BioQuisitive is comprised of a diverse group of individuals with a combination of experience in the sciences, community, teaching and being obtuse. Like all of their community members, they share a strong passion for science and supporting one another.
Their advisory board is made up of leaders in entrepreneurship, business strategy, science and much more. They act as their guides when it comes to navigating more complex obstacles moving forward.
Me: Tell me about yourself, the team you worked with to build BQ and why did you build them?
Gray: My name is Andrew Gray, 30 years old, I’m originally from the bay area (San Fran) but left early on at the age of 13 when my mom remarried a Tasmanian wine maker. So I grew up in Australia, finished high school, joined the US Navy and spent 4 years in the Pacific fleet and 1 year in Afghanistan. While in Afghanistan I happened upon a US base that had internet and started an associates in computer science, and did an elective in Biology. After doing that elective in biology, I fell in love with it. I left the military to study science and explore this new found appreciation for life it had given me. When I enrolled in University here in Melbourne Australia, I was a little annoyed at how little hands on science we were being exposed to and how “babied” the prac sessions were. After having to change Universities and start over due to financial reasons, I was even more annoyed and grew increasingly impatient. So I initially wanted to get involved with Biohacking to start practicing molecular biology and biochemistry sooner rather than later. However, the more i learned about BioHacking
and what this science inspired version of the maker movement had to offer, my outcomes started to, and continue to change.
Initially I wanted to team up with anyone that felt the same way I did, to get this off the ground. I started out by putting out a couple posts on reddit basically asking anyone and everyone to join the cause of making a biohacker space. https://www.reddit.com/r/melbourne/comments/2s505k/biohackerdiybio_community_in_melbourne/
I was also impersonating alumni of various universities to post in almost all of the forums possible, social media, person to person, google forums you name it. I was targeting everyone from students to people who loved to repost pictures of I fucking love science. I found a couple of posts by Meow from Biofoundry in Sydney in the diybio.org channel, and Chris Pendleburry who had previously made an attempt on the biohacker scene in Melbourne before. Chris and I met up and discussed incorporating as an association. I decided to be secretary he wanted to be president and we got some other friends to form the rest of the organization. So the first iteration, BioQuisitive Inc, was formed with anyone that wanted to help (BioQuisitive is an ode to BioCurious, we really liked the name and it reflected our primary drive to biohack).
Unfortunately, not really paying attention to who we had asked to join the team, their visions, and their abilities to contribute, meant most of the work was left up to me and we suffered massive decision paralysis due to opposing views. We ended up getting stuck in a conversation on whether or not a biohacker space was even needed (which I got really annoyed at). Eventually the vice-president resigned (who was a close friend of the president unfortunately) and positions changed. So we continued on with the BioQuisitive.
Soon more people were coming in and expressing their interest in helping. I was a bit more choosy and was relying more on the past experiences of the candidates and recommendations made by friends in the scene like Meow Ludo. Alicia Boyd came on next who took over as secretary, she also has a backstory which underlies one of our reasons for making such a space. She’s been invaluable. Then Toni Bode, who had a strong focus on community and lots of exposure to the biohacker scene in California
joined us. Jarrod Grainger-Brown, a fellow student at my University who shows a strong degree of competency in whatever he does, offered his services as treasurer. We then decided to restructure ourselves from an association to a company limited by guarantee due to liability reasons. A company limited by guarantee would cap our liabilities to the guarantee stated in the constitution. Chris left BioQuisitive as work life demanded his attention (he’s now chief scientist for his company). We now had Toni, Daniel (a close friend and mentor with a strong aptitude for framing important questions) and myself as directors, Alicia as secretary and Jarrod as treasurer, and many more members who are putting in a lot of their own time and money to make this work. Ollie Toth, Thomas Francis Cahir, Leeny Grace, Shaun Wheelhouse, Jake Port, and we continue to grow.
The process was a bit more go with the flow than strategic planning initially, whatever was working we stuck with and whatever wasn’t we didn’t. However now, we're a lot more strategic about moving forward. We create committees to handle various aspects of BioQuisitives key activities. Our committee officers report to the board and the board supports the committees.
Me: How did you find the space and funding?
Gray: Funding was done by doing a lot of BBQ fundraisers wearing labcoats and shouting out phrases like “Help science in Melbourne one sausage at a time!” we got a lot of interest, and some funds to help cover admin costs and eventually the down payment we would need on the space. We weren’t able to get the first space we had set our eyes on, which I’m happy we didn’t as it was almost 10 times more expensive than the one we got in the end in a more central location. Our current space costs $65 per week and is in a warehouse with other creatives with plenty of power tools to share around, bathroom (shower too), kitchenette and a dog. It’s only 4x4 meters but is the perfect starting point for us. Most of the costs have been covered out of pocket by the members and selling T-shirts and sausages and other fundraisers when possible have given us a safe little "cushion". The rent is cheap enough that we really don’t need much money to keep the space secure. We’re currently polishing the business plan to apply for grants. Having said that, we have received a lot by way of pro bono services. Our accountant Jacqueline Hodges is setting us up to become a science charity and has been key in getting BioQuisitive Inc. to BioQuisitive Ltd. One of our board of adviser
members, Andre Tan, has given us a ridiculous amount of support in business strategy and planning. Ensuring that we don't pigeon hole ourselves, and explore all of the opportunities available to generate revenue and deliver the best possible value to our community.
Recently Toni Bode and the rest of the crew have had a huge success in running a fundraising party which got us around $1k which should finish our renovations to become certified as a PC1 (BSL1) laboratory.
Me: Was building the BQ community hard? Who is/was part of the community?
Gray: After speaking with Meow Ludo, it was made quite clear the need to separate the biohacker community from the space. The end goal was to have vibrant communities of biohackers throughout Australia who would then go on to form hackerspaces from that community. It wasn’t very hard. Having a simple facebook group page and posting lots of content seemed to work at getting things started. Really I think it’s the shared desire to see this come to fruition here in Australia. Science has been kicked in the proverbial nuts pretty hard down under…pun intended. So everyone, I think, sees what this could become and supports it. It’s the right time for this here. After we posted some pictures of donated equipment though, we really started to gain more attention, seems seeing is believing.
The community is very diverse…our marketing research shows age ranges from 16 to 60’s, and every profession imaginable (primarily students and other people involved directly with science at some point) who have a shared passion for science, tech, and its accessibility.
Me: What types of equipment did you find you needed and what were the challenges you encountered?
Gray: We have been given a lot of equipment free. Universities are happy to repurpose unused equipment instead of letting it collect dust or throwing it out. BioTech here in Aus are closing up shop due to the cost of doing business here and moving overseas leaving a lot of equipment up for grabs. We wanted to cover the basics, PCR, gel, electrophoresis, centrifuge and pipettes but we have a lot more now like water baths, shaking platforms, scales, MiliQ water distiller, microscopes, gas chromatography and lots of glassware.
Me: What types of projects have you and the BQ team worked on?
Gray: To date we have yet to finish our lab, so we’ve been limited on what we can do. We’ve ran workshops decellurizing bacon with Molecular Biologist/Artist/Amazing human JJ Hastings. We’re working on hacking an air hockey table into a class 2 safety cabinet,
Me: What do you see as the future for biohacking in Australia and globally?
Gray: Making science, technology, and information accessible has the potential to change everything. Not just from an innovation in products/services way but also in a much more personal way. BioHacking is just the beginning and i can see similar movements in a variety of other fields occurring soon. From BioQuisitive we hope to engage schools in what we do, and provide an inexpensive way for entrepreneurs in biotech to turn ideas into proofs of concept. In addition, partnering with Indie.Bio will ensure if anyone comes up with a decent idea, they will have an avenue to take it to the next level while still owning the majority of the IP. The alternative at universities is to give up 60-70% of your IP and pay $1,000+ per month in lab fees. Indie.Bio offers a large amount of funding, guidance, mentorship and much more for 8% equity. These two options are literally worlds apart. For now, here in Australia there are 2 biohackerspaces. One in Sydney and one in Melbourne with a third in its infancy on the East coast. We hope that one day there will be BioHackerspaces just about everywhere in Australia like 7/11's supported by a large and vibrant community of individuals with a strong passion for science, and leaving the world off in a better condition than the way we currently have it.