Oliver Medvedik, Ph.D. | Co-Founder | Genspace

Genspace is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting citizen science and access to biotechnology. Since 2009 they have served the greater New York area by providing educational outreach, cultural events, and a platform for science innovation at the grassroots level. In December 2010 they opened the first-ever community biotechnology laboratory, a Biosafety Level One facility in Brooklyn, New York, where they offer hands-on courses to the public, provide extracurricular experiences for students, and encourage scientific entrepreneurship, particularly in the fields of molecular and synthetic biology. As a community-based lab, they offer members the unique opportunity to work on their own projects and experience the joy and wonder of science firsthand.

Me: Tell me something about yourself, the team you worked with to build Biocurious and why did you build it?
Medvedik: I’m working as a Professor of Biology & Bioengineering and I teach courses at Cooper Union. It happens several years ago, my colleague has a separate lab then we decided to be partners and put up a lab that would be available with architects and designers to work on projects in biotechnological angle, but it’s not that easy at first at the year 2008 - 2009.

Me: How did you find the space and funding? 
Medvedik: It was in 2010, so we have this enthusiasm of opening a lab and we found this space accessible to work people. We put up this lab by getting funds on our own pocket. Our first equipment was even bought on ebay or has been donated.

Me: Was building the Biocurious community hard? Who is/was part of the community? 
Medvedik: Well, challenges, people using its own projects.
The hard part is to look for someone to be there all of the time to help and then as time goes by, there was an easy point which is people show up by word of mouth.
It was an easy thing to start but a hard thing to keep going. Over the years, hundreds of people are taking classes to us, 100 or more members. But as of the moment, 20 members are only actively paying dues every month.

Me: What types of equipment did you find you needed and what were the challenges? 
Medvedik: Mammalian Tissue Calculator and some other must equipment.And also there was a PCR machine donated by a lab that I worked at before. Main challenge is political.

Me: What types of projects have you and the Garage lab, DIYBio & Biocurious team worked on? 
Medvedik: Well, with the past couple of years, there are a lot of projects already that we had.
One is iGem, it’s an ongoing event every year. It is dedicated to education and competition, advancement of synthetic biology, and the development of open community and collaboration.
At 2011 with the collaboration of Cooper Union, we had this project to examine bacteria to produce small chitin. One of our projects as well is getting samples from Gowanus Canal, a toxic river in NY City.

Me: What do you see as the future for biohacking in the U.S. and globally? 
Medvedik: In New York City, there are a lot of big challenges, also little bit of lack too, getting the right people together, get lucky fantastic guy, rent a space cheaply. Pretty good future, technology is maturing into a point to a more and more facing giant market of biotech.

Oliver: “Not just for investor but also in general, funding out with science is a great way to get discoveries made”

Mary Ward | Co-Founder | Counter Culture Labs

Counter Culture Labs is a community of scientists, tinkerers, biotech professionals, hackers, and citizen scientists who have banded together to create an open community lab — a hackerspace for DIY biology and citizen science. Help us build a space for creative exploration and discovery: a place to innovate, learn, work on fun projects, and tinker with biology and other sciences. Help us build YOUR lab! For far too long, science has been locked away in the “ivory towers” of universities and research labs. Silicon valley was born out of garage workshops and hobby clubs, the precursor to today’s hackerspaces. And much of tomorrow’s innovation will be born out of the garage labs of today.

Me: Tell me about yourself, the team you worked with to build CCL and why did you build them?

Ward: I received a degree in biology from the University of Texas at Austin. At the University I had the opportunity to volunteer and work in research and it was from this experience that I learned that I wanted to be a scientist. I already had ideas of what I wanted to learn and what experiments I wanted to do, but there was only the traditional ways,by getting a dream job, getting into a dream academic program, or maybe slipping in as a volunteer at either of these. On a whim, I decided to move to the Bay Area from Austin, in hopes of winning over a PI at an academic lab and getting a job in the burgeoning space in the Bay. Before I moved, I saw a TED talk by Ellen Jorgenson, co-founder of Genespace, who talked about community labs.
So, when I moved to the bay 2.5 years ago I located the only community lab in California at that time, BioCurious, and went down for a visit. It was a 3 hour commute one-way, too much travel to meaningfully apply myself to a project,but eventually I met Patrik. Patrik had been running a bioprinter workshop at biocuroius for about a year and was working with several other hackers to make another community lab, but this one closer to Oakland. I volunteered to help. At that time we were about 5-8 regulars, Ryan was one of them, meeting at the hackerspace planning for the future. The crews were from biology based backgrounds, but none were bench scientists anymore.

Me: Was building the CCL community hard? Who is/was part of the community?

Ward: We continued to work. First our community formed through word of mouth, in an attempt to recruit people that would help with the logistics of finding a space, applying for non-profit status, and legal advice. But, the key to building a community has been to offer talks and classes about science and science techniques. Once we got into a permanent space, the community grew around projects like Real Vegan Cheese and The Open Insulin Project. Finding members who want to pay dues is a challenge and we are still working on how to attract new people and keep the old ones.

Me: How did you find the space and funding?
Ward: Besides member dues we have received larger donations of money and equipment from the community. We have successfully used the crowdsourcing platforms, kickstarter, indiegogo, and experiment.com. We used Kickstarter to raise $30,000 to help renovate the lab. Open Insulin Project and Real Vegan cheese and future projects at the lab have raised money for their supplies and to support our lab, where the bench work is done.
We have also applied for grants for education and art.

Me: What types of equipment did you find you needed and what were the challenges you encountered?
Ward: One of our members is a true mad scientist and had collected enough equipment from auctions to fill a two car garage. Other equipment we have bought or found at Bio-Link Depot, a repository for used and donated equipment for teachers and nonprofits. The biggest challenges have to do with the infrastructure and the degree of openness in the space.
First we had to find a building zoned for light industry and or business that we could
afford. We found a build and share it with 8 other groups. We have had to clean and renovate the space to bring it up to Bio Safety Standards, including adding sinks. We will always worry about having enough power to fuel all the equipment the lab uses, at the same time! Secondly our lab is more or less open to anyone, open without doors or walls. This has resulted in things moving and disappearing. And lastly, as it is with any shared space, maintaining its shared supplies and keeping the shared space clean remains a challenge. So, we have some work to do.

Me: What types of projects have you and the CCL team worked on?
Ward: Real Vegan Cheese
Bioblock Sunblock
SpaceHackathon with Magnitude.io
The Open Insulin Project
And this is a link to projects that I am currently working on.

Me: What do you see as the future for biohacking in the California and globally?

Ward: I hear more and more about new spaces opening all over the world. The tool that revolutionized our economy was the computer. When first sold the personal computer was thought to be used mostly for personal finance, but when the tool was distributed to the user, things changed. Synthetic biology is the tool for the new economy and it is just emerging into the hobbyist sphere from the walled institutions of academia and industry. Most people see synthetic biology as a tool to solve problems, like disease and energy, but now the tools are in the hands of the users, it is impossible to say where it will go. It will lead to more innovation and niche solutions to niche problems. It will empower people to know more about the world and more about what it means to be human.

Joseph Jackson | Co-Founder | Bio, Tech & Beyond

By making available many of the tools of modern life science research to anyone who want to use them, Bio, Tech and Beyond has taken the scientific research process out of the hands of a few massive corporations and large universities and placed it squarely in the hands of anyone with an idea. Whether you're an academic researcher pursuing a hunch, a cancer patient who wants to cure your own disease, a biotech scientist with a skunkworks project, a retired pharma scientist with an idea you've always wanted to test, or a high school student who wants to change the world - Bio, Tech and Beyond can help turn your dream into a reality.

Me: Tell me about yourself, the team you worked with to build Bio Tech and Beyond and why did you build it?
Jackson: I am a Philosopher, Entrepreneur, investor working almost 10 years in open science and my aim is to bring open innovation. With regards to the team, we had partnership with the local government and they gave us unused buildings and assets in North San Diego. There are 20 companies in there and 20 benches. We build Bio, Tech, and Beyond because we wanted to change the way science has done and speed up biomedical research.

Me: How did you find the space and funding?
Jackson: We got a space in San Diego and it was challenging, it needs a dedicated co-worker. With the space, we needed to renovate everything to the lights, the walls and it's a never ending beginning process. With the funds, we got donations.

Me: Was building the BTAB community hard? Who is/was part of the community?

Jackson: Again, challenge. People coming in and out for the first 6 months.

Me: What types of equipment did you find you needed and what were the challenges you encountered?

Jackson: It took up about 2 years to get everything. Microscope, Tape reader, HPLC Gas, GC Gas, HPLC, Protein Stuff etc.. We had 30 shared equipment like, water system, equipment for molecular biology, PH meter and others.

Me: What types of projects have you and the BTB team worked on?
Jackson: Diagnostics, therapies (any bodies), crisper, genome, agriculture, pesticides, biomarkers, drug deliveries and pain fellers.

Me: What do you see as the future for biohacking in San Diego and globally?

Jackson: Few years from now, people are getting more sophisticated, more interaction and more professionalism. Also few in the area have established incubator like Johnsons & Johnsons.
Globally? It will continue to spread more than a dozen of groups. Actually, there were someone recently asking about putting up a lab in Israel. Biotech is an expensive hobby.