Organised by the University of Cambridge Technology and Enterprise Club (a catchy ‘CUTEC’ for short), the Biohackathon was the first of its kind organised in the UK…
With SynBio veterans such as Bento Bio (inventors of the ‘Lunch box sized Laboratory’ for hackers, schools and DIY enthusiasts), Synthace (which invented Antha – ‘the programming language of biology‘) and their founder Chris Grant, the conference also had some prominent sponsors, from SynBioBeta to MedImmune.
As Thomas Ladrain, the President of Parisian Biohacking institution, La Paillasse, put it at Labiotech Refresh, “A new generation of Bio-entrepreneurs is rising right now”. And he couldn’t be more right.
Synthetic Biology (‘SynBio‘) is a favourite topic of ours at Labiotech, and it’s application in more unconventional communities (from artists to schools – just look at iGEM) is becoming more prevalent with the rise of Open source materials and gadgetry.
And business is booming in the field, with more investors realising that in such communities, truly innovative business ideas are being born below the Big Pharma radar. The accelerator IndieBio is one such example (in fact the first in Europe) to develop a program for this generation of ‘biohackers’.
So the ‘UK’s first Biohackathon‘ gave such students (and even non-biologists) the opportunity to step-up in front of investors and do the same. As the CUTEC team put it…
During 72 sleepless, caffeinated hours of biology prototyping, they devised an idea, built a prototype and then pitched their idea, in front of a crowd of 300 people…”
Judges included industry leaders from Cambridge Consultants, Imperial Innovations, Steven O’Connell (from the ‘startup factory’ – IndieBio EU) and Paul Hughes (Head of Future Business Centre – another Startup company factory).
So what were some of the ideas?
- SenseBrush – Looking to reduce plaque formation and improve dental hygiene through ‘hacking’ of electric toothbrushes to optimise brushing time.
- Heilsa – Enhanced house plants embedded with Genetically engineered bacteria to absorb household pollutants (e.g. formaldehyde).
- SynGene Finder – a comparison website for Synthetic biology services to include time, price and user feedback.
- Petri – A design for a commercial ‘grow your own Petri dish culture kit’, to shoehorn the Urban-Outfitters layperson into SynBio (you’ve seen the Dino Pet and you have Grow-your-own Shrooms…why not bacteria?).
- Charrcoal – a digital search engine for Drug-Drug Interactions (outpacing the old medical DDI manual) as a digital reference aid for healthcare professionals.
- Link Lab – An enhanced and cheaper lab-on-a-chip diagnostic prototype for biotech reagents.
- GMB (short for Gen Eng Bs…which is shorter for Genetically Engineered Bacteria) looking to develop metal pollution biosensors from…well, GMB.
- Alpha-Brick (α-βrick) – an ‘all-in-one’ SynBio service, from splicing of plasmids to cloud-lab delivery.
And the Winner was…Alpha Brick!
The team won £1500 and a place on the Cambridge Judge Business School’s Accelerate Cambridge Programme. I spoke to Evgeny (their front-end developer) later that evening.
He explained what he believed made their design work was the fluidity of the service, bringing each component needed in SynBio research and plasmid design under 1 interface – from the gene editing stage to actual delivery from a remote custom lab manufacturing (i.e. a ‘Cloud Lab‘).
And the drag-and-drop design is always a cool feature to integrate into this kind of software…
Another win came from the Charrcoal team, who’s searchable database for Drug-Drug Interactions (DDI) caught the eye of Imperial Innovations. In a surprise announcement, the academic based investment firm pledged £500 to the trio to help them further develop their prototype.
Was great to hear from those who pitched, and some of the plans were exceptionally advanced given the limited 72 period in which they were developed.