I wrote this piece for a DIY Synthetic Biology e-magazine titled BioCoder. The piece wasn’t published in the current issue because of conflict in the contents with another author’s piece. Bio Coder’s second edition came out recently. Click here to see.
The parallels between living beings and computers are well established in the manner both store and process information digitally. Interestingly, the two informational sciences of personal computing and synthetic biology are also parallel in the way the former did and the later would revolutionize the way we do things. It is thus hoped that garage-based DIY enthusiasts would do to synthetic biology, what they did to personal computing. Just as Hewlett-Packard and Jobs-Wozniak came up with HP and Apple in garages, it is not unlikely that the next big thing in biotechnology may be brewing behind the closed doors of another garage. Your idea may seem too stupid to make money from but then as Napoleon Hill remarked, ideas are the beginning points of all fortunes.
Now, if you have begun to realize the potential of your idea, here is a review of how you can tap into it. Keeping in the rebel spirit of the DIY movement, I describe ways other than approaching venture capitalists.
If you have an idea but not the money to bring it to life, let the idea go public and that’s where the funding will come from. Crowd funding websites allow you to make a brief concept or prototype of your idea public. People then fund your project with donations as low as $ 1, often in return for some little perks like first access to the finished product. Some of these allow you to keep the funding collected only if the donations are greater than a threshold value. The most controversial project in the brief history of online crowd funding, was something many DIY biologists might have dreamed of – plants that glow. The Kickstarter project got $ 484,000 in donations. A crowd funding website specific for science-based research is Microryza. You would have to figure it out yourself that which crowd funding platform would suit your needs the best. But, if your idea is something which would be very appealing to the general public, crowd funding is the way for you.
If you are a university student who tinkers around in free time, you are at an advantage over the ordinary DIY biologist. There are competitions which let you try your entrepreneurial ambitions in sync with your DIY passions. The most popular among these, the International Genetically Engineered Machines competition was initiated by Drew Endy at MIT. Teams comprising of undergraduate students participate in the annual event, pitching their synthetic organisms against each other. The students are provided with kits and they come up with standard genetic elements known as BioBricks. Some of the projects at iGEM have had high prospects of being commercialised, such as an inexpensive substitute for red blood cells, cancer specific destruction and synthesis of bioplastics to name a few. In addition to funding by respective universities, the participating teams often get their projects crowd funded. Starting in 2012, the competition has a separate jamboree for participation of entrepreneurs specifically.
Other popular establishments of people with entrepreneurial ambitions are the business plan competitions. In a competition of profitable ideas, the winners are rewarded with funding and expert guidance to start their own ventures. One such big competition that DIY biologists may look at is the Best of Biotech, organized by Life Sciences Austria (LISA). The seventh edition of the international competition commences in June, 2014 and the best entrant stands to win € 15, 000 in cash. There are innumerable such competitions, big and smalls, international and national, specific and broad, that a team of DIY biologists could fancy their chances at.
As famous author Lisa Kleypas wrote, take too much time, and time will take you. So don’t remain content with messing around in the garage when you have what it takes to write history. Form a team, upload a video on Kickstarter, participate in the iGEM or draft a business plan and build your dream.