So, after lots of delays, work, life and plenty of randomness, we’re finally starting to build critical mass for our Biohacker space in the East Bay (Oakland/Emeryville/Berkeley). Each Hacker/Biohacker/Citizen science space seems to evolve and grow in its own unique way and as a community formed and driven space there’s plenty of fun quirkiness that comes from your fellow cofounders, your unique geography (there’s plenty in Oakland and Berkeley, the founding cities of many radical/revolutionary movements) and your founding ethos.
Our group, East Bay DIY Bio, our initial founding name (soon to be changed) has grown to nearly 30 members (with varying degrees of involvement) and as we’re starting to ramp up I thought others might find our initial start up process useful (in the interest of embracing radical openness). So if you’re currently thinking of founding a Biohacker or DIY Bio space, and you have questions on where to start, here are some short reflections to start you off…
1. It’s all about your Co-founders – we’ve been blessed (in the most scientific way possible!) of having a great group of co-founders who on their own are pioneers in science, biotech and DIY bio and have had a lot of experience in other biohacker, hacker and academic/corporate labs. Our focus is to embrace a new kind of science with radical openness and data sharing, the power of a shared ethos helps drive us all forward… this isn’t for the money, this is to create what we want to see in the world! If you’re looking to found a Biohacking space, make sure that you and your fellow co-founders have similar visions and it’ll make life a lot easier to move things forward faster!
2. Governance and founding Charter – there are lots of great founding charter’s but there’s no size fits all for a Biohacking space, as of yet, it’s too early to tell whether a dominant charter will arise but it’s important to remind ourselves that we’re all scientists and founding a biohacking space is still very much a social science experiment in group organization and co-ordination, let the fun begin!
3. Biohack what? – So once your group starts to gel, it’s time to start discussing the unique requirements of a Biohacking space, what are the city, state and federal regulatory requirements for doing biotech in your space (when you get one)? What do members want to do in the lab, what are the BSL1/BSL2 requirements and are all the members comfortable with this type of research? How do you ensure that the space is a safe environment and what type of insurance/biohazard disposal will you need? This isn’t a comprehensive list but it’s a start for important topics to discuss and consider with the entire group.
4. Getting things done – Breaking tasks down and distributing tasks amongst the group are critical, finding organized and awesome project managers to lead each activity in the group (which thankfully we have a few of these types of incredible and talented individuals in our group) is also key. The team leaders for the different action items needed to move the space forward have set up automated task tracking and we also rely heavily on surveymonkey for quick group wide surveys too
5. Financing – this is where we’re at currently, we’re trying to figure out the best way to fund our space and also ensure inclusiveness for those that can contribute but may not be able to contribute financially. This is still very much a work in progress but here are some lessons learned from other spaces, Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns can be a great source for initial founding capital but it is also important to build up enough of a membership base that you feel confident that at least 75% of your monthly rent/expenses can be met by current members. Other members can and will join once you start your space but it’s best to plan things out conservatively and hopefully be surprised by the upside. Some other areas to look for additional funding/financing are grants, corporate and non profit foundations and possibly government groups (depending on members comfort levels with each groups involvement and the strings attached that often come with external funding).
There’s still a lot more for us to do to get our Community Bio Lab off the ground and as we do I’m hoping to share our experiences with the wider DIY Bio community to help more such spaces flourish and learn from our experiences. In the meantime, I thought it might be fun to leave you with a quote from Dr. Seuss and another great video on Biohacking from Ellen Jorgensen from GenSpace, let’s push the boundaries of knowledge together
“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!