A dog ear for scientists
"An outstanding tool." "Extremely useful software." "I wish I had known about it earlier." Those who write scientific texts invariably have to cope with a mountain of source material – and hit the jackpot if they have installed the Docear program on their computer. Because Docear, developed by three start-up entrepreneurs in Saxony-Anhalt, makes the juggling with literature and citations, with references and one's own notes, as easy as pie. This is already appreciated by tens of thousands of students and scientists all over the world.
"Indeed: it even makes plagiarising easier. " Jöran Beel has to laugh when he thinks about this. "This possibility hasn’t occurred to us yet." Together with his two partners, Stefan Langer and Marcel Genzmehr, the 33-year-old has developed software, which makes writing scientific works spectacularly simple. Today, students and academics from China via Europe through to the USA sit in their offices writing their texts using Docear. This is attested to not only by the tens of thousands of downloads of the program, but also by all the comments on the docear.com website.
The name in the title has less to do with the literal translation "document ear", but rather with how the word Docear is pronounced. It sounds similar to "dog ear" (i.e. bookmark) – a reference to the fact that when working with Docear it's easy to keep track of where you are.
This free program consists of several modules. The central unit is the Mindmap, a document that arranges all the contents in an clear overview and visualises the mutual relationship of the parts – rather like an octopus, whose tentacles are continually dividing. While the users are working their way through sources, i.e. text documents or PDFs, Docear transfers all the citations marked as relevant into the Mindmap. Even notes written by the user in the sources can be imported. The same applies to photos and graphics.
The contents collected in such a way in the Mindmap can then be sorted, moved relative to each other as well as supplemented by individual text modules and categorised. "We also make a database available to the users, which now contains two million scientific documents", explained Beel. And it's still growing, because a search engine is permanently combing the network for new, public sources. "This combination is unparalleled."
This idea was literally born of necessity. "I desperately wanted a catchy historical source", said Beel, "but in actual fact it was the tedious work with the sources for my thesis that resulted in the idea of Docear." Both the computer scientists Langer and Genzmehr together with the business IT specialist Beel have been working full-time on the development of the software since 2011. This was made possible by an EXIST grant from the German Government and the subsequent ego.START grant from the State of Saxony-Anhalt.
The founders also find a strong partner in the Otto-von-Guericke University in Magdeburg. "Our rent-free offices are directly in the university – this is of course great for us." Beel's doctoral supervisor from the Faculty of Informatics, Prof. Dr. Andreas Nürnberger, advises the three founders in all content-related issues. The Impuls-Gründer-Netzwerk (Impulse Founders Network) and the University's Interaction Centre help them with the business plan and the development of a business model, while also supporting the entrepreneurs in founding the Docear GmbH Company.
But in Beel's words, it's now a question of everything or nothing. "We need a private investor to finance the development of the premium services." This is the basis for the business model, which is intended to turn Docear GmbH into a highly profitable company. This is a strongly growing market, and the native Hildesheimer does not fear the competition. "There is no comparable product in the market, which can intelligent and successfully manage notes, documents and literature. Docear will either be an enormous success – or a huge flop. There's no middle path."
The founders intend to take on up to four workers in the first year of operations, and assuming everything goes to plan, after five years there should be up to 30 Docear experts in Magdeburg.
These three rising stars are well aware that this is an ambitious target, but they express their conviction in the ability of their product to succeed in the market. And they are not alone in this opinion. The jury of the regional business plan competition ego.BUSINESS also sees a great potential in Docear. Its founders were awarded second place in the final round.
Provided that the – hopefully soon found – investor plays along, the three founders intend to remain in Magdeburg. The proximity to the university, in particular, is of priceless value. "It's not only the advice and the rent-free offices that are important to us, but also the possibility to remain in contact with the students and what they need when writing scientific texts. This is the only way to tailor Docear precisely to our target group. And in this "war of talents", it will enable us to take on committed and specialist graduates as employees."