Macmillan invests in “Google Docs for researchers” firm WriteLaTeX

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Digital Science, a division of the Macmillan publishing giant, has invested an undisclosed amount in London startup called WriteLaTeX, which provides a collaborative paper-writing tool for researchers called Overleaf.

Overleaf is a WYSIWYG editor that allows researchers to work together on scientific documents that use the LaTeX markup language — ubiquitous in the physical sciences in particular — for displaying and typesetting formulae.

Rivals in this space include ShareLaTeX and Authorea, the latter of which has also benefited from a Digital Science grant, but Digital Science managing director Timo Hannay told me WriteLateX had “shown the greatest ability to build awareness and usage and start building a business in terms of revenue streams.”

“You can think of it as Google Docs tailored to the needs of researchers,” Hannay said. “We’re providing the kind of functionality you might be able to get out of a generic tool, but those don’t give you all the things you need to be able to do. You can do great things with equations, as well as things like integrating with journal submission and peer-review systems.”

Digital Science is a three-and-a-half-year-old mixture of corporate VC and incubator. Unlike Elsevier (see disclosure), another big beast of science publishing that bought research collaboration platform Mendeley last year, Digital Science invests in younger companies, at first putting in a minority stake — as has happened with WriteLaTeX — then buying them out over time. Of its 8 portfolio companies, it holds a majority stake in 6.

Those startups were chosen to provide a suite of products to support the whole research cycle (the buyers are usually universities and other research institutions.) For example, another tool called Figshare is specifically designed to help researchers publicly share data in a citable way, where researchers can track how much attention their research is getting.

Disclosure: Reed Elsevier, Elsevier’s parent company, is an investor in the parent company of Gigaom.

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