This episode features our pals Ali Afshar and Ignacio Willats founders of Hackscience, a startup focussed on streamlining research by taking time consuming lab tasks out of hands of the scientists through automation. Their principle product currently is the cell feed exchanger, which replenishes the liquid food required for healthy cells in culture. This process can take hours out the day, and often requires the researcher to come in during weekends. Automating research also allows for science that is reproducible, and it seems that the future of biology is machine readable.
HackScience has its origins as a hackathon, with Ali keen to collide scientists and engineers to solve research problems, and Ignacio being well versed in hackathons, and startup development. The interdisciplinary nature of the hackathon nicely represents the constructive, collaborative nature of the ideal research environment, exposing two often isolated groups with the skillsets, and problem sets of the other.
Rapid prototyping is in the DNA of HackScience. This is characteristic of hackathons, but when combined with Co-Founder Ignacio's drive to always stay on top of the demands of researchers and iterate accordingly, has resulted in HackScience losing sight of the core mission which is to actually help researchers.
One thing that was particularly interesting to hear about was Ali's dual life as a startup founder, and as an active PhD Researcher at Imperial College. We've spoken to researchers that have developed their startups as PhD's in their spare time (Episode 13 - Mark Hahnel), and founders who in order to really make a go of the company felt that leaving academia made the most sense (Episode 46 - Bethan Wolfenden). But Ali is operating under an exceptional set of circumstances. Working three days a week at Imperial developing the science behind printable solar cells and developing HackScience every hour of every other day. The balancing act is impressive, however it seemed Ali would not have it any other way, with the rapidity of startup life as a kind of hectic respite from the slow plod of research.
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** Other podcasts on similar topics:
Episode 28: Science's Mission Control, with Alok Tayi Founder of TetraScience
Episode 46: From Side Project to Startup, with Bethan Wolfenden Co-Founder of BentoBio