Combining twin passions

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Sami Benchekroun

Sami Benchekroun explains how a love of entrepreneurship and scholarly communications have shaped his career

Tell us a little about your background and qualifications…

I first became intrigued by the world of scholarly communications when I was an undergraduate at university studying information and communication management. As a side job, my good friend (and now co-founder) Justus Weweler and I worked as IT consultants at academic conferences across Europe. As we travelled from conference to conference, I realised that they all had a similar format and were largely restricted to the offline realm, disconnected from scholarly communications as a whole. I was shocked to see how much valuable knowledge was lost every time a researcher rolled up their poster and took it home with them at the end of a meeting.

I continued to work at meetings while completing my Masters of Science and Management at ESCP Europe, all the while thinking of ideas to improve the conference experience for both attendees and sponsoring organisations. When I neared the end of my degree, I decided to focus my energy on this and pursue a career that combined my two passions: entrepreneurship and scholarly communications. I wanted to build a technology company that would help improve the efficiency and transparency of the research process and have a positive impact on the scientific ecosystem as a whole.

Together with Justus, we launched Morressier in 2014 and over the past six years have grown the company into the world’s leading platform for early-stage research. Today, we work with more than 200 societies, institutions, and research organisations to support their virtual and hybrid conferences and disseminate their resulting early-stage research. I’m very proud of the team that we have built around the world and I love working with them to tackle new challenges that arise in our industry.

What is Morressier, and how does it fit in with the scholarly communications industry?

We founded Morressier to bridge the gap between academic conferences and scholarly communications. Our goal is to support impactful virtual and hybrid conferences and increase the value they offer attendees, members, societies, and the broader scholarly community. We provide a suite of software tools and custom integrations that help organisations display, host, and fully integrate the abstracts, posters, presentations, and proceedings from their conferences. Understanding the need for conferences and early-stage research preservation to be sustainable, we also offer our partners the ability to monetise this content and generate new revenue streams.

As conference content has traditionally been kept hidden, it is very important to us to tie it into the broader scholarly communications world, which is why all posters and presentations are assigned a DOI when uploaded to Morressier and researchers can login to the platform using their ORCID iDs. This way, we aim to connect conference content to the entire research lifecycle and extend the recognition of a researcher’s work beyond what you see in a final published paper.

Recently, we also launched rich media formats on our platform, including video streaming services that allow researchers to present their posters virtually and provide more context to their work. This is one step we’ve taken towards building a complete set of solutions for virtual conferences, a major industry need at the moment. As the world adjusts to a ‘new normal’, we are convinced that the industry will continue to see the value in providing virtual and hybrid conference solutions using a dedicated platform approach alongside in-person meetings.

What is the industry's most pressing need right now?  

For too long, the scholarly communications industry has focused on the final journal article and hasn’t paid enough attention to the process that a researcher took to get there. Data sets, negative results, and of course conference posters and presentations are often hidden, whether in notebooks or conference halls. I strongly believe that this needs to change in order to accelerate research breakthroughs. When content is shared throughout the research process, scientists can discover relevant findings at a much earlier stage, rather than waiting months or years for a paper to be published.

I do see a shift in the industry and a growing interest in looking further upstream, however there is still a ways to go until research is connected from beginning to end. When you consider academic conferences, for example, many are only just turning to digital solutions and looking for ways to share conference research and increase its impact. Going forward, we need to strike a balance between in-person and virtual experiences that best supports researchers and evolving scholarship.

What do you think will be the key developments in scholarly communications over the next decade?

The move towards a more digital, open, and data-driven research approach will define scholarly communications in the future. By giving access to the research process from idea to final results, with all the discussions and iterations that happen along the way, we will be able to access so many insights and data points that can help make research more efficient. This shift won’t happen overnight – we still need to figure out the most effective way to communicate and share virtually – however, the process to get there will be a critical evolution for scholarly communications.

Over time, we will see additional tools and technologies emerge that change the way that this kind of content is shared, discovered, and analysed to make it as useful as possible. I also see major revenue-generating potential in these kinds of tools and services. This could help the scholarly communications industry move away from (in some cases) over-charging for access to published content and towards a business model that’s driven by value-added technology services.

Any interesting facts, pastimes or hobbies that you want to tell us about?

I love to spend time in the garden – in fact, during lockdown I managed to install an entire new watering system myself, which was a rewarding (and exhausting) way to spend a day. I’m fascinated by intelligent gardening apps and use them to ensure the optimal conditions for my plants. The fact that I can water my garden with just the touch of a button no matter where I am brings me a lot of joy!

I am also a huge opera and classical music fan - I gain so much inspiration from music. I’ve missed going to concerts throughout the Covid-19 crisis and can’t wait to have a night out once the venues reopen.

However, as much as I love these pastimes, the time that I spend with my two young children, Emilia and Paul, is by far the most rewarding and enjoyable part of my day. It’s so incredible to watch them grow and to see the world through their eyes. This really helps me get in touch with my inner child and keeps my curiosity alive!

Interview by Tim Gillett