Bath-based entrepreneur Arif Butt is a man on a mission — to improve communication in science globally and make the future healthier. Inspired by a personal family experience, he and wife Louise launched online science publisher SelectScience in 1998, when the internet was only just starting out, to give scientists access to vital information to accelerate their research. 22 years on, it’s really come of age… and Business Leader spoke to him to learn more.
SelectScience is a unique business. Tell us in a nutshell what it does.
SelectScience is an independent digital publisher that provides cutting-edge science technology and research news to a global audience of 3 million+ scientists. We provide trusted content and genuine peer-to-peer product reviews, to help scientists make well-informed buying decisions that will accelerate their research. We’re passionate about promoting scientists and their work, enabling online conversations and providing a platform for scientists to share their expertise. In effect, we digitalise and amplify word-of-mouth for scientists on a global scale.
What inspired you and your wife Louise to start the company 22 years ago?
One of our children was sick and we were struggling to get a diagnosis and help. Then we were introduced to the internet and instantly realised it was the future — the internet was empowering us to get information we couldn’t get from other sources.
SelectScience won a Queen’s Awards in 2013 – what did Her Majesty have to say?
The Queen’s words were incisive and served to inspire us further in our mission to help scientists communicate more effectively, both with each other and to society.
Why is it so important to give scientists a stronger voice?
In a world of fake news, people are searching for the truth. By their nature, scientists are analytical people, and they’d rather take the word of another scientist. A poor purchasing decision could set research back months, if not years, so scientists need access to information they can trust — that’s why effective peer-to-peer communication is critical.
So, what’s The Scientists’ Channel?
The Scientists’ Channel is a video platform we launched two years ago to enable leading scientists and medical influencers to share their work and innovations online, in a trusted and moderated way.
SelectScience has undergone rapid growth recently and just had a record-breaking year for new members, reviews and sales. Why?
I think it’s a combination of things. For any business, it takes time to refine your offering, but it feels as though we’ve come of age. We have a talented young team based in Bath – with a mixture of strong science, marketing, editorial and IT skills – working in tandem with an expert international sales team. The culture is right: everyone works for each other. And it’s that great trust we’ve built up with both scientists and manufacturers. For example, they know every review we publish has been fully moderated by our team of scientific editors.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
At times, it’s felt as though we’ve been too far ahead of the curve. The science industry is quite conservative, so it’s taken time to bring change, eg in the value of word of mouth over traditional advertising. Working with early adopters to educate the majority is key to advance scientific research and, ultimately, make the world a healthier place.
What do you look for when recruiting and how do you keep young talent engaged?
It’s all about offering opportunities – and we do that in spades. Careers with SelectScience are what people want them to be – you forge your own path and the possibilities are limitless.
How will SelectScience stay number one in future?
It’s simple: working with staff, scientists and manufacturers who want to be first and understanding what they need to be more effective in reaching their goals. The Scientists’ Channel is doing just that.