The Fourth Annual Inc Web Awards: Killer Apps

Company: Coretech Holdings, in St. Louis
What we liked: The application, customized for a highly specific audience, cleverly integrates technology with human interaction

You don't have to be a brain scientist to shop on Oh, wait. Yes, you do. And the gray-matter probers who frequent Coretech Holdings' site find a service that's tailored to their peculiar needs.

Coretech, a $4-million company, doesn't simply list the scientific instruments it makes and sells. Founders Douglas Martin and James Unnerstall know that their customers -- academic scientists and researchers -- can't buy a single sponge until their universities issue a procurement order. The universities won't issue a procurement order until the researchers have received a university or government grant. Universities and government agencies won't award a grant until the researchers have submitted a proposal. And the researchers can't submit a proposal until they have exhaustively selected and priced every item needed to outfit a lab.

That's what is set up to do. Scientists type into a search field the kind of research they're pursuing -- the measurement of electrical impulses from tissue, say. Drawing on a database of recommendations supplied by Coretech's staff scientists and scientific advisory board, the site returns a menu of all the equipment its customers are likely to need -- such as a vibratome to slice the tissue and recording equipment to measure the impulses. Each product suggestion provides links to manuals, photos, application ideas, and videos.

When customers request a quotation, they get a copy to submit with their grant application. The quotation itself goes into Coretech's database to mark time for nine months or so until the grant is approved. Only 20% of grant applications get a thumbs-up, says Martin. But virtually 100% of researchers who "built" their labs on return to complete the transaction when their grant is approved.

A copy of the order also travels instantly to one of Coretech's two staff neuroscientists, who review it and call the customer if something looks amiss. "One of our doctors may say, 'I see you're doing some electrophysiology. Did you know that the instrument you've selected doesn't do this particular thing?" says Martin. "We don't hesitate to tell people if they're buying too much of an instrument. If someone has ordered the Cadillac and it looks as though they'll need only the basic version, we'll tell them."

Coretech offers some 900 products. But if customers can't find what they want, the company may apply with them for a joint grant application to develop it. Coretech gets the research-and-development funding and keeps the intellectual property. The researchers get the tool and some academic prestige. In three years the company has developed three instruments that way, and four joint grant proposals are pending. Says Martin: "We work with our customers in every way possible on and off the Web."

The Fourth Annual Inc Web Awards

Killer Apps
Printing Money
Rental Health
Lab Retrievers
Take My Payroll, Please
Hoof and Math

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