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Another exit for a NYC startup: Authorea, co-founded by the Italian astrophysics Alberto Pepe, has been acquired by Atypon, the leading online scholarly publishing technology company.
“I want to bring sexy back to science”, Pepe said when he launch his startup in 2012 with Nathan Jenkins. “Our mission – Pepe now explains – has been the same from day one: to improve the ways in which researchers write and publish their work. We’ve felt that science writing and publishing are not as modern as they could be, which is why we built Authorea, so that research documents can exist on an open, online, data-driven, interactive platform.”

Alberto Pepe

Atypon’s parent company is Wiley (listed at NYSE) that is pioneering Open Access, linked data, streamlined editorial processes, and HTML-first publishing among its authors. “Thanks to the acquisition – says Pepe – Authorea will receive a line of investment that will help us build stronger team and product. In short, Authorea is about to get a lot faster, more robust, and ultimately more valuable to all researchers.”

Authorea was the first startup created by an Italian that was able to raise money among NYC investors, thanks to the VentureOutNY program. “We raised a $600,000 seed round with a term sheet from New York Angels, with Brian Cohen and Alessandro Piol leading the pool of investors – remembers Pepe -. I met them at the VentureOutNY event on December 3, 2013. Cohen has a Master of Science and Technology Journalism and was interested in my scientific background; together with Piol he helped me elaborate a business plan, which was a difficult task for me”.
Born in Manduria, where everybody, including his family, makes wine (the Primitivo), Pepe has always been fascinated by math, astronomy, astrophysics. Here is his story, as he told me: “After high-school, in 1998 I decided to go and study in London. I knew nothing about the Internet, or about how to apply to a British college. So when I went to UCL (University College London) in September, thinking I could immediately enroll and start my classes, I looked very naïf, but they liked my spirit, and they accepted me, provided that I would spend one year studying English. At UCL, I got my Bachelor degree in Astrophysics (2002) and my Master in Computer Science (2003).”
“Then I went back to Italy where I worked for six months at CINECA (InterUniversity Consortium, Bologna) with the Scientific Computing and Data Visualization Group. From 2004 to 2006 I worked in Geneva, Switzerland, in the Information Technology Department at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). At CERN, I dealt a lot with archives and I started cultivating the idea of an open access to science.”
“In 2006 I moved to California, where I got my Ph.D. in Information Studies at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). My Doctoral dissertation was about “Structure and Evolution of Scientific Collaboration Networks in a Modern Research Collaboratory”: it’s the scientific foundation for my startup.”
“In June 2010, after finishing my PhD, I met professor Alyssa Goodman, professor at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in Cambridge, Massachusetts https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/~agoodman/ : after a ten minute conversation she hired me. So I did my Postdoctoral research at Harvard, where I stayed until four months ago, when I resigned in order to focus on my startup (Professor Goodman is on Authorea’s board as Senior Scientific Advisor). I founded Authorea in 2012 with Nathan Jenkins, whom I met in Geneva.”

Why did Pepe leave research at the university? “It was fun – he explains -, but sometimes the academic world changes very slowly. I’ve been doing research for the last 14 years, and I’ve published a couple dozen scientific papers, besides my Doctoral dissertation, which was awarded the prize as the best one in the fields of Info science and technology. So I know very well how the scientific publication business works and what’s wrong: we do 21st century research, but we write and disseminate the results with 20th century tools, which were created before Internet was invented. Even worse, we package the results in a 17th century format, the same that Galileo invented to communicate with his scientific community and with the church authorities. However, Galileo in his scientific articles included all data from his observations. That’s impossible today, with huge data, so we publish only a very superficial version of our data, giving a link to a server where the whole data are available. But that’s very static.”
That’s why Pepe created Authorea, “a platform that let scientists create an article as a dynamic project, where all the results are transparent and include not only text but also images, data, and analysis”, he stresses.
Authorea is based in NYC because in 2013 Pepe came to New York as Visiting Researcher in Astrophysics and Cosmology at NYU (New York University), and he fell in love with the city”.