Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Lab42

Sandbox Industries

Lab42In the West Loop of Chicago, past Oprah’s headquarters and the meatpacking district, is Sandbox Industries. With its casual dress code, office-roaming dogs, and giant rhino statue, Sandbox is not your typical office space. Sandbox is home to a seed stage fund, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Venture Fund, and its own Incubator.
The Incubator has 18 staff members, all paid to start small companies. Its portfolio includes a daily deal site for dogs and a subscription-based stationery service. Recently, Sandbox launched Marbles: The Brain Store, a retail store that gets your brain fit; the business has three locations throughout the Chicagoland area.

The incubation team produces between 8 and twelve business ventures a year. Of course, not all of the businesses will succeed, but the key to Sandbox is that it’s an environment where it is okay to fail. The team knows that even if you make all the right decisions, the market may not be ideal for your idea or competition could put you out of business.

Sandbox Industries helps take a lot of the guesswork out of typical entrepreneurship by providing mentorship and shared resources, including design, accounting and legal. The companies benefit from being housed in the same space; Incubation team members collaborate frequently and prevent each other from making repeat mistakes.

One of the most important factors in determining the success of a startup is seeing how the market will respond. Sandbox needed a quick, easy and alternative way to conduct market research for Incubation companies. Jonathan Pirc and Laura Rokita began working on Lab42 in 2010, keeping this objective in mind.

The Team

Lab42

Laura and Pirc

Pirc, co-founder and president, graduated from Northern Illinois in 2006 with a degree in psychology. He has previously worked on AFreshSqueeze and Morgan Street Document Systems, where he gained experience with sales cycles and business-to-business sales. Pirc worked on other projects in Incubation for four years prior to starting Lab42; when the concept came about in early 2010, he began working on methodology to make market research accessible to small companies.

Rokita, who is vice president of the company, has worked almost exclusively on Lab42 during her time at Sandbox. She graduated in 2009 from Notre Dame with a degree in IT management. She worked as a consultant, gaining experience with a variety of businesses, and then came to Sandbox Industries as an Incubation team member.

Innovation

Lab42 sets itself apart from typical market research through its methodology. Typical market research firms distribute surveys to a recycled panel of “professional” survey takers; Lab42 distributes surveys through social media platforms such as Facebook. After a user has finished an online game, such as FarmVille, they are invited to complete a survey in exchange for virtual currency (Farm Cash). This is cost-effective and allows them to get fresh, targeted respondents.

“Two major factors of market research are expertise and cost,” Rokita said. “We’re really at the intersection of high-expertise and low-cost.”

Timeline

Lab42 acquired its first paying client in July 2010, gained funding in November, and brought on two more full-time team members in April 2011. Revenue has picked up in 2011, and the team is looking forward to more growth.

“The most difficult part has been client acquisition and sales; identifying potential clients and getting them to commit is key,” Pirc said. Lab42 has gained momentum since it was launched 18 months ago; they have over 20 clients, including major retailers, advertising agencies, and startups, both internal and external.

Infographics & Social Media

Lab42 recently launched an infographic element to their portfolio.“The infographics ended up being really good for marketing; people love infographics, and ours are often posted on blogs and Mashable,” Rokita said. “The visual representation of data really helps people grasp the survey data.”

Lab42’s infographics are created by the in-house designer at Sandbox Industries. Infographics are usually timely, with topics ranging from the NFL draft to dogs and Valentine’s Day. The most recent infographic, a look at American guys and their fast food habits, received over 3,000 clicks in its first weekend after being published on Mashable.

Infographics and social media help spread the word about Lab42, coupled with traditional marketing. “You can’t use social media as your exclusive sales tool,” Rokita said, “but it can definitely be a tool to supplement sales and marketing, another vehicle to get your message out,” Currently, Lab42 has almost 1,500 followers on Twitter.

The Big Picture

With Lab42’s growth has come transition. “We’ve gone from being in the trenches to needing strategy and the ability to see the big picture,” Pirc said. Lab42 has grown from one paying client to twenty within the past year.

Their advice for small businesses? Be open to new ideas and other people’s opinions. “Separate yourself from the idea; if someone rocks the idea, you shouldn’t personally be rocked,” Pirc said.

Rokita agrees. “You need a lot of people to critique your idea before it’s the best it can be.”

Talk to Us

You can find us on Twitter (@Lab42Research), Facebook (facebook.com/Lab42), and at our blog (blog.lab42.com). We’d love to chat about anything: research, infographics, the Chicago Cubs. Just give us a shout!

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