always hear about two things: On one hand, schools tell us how they are challenged by the high costs of science education. On other hand, students are often bored in science classes because they are stuck with old text books and the schools simply cannot afford to carry out real practical lab experiments. By creating Labster's virtual laboratories, we've been able to solve these challenges; Labster reduces schools' costs by up to 90 percent and creates fun and engaging science education by bringing learnings from the gaming industry into the education sector.

Mads: Both of us strongly believe that future innovations in science will contribute to solve major global challenges, such as climate change, the energy shortage as well as diseases like cancer or diabetes. In order to achieve this, we strive to inspire thousands of students all over the world to study science and eventually create innovative solutions for the challenges we face today.

What is your main motivation for working on Labster?

Mads: Our main motivation stems from seeing students excited about science education and helping them learn faster.

How do we do that? Basically, we are trying to solve two challenges that I encountered when I was studying science myself: Firstly, I realized during my studies that most people find science interesting, if it is presented in a good way. For instance when the teacher would focus on case stories, ethic dilemmas, useful technologies etc. Most fellow students I knew, however, found science extremely boring -- not because of the science itself, but because of the traditional way it was being taught. Secondly, I experienced first-hand how resource-intensive it can be when performing experiments in laboratories when I was doing research at Harvard University. Even today, as a teacher and researcher in biotechnology, I still see the many limitations of the currently available tools for teaching science effectively. We created Labster's virtual laboratory technology and educational 3D software based on these two insights -- that you can reach and motivate far more people to study science when the material is fascinating and laboratories are accessible for every student.

And that's exactly what we can do at Labster: we can bring the best possible science education -- education that is otherwise only used at the world's top universities -- to primary and high schools all over the world.

What do you think is the secret to innovation?

Michael: Creativity and strong will power to change the world. Nearly all our innovation at Labster comes from the creativity workshops we organize. During these workshops we brainstorm how we can further improve the educational experience within our products. Then we gather all the ideas from everyone in the team as well as from the teachers we work with. Next, we test out the ideas methodically. We apply the LEAN startup approach and evaluate the ideas through focus groups where we invite students in for pizza and beers. Many ideas fail when tested out in "real life," and that's where the will power to change and innovate comes in, as we often see 10 ideas fail, before 1 good idea proves successful in increasing the learning outcome for the students.

What did you want to be when you were seven-years-old?

Mads: An inventor.

Michael: Superman. And I still do. I want to save the world.

Michael, you are a serial entrepreneur and on the board of several of your ventures -- from where do you draw energy in your life?

Michael: Throughout my life, I've seen and heard from thousands of people that they are inspired and positively impacted by my work and ideas. I think it's very important to listen, take-in and accept all this positive feedback and appreciation you get from people around you, and then to mentally link it up to as the result of all the hard work you do every day. This rather simple mind trick, is the main motivating factor for me, and I often remind myself of these moments and even overdramatize the huge positive impact my work will have in the future, to give me extra energy and passion for everything I do.

Besides this, I write down my top goals, what I'm truly grateful for and how I can further improve myself every single morning, which gives me an amazing boost of excitement for the day ahead.

What do you want to achieve in the next year? What in the next 10 years?

Mads: In the next year, we are focusing on getting Labster out to as many users as possible, and we are in the process of expanding our sales and partnership team.

In the next 10 years, we want to expand our e-learning platform and be the leading platform for highly effective online learning games with a large impact on the motivation and skill-level of science students and scientists globally.

What is the single best piece of advice you would give to a young entrepreneur with ambitions to change the world?

Michael: Believe in yourself -- never doubt for a second that you can do it! If Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson could all do it with nothing to begin with, then you can, too!

Mads: Contact advisors and successful entrepreneurs for mentorship. Be careful on taking advice from non-entrepreneurs who think they know what is best; sometimes their advice can be dangerous.

Do you have a favorite quote? What is it?

Michael: I have so many favorites. As an entrepreneur, I especially love this one:
"There is nothing you cannot do. Only things you haven't learned to do -- YET!"

Who truly inspires you? And if you could ask this person one question, what would it be?

Michael: Richard Branson. And I would ask him "Who truly inspires you?"

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