The population will be 10 billion by 2050 - meet 5 startups competing for the Thought For Food Challenge working on feeding the world.
This episode we speak to Philip Hemme, the founder and CEO of Labiotech, the leading media organisation covering European biotech. We talk about their rapid growth as a startup, the current state of biotech media, their internationally diverse team, and the benefits of 'open science' to biotech startups.
This episode we chatted to Erin Kim the Communications Director at New Harvest, a non-profit research institute focussed on making cellular agriculture a reality.
We chat about Julian's journey from academia to the House of Commons where he was recognised as the only scientist, a label that Julian was keen to not define and confine his policy goals. We wanted to get his insight into the general state of scientific understanding in parliament, and how scientists can better engage politicians. There's an unfortunate stereotype that scientists hold politics at arm's length, and while there may not be a need for all scientists to be engaged at the policy making level, even minimal involvement (contacting local MPs, etc) can ensure that the topics that matter to researchers are heard.
We were also eager to dive into his new(ish) role as Director of the Intellectual Forum, an organisation that has critical thinking and open discussion at its core, covering an impressive breadth of topics which can essentially be boiled down to anything 'interesting and worthwhile', including the role of automation in the workplace, and addressing social mobility.
Episode 29: Bringing Science to the Senate, where we chat to UC Berkeley Biologist Michael Eisen about his run for senate, and how scientists cannot afford to be apart from politics.
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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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
This episode we chatted to Bethan Wolfenden, the co-founder of Bento Bioworks, a biotech startup that has created a 'laptop size laboratory'.
In this episode we chatted to Christine Gould, founder and CEO of the Thought for Food Foundation. Their annual conference, startup challenge and active community centres around the science and tech working to ensure we have enough food to feed the world.
With Christine, we talked about how to bring together diverse groups of people - startups, scientists, designers, policy makers, corporates and, in particular, young people, to work towards solutions. She explained how the TFF annual summit is centred around experience design and a strong culture of innovation (openness, collaboration, beginner's mindset, entrepreneurial methods, purpose before paycheck and larger-than-life energy), and that this can be replicated across sectors.
Christine was particularly passionate about how young people can build and design the future, and how critical their involvement is.
We were particularly interested in Christine's attitude towards agriculture in 2017 being a place ripe for tech and science innovation, and hence, one of the most exciting sectors to be focusing on right now!
In this episode we chatted to Kristin Ellis, the Scientific Development Lead at OpenTrons, about all things science. OpenTrons is a company that builds affordable open-source lab robots, that remove the need to perform tedious manual pipetting tasks, to free up valuable time for researchers.
We touched on the importance of good science communication and the unfair stigma that often impacts researchers that are keen to involve and talk to the public, and the true value of encouraging that "...and then it just clicks" moment with people previously disengaged with science.
We also spoke about the innovative ways tinkerers have adapted their open-source robots, the value of putting automation into the hands of the many, and the attitude shift required in science to promote prototyping and hacking. We were keen to see how OpenTrons has been received by academics looking to streamline their research and were fascinated by their passage through Haxclr8tr (a hardware startup accelerator, now called HAX). Their relationship to Shenzhen is also pretty amazing - described as the silicon valley for hardware, the labyrinthine market in Shenzhen allows hardware hackers to rapidly test out ideas, a concept essentially intractable even with the electronic hardware superstores elsewhere.
In this episode Tim O'Reilly (CEO of O'Reilly Media) joins us in a far reaching conversation spanning the whole science ecosystem. From the communication of science, to liberating knowledge generated by research from the confines of the static PDF, to the mutual learning experience of colliding technologists and academics,
Tim has been regarded as a thought leader in Silicon Valley over the past few decades, popularising the terms open source and web 2.0. So we were interested to see how he believes the rapid technological advancement of late could impact science and academic culture..
O'Reilly Media also operates an awesome conference called SciFoo. The event is a partnership between O'Reilly, Google, Digital Science, and the Nature Publishing Group which brings together an interdisciplinary cohort of scientists, as well as technologists and policy makers, so it was great to hear how Tim feels collaboration can be done in the 21st century.
This episode we speak to Elizabeth Iorns who is the Founder and CEO of Science Exchange. We wanted to get Elizabeth's view on what it really takes change the status quo in science - both from a process perspective in the way we conduct ourselves in a lab with regards to suppliers, but also from an activation standpoint - instead of training people up on reproducibility, actually going out and making change using the resources she had access to. We are all about finding role models for change at Science: Disrupt, and Elizabeth is a perfect example of someone who takes action and builds the future - making scientific revolution seem just that bit more achievable.
We speak to Chad Rigetti, CEO of quantum computing startup Rigetti Computing.
This episode we spoke to Imogen Bunyard, CoFounder of Qadre a startup focussed on building blockchain solutions that tackle trust issues within enterprises. This could include tackling the counterfeit drug market. Imogen has a particular knack for breaking down a complex topic (in this case the blockchain), grounding it reality, and imagining use cases that can really make a difference.
There's a lot of hype and plenty of misinformation around blockchain, it's either the domain of drug smugglers and the dark web; or like AI, it's presumed that it's a silver bullet for every company woe you can imagine. There's also little effort made to make the topic actually understandable, with convoluted analogies galore.
We were keen to hear about the paucity of academic research in the field as researchers are drawn away from the academy. There's plenty of articles on the idea of brain drain, as corporates look to build up their intellectual inventory by essentially buying up scientists (sometimes even entire labs). Research skills in data science, computer vision, or AI are incredibly lucrative propositions for organisations, and the big tech companies are hoovering up research departments left and right but at least those fields had time to become established as topics of study within most universities.
This episode was recorded in the bowels of Sussex University when we met up with Tom Baden a Neuroscientist interested in how the visual system processes information. Our motivation for chatting to Tom was a brilliant project called the FlyPi that he developed, along with Andre Chagas another Neuroscientist who joined us via the magic of Skype.
FlyPi is a great representation of a seemingly growing phenomena of DIY tools within the labs - you can read the paper for the specs, but in short it's a 3D printed lab for imaging experiments - specifically of the fruit fly (as the name FlyPi might suggest). Along with the FoldScope, and a number of other simple, cheap tools (including a fidget spinner centrifuge ...), the ability to probe the natural world in a meaningful way is being made available to a much wider audience.
We spoke a bunch about Tom's Trend in Africa programme, which trains up researchers in underserved parts of the continent so they're up to scratch with the latest neuroscience tools/knowhow. We also discussed the broad topic of the maker movement in biology, the fear of experimenting with experiments, and the way that DIY hardware in science needs to be shown off in the appropriate venues (and that means not just buried away in the academic literature).
We thoroughly enjoyed chatting to Andre and Tom, and we left feeling energised that the spirit of ingenuity, of tinkering, and playing with science is alive and well.
The showcase featuring 15 early stage biotech startups, was held in the swishy new Imperial College I-HUB.
This episode we speak to Zach Mueller, an Amazon Data Scientist and co-Founder of Sound.Bio, Seattle's first DIY Biohackspace. We wanted to hear about how they aim to build a community around biology, the challenges of setting up the lab, and the efforts they go to to educate Seattleites in modern biotech.
Zach comes to biology with little experience, in fact he was drawn to the field after listening to a podcast that spoke about IGEM, the synthetic biology competition for undergraduate teams. This idea of arriving at the lab with a minimal background in the science, is what these biohackspaces are all about. They're a place where you can experiment with experimenting, learn new skills, and join a community that is committed to producing value through biotech.
The space itself is kitted out with the kinds of tools you would expect in order to carry out modern biology experiments. However, the lab is also keen to leverage the skills and resourcefulness of the maker community, to really hammer home the important concept that biology doesn't have to be restricted to the confines of a university. Or perhaps more importantly, that participating in biology is not simply the reserve of institutions with pockets deep enough to purchase the latest tech.
In this episode we spoke to Jackie Hunter, CEO of Benevolent Bio, a company that utilises machine learning and AI to find previously overlooked drug candidates within the research literature. Jackie was previously Chief Executive of the BBSRC and comes into the AI space with a wealth of experience in industrial drug discovery.