New biology lab wants to democratize access to research tools for budding entrepreneurs

For too long, basic biology research has been constrained to academics at universities and professionals at commercial labs. That needs to change, according to Joseph Jackson, co-founder of the Bio, Tech and Beyond community lab, in order to expand the industry. His biotech hacker space opens today in Carlsbad, Calif., just north of San Diego.
Bio, Tech and Beyond intends to “bootstrap” the traditional research model and provide a space for professionals and advanced amateurs to conduct independent research. For a fee that ranges up to $600 a month, they can access equipment and other resources that would usually be inaccessible to an individual. They will also offer classes that range in skill level from student to professional.
Jackson and his co-founders are currently selecting the first projects that will be based out of Bio, Tech and Beyond right now. They want a mix that will mesh well and match their beginning equipment. So far, they know a few of the projects will focus on developing gluten-free yeast for beer brewing, an algae bioreactor and protein engineering.
Jackson said the lab will be especially useful for people who want to develop an idea into a prototype they can show an investor. Right now, funding that type of research and development can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
“There’s a [stage before the] Death Valley Curve when you’re going from a pre-commercial, really early stage idea to something that’s a tangible output,” Jackson said. “We want to bridge this unmet area.”
They also have a business development team actively dreaming up products that could be launched out of Bio, Tech and Beyond. They could think of other applications for the science behind a glowing plant that was wildly successful on Kickstarter last month, plus other biotech projects that are attractive to the average consumer.
Jackson said they’re in “beta mode” for the next six months, and know they can’t always be bootstrappers. The space is meant to be funded by membership fees, the community, corporations and crowdfunding, and they will experiment with other sources of revenue. At some point, they will have to grow by adding more on-site management staff and tools.
“We’re still trying to figure out if we’re the world’s best-equipped do-it-yourself garage or the world’s most shoestring commercial lab,” Jackson said. “It’s clear you can bootstrap for a while on certain things, but it doesn’t work permanently.”
The lab is also waiting for open source hardware to further lower the barrier to entry in the life sciences. Jackson noted that it has revolutionized the do-it-yourself community by drastically dropping the prices to build machines like drones, but that has yet to reach biology. For now though, he thinks they are still hitting the right price point for an interested market.
Jackson believes the lab will be big in its reach. He said discovering biomarkers for Alzheimer’s, for example, is a breakthrough they could make.
“People will start doing more ambitious types of experiments soon,” he said. “It would show you no longer have to be a part of the big research industry to do that type of science.”