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WBBA Newsletter Article [LSINW PROFILE HiveBio] [Summer 2013] [06/13/13]
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 The Life Science Innovator 
  A WBBA Publication

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HiveBio Community Lab, Poster Presenter at Life Science Innovation Northwest

Seattle is one of the few cities in the United States with a large biomedical and biotechnology industry that lacks a community lab space. To meet this need, Katriona Guthrie-Honea and Bergen McMurray set out to create a DIY bioscience lab. After their successful Microryza crowdfunding campaign generated a great deal of press and community support, the Seattle HiveBio Community Lab is set to become a reality. WBBA is proud to host HiveBio at our Life Science Innovation Northwest Conference in July. They will be presenting to conference attendees as a part of the all-day Poster Session.

Katriona Guthrie-Honea is a student at Ingraham High School and an intern at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Bergen McMurray is a neuroscience student and an alumna of the Allen Institute for Brain Science. Below, they share their thoughts on the importance of the maker movement, DIY-science and their plans for HiveBio:
What is a BioHackerSpace? Why are they needed in cities like Seattle?

Bergen and Katriona: BioHackerspaces are community lab spaces allowing for experimentation without the requisite of a formal science background.  It’s like a gym model of a biology lab: You pay a membership fee to use the equipment, you can take classes and it’s also a community for people that are interested in the same things. Currently, it is nearly impossible for a bioscience enthusiast to gain hands-on experience in a lab without a formal science degree. This requires a level of income that creates an inappropriate gap between means and access to education. In addition, science education in US schools is often ineffective. By setting up places where people can work on their ideas without having it as their formal “work”, people start to innovate. These environments help to obviate the concept of failure, which is essential for innovation. Furthermore, many people are still afraid of biotech, especially DIY biology! We want to help expose BIYbio to the community and explain the science behind it, removing the fear of the unknown. In addition, we want to challenge the current standard that bioscience only belongs in the hands of a few highly trained individuals. We believe that putting the tools of science in the hands of citizen scientist supports true innovation.

HiveBio is a community run organization with safety board officials, and elected directors among others, to insure the safety of its members. We have an educated lab monitor on hand to ensure safety and help advise members at all times the lab is open. Embracing the principals of open access to information, DIYbio seeks to demystify science through education. We offer a wide range of classes, from simple procedures, to more complex theories.

How did the idea for HiveBio come into being?

Bergen: While working with the Allen Institute for Brain Science, I often wanted to carry out neurological research of my own. However, I had no access to a lab with any of the equipment that I would need. I had been spending a lot of time mired in online research, but I wanted to be able to test my theories in a laboratory. I knew through my experiences with other maker spaces in Seattle that there was a sizeable and enthusiastic citizen science community with no place to explore biology. Having been an entrepreneur and organizer for the arts community for years, as well as a member of the Seattle maker community, I realized that I should just create the lab myself. I began working on a business plan and connected with other DIYbio-founders across the country. With their guidance and the support of the very enthusiastic Seattle DIYbio community, HiveBio Community Lab came into being.

I got inspired about opening HiveBio through trying to find a lab for my own projects. Despite over 100 emails and 10 serious meetings, I never managed to find space. When I met Cindy Wu, the co-founder of Microryza, I had told myself that if she couldn’t help me find lab space I was done. Cindy spent two hours spinning out idea after idea with me, taking me to different labs and friends. Cindy represents the idea of perseverance. She unknowingly convinced me to keep going. I spent the day knocking on professor’s doors, trying to get a chance to pitch. And although none of those professors could offer me lab space, they did help me find an internship at the Stoddard lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center three months later, which has been an amazing experience. Still, I wanted to open a space for interested people to test their ideas. We need to encourage people to experiment with biology, not inhibit them. After reading a Discover Magazine article about DIYBio, I was determined to open up what would eventually become HiveBio.

What past experiences lead you to the maker community and this collaboration?

Bergen: Collaborative creation has always been a major theme in my life. In the arts community collaborative work spaces are common and artists working together come to solutions they wouldn’t have gotten to if working alone. When I started visiting makerspaces, I saw the same kind of innovation from collaborative work happening in science and engineering. When individuals of varied disciplines come together to solve a problem they come up with solutions that one person working alone might not see. I wanted to create the same kind of collaborative environment in a biolab.

Katriona: The discouraging experience of having a lack of lab space that prevented me from developing my ideas still sticks with me. It drives me to discover ways I can help other scientists avoid this problem, as well as keeping me personally invested in HiveBio.

What challenges did you face during the development of HiveBio? How did you overcome them?

Bergen: One of the biggest challenges during the creation of HiveBio has been our ability to stick to the original timeline for opening. As I already knew from my previous experiences in building businesses, unexpected challenges always come up when you don’t expect them. However, working as a team with Katriona and Michal Galdzicki, our Chief Science Officer, we’ve been able to navigate these hurdles. Having a strong and supportive team has really been the biggest reason why HiveBio has been able to get off of the ground.

Katriona: Before I met Bergen, I had planned on opening HiveBio in 2015, not 2013. When we first met, I was terrified of working in a team. I spent the first months writing and rewriting my emails, trying to make sure they weren’t insulting. I worried about giving up my vision, about losing my voice. But less then six months later, we’re opening the doors to HiveBio. Not only have we worked faster, with Bergen handling the business and building side, and me dealing with funding and outreach, but we work so much better together. We draw on both of our backgrounds to make HiveBio better. Furthermore, I’ve made a great friend. It's really simple arithmitic: Two people will almost always be more productive than one. Sure, you will have to make some compromises, and give a little; but don’t shy away from teams; teams have your back, and sometimes you need that support.

It is well-documented that there is a low number of women involved in STEM-based industries. How can HiveBio and your own projects combat the perception that STEM is still, and likely to remain, “a boys-club?”

Bergen: It seems the number of women involved in STEM industries is slowly growing. I think part of this change is because of all the maker/hacker spaces that are being created across the country. As the value of STEM skill sets increases, so does the interest in learning those skills. Maker/hacker spaces give women a place to learn outside of traditional educational structures wherein a lot of the inherent gender biases against STEM subjects simply don’t exist.

Katriona: The disparity between men and women in STEM is no longer due to overt sexism, but unconscious signals that prevent girls from going into science. Girls will actually score lower on standardized math tests when asked to fill in a male-female bubble. In middle school, if you have a project idea, you’re told: “How creative sweetie” and that’s that. No help, no mention of science fairs. You’re treated like a pet that does something cute – novel, but we all know it won’t repeat it. In my opinion, middle school science tortures the tired teachers waiting for retirement and makes sure the kids suffer with them. HiveBio will help combat this situation by increasing female access to biotechnology. By the time most students pick a major, girls will have been unintentionally forced out of STEM. However, by allowing women access to biology earlier, perhaps as much as eight years before then, we can show women how cool biology is.

What lessons have you learned from this experience that you would share with others?

Bergen: My advice to other entrepreneurs is to be flexible and build a trusted team to work with you. In my experience, entrepreneurs are usually very passionate about their ideas, but are hesitant to let those ideas grow and change with the help of others. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Collaboration is always a good thing.

Katriona: Everyone wants to learn the secrets that will make their business successful; make them famous; make them money. When I read a book about science or business, I often find myself wishing they had condensed their message into bulletpoints, rather than 400 pages. I’m not sure I have any sage advice worth climbing a mountain for, but I can offer the following:

  • If you want something from others, just ask – the worst that can happen is they don’t reply (but persevere)
  • Believing you can, makes things much easier than believing you can’t ( be open-minded & have faith in yourself)
  • The one who is rejected the most may ultimately be accepted the most (don’t fear rejection)
  • Yes – two people are more productive than one (teamwork and basic math)

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