Tag Archives: entrepreneurship

20 Billion Under 20 Book Excerpt

Stacy Ferreira and Jared Kleinert recently asked me to write an excerpt for the book their writing called 20 Billion Under 20. You should check out their website here. I just thought I’d share what I wrote with you guys:

Everyone wants to learn the secret things 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 bullet points, rather than 400 pages. I’m not sure I have any sage advise worth climbing a mountain for, but I can give you bullet points:

  • Just ask – the worst that happens is they don’t reply (perseverance)
  • Believing you can, makes things much easier than believing you can’t (open-mindedness & faith in yourself)
  • The one who is rejected the most is accepted the most (don’t fear rejection)
  • Yes – two people are more productive than one (teamwork)

I was asked to write three pages, and I might get in trouble if I delivered three bullet points instead, so I will enumerate along with some harrowing stories of me saving babies and battling dragons (Look, you’re interested now).

I first heard about genetics when I was eight. The human genome project had come out two years before, and people were entranced with the idea of genes and DNA. I became fascinated with the idea. DNA was awesome! I watched documentaries, read books, and started coming up with my own theories.

But when I was 12, I discovered astro-particle physics. After learning about anti-matter, I thought biology was lost to me for good, I forgot about DNA and exchanged “Genome – the autobiography of the species in 23 chapters” for “The Science of The Impossible”. I spent three years engrossed in black holes, and reverse radiation – but just in theory. I did no more than think, and my plan revolved around going to work somewhere with a particle accelerator. I had the same dream as ever other child – I planned on getting straight A’s, keeping up extracurriculars, going to an prestigious school, and working my way up in a lab. 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 that it won’t repeat it (my dog certainly won’t. His trick capacity lies with in the 60% of times he sits when you ask.) Middle school science tortured the tired teachers, waiting for retirement, and making sure their kids suffered with them. Regardless, I continued my love affair with science, something I know many don’t get to do.

I got to high school, and discovered with shock, that when you presented an idea, people actually listened to you! What was this thing called support? My dog’s hair characterizes every article of clothing I own. Prompting me to build a system that could dissolve dog hair – that if put in a washing machine, would not dissolve the rest of your clothes.

In a completely “practical move”, I decided to ignore all chemical approaches, and theorized an idea using gene targeting to identify the dog hair genes.  Aside from the obvious overkill problems (dog hair mostly consists of keratin, not DNA) I didn’t even know what an enzyme was, but I decided to do a biotech project.

My amazing biology teacher, Ingrid Dinter, directed me to the Northwest Association of Biomedical Research (NWABR) biotech expo, and they set me up with local graduate student at the University of Washington as a mentor. I eagerly sent him an email, and we met up near his lab at the University of Washington. He helped verify that my idea would work, and gave me some things to research.  Armed with only an eighth grade overview of biology, I spent hours online, decoding the I didn’t understand, “What is an enzyme-substrate complex?!” I used a friend’s college login, to get access to the scientific papers on my enzyme, because I couldn’t afford to buy every article I wrote.

Fast forward 8 months, 300 plus hours of work, 10 packages of gel Epoxy, and more than 200 different copper pieces, I walked out of the NWABR Biotech expo with a 1st place ribbon.

But wait. I had spent over 300 hours on this project. More importantly, I believed in the idea. I started looking for lab space to do proof of concept in. I talked to NWABR, Systems Institute for Biology, Seattle BioMed, and a litany of professors at the University of Washington, but now one could give me lab space. I was still 15 at the time, which legally meant I couldn’t be left unsupervised in the lab – a hard sell for any mentor to take on.

I got inspired about opening HiveBio through trying to find a lab. Despite over 100 emails and 10 serious meetings, I never managed to find a lab space. Two months after the expo, my project seemed a lost cause. I was sure that if I didn’t get something the next time, I would quit. When I met Cindy Wu, the co-founder of Microryza, I had told myself that is she couldn’t give me lab space I was done. I’d already talked to 10 different people, and had sent out over 80 emails. 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 it would make a great story if one of those professors offered me lab space. Well, they didn’t. But, I did increase me odds of acceptance. I knocked off 20 people that would reject me in the statistical standings. And three months later I was offered an internship at the Stoddard lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which has been an amazing experience.

But I wanted to open a space for interested people to test their ideas. What about all the other people that have biology ideas? I still didn’t have a space to test my idea. We need to encourage people to experiment with bio, not inhibit them. After reading a Discover Magazine article about DIYBio, inspired me to open up what would become HiveBio.

BioHackerspaces are community lab spaces allowing for experimentation without formal 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 bio! We want to help expose it to the community and explain the science behind it, obviating fear 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.

Through Ellen Jorgensen of Genspace, my cofounder/ director Bergen McMurrary and me met, and started to create HiveBio. HiveBio is a community run organization with safety board officials, and elected directors among others, to insure safety. 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.

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. I hated working in teams. But less then six months later, we’re opening the doors to HiveBio. Not only have we worked faster, Bergen handling the business and building side, me dealing with funding and outreach, but we work so much better together. We bring both of our backgrounds to make HiveBio better. Furthermore, I’ve made a great friend. And do the math. Two people will almost always be more productive than one. You will have to make some compromises, and give a little, so don’t jump in right away, but don’t shy away from teams. Teams have your back, and sometimes you need that support.

As a 16-year-old cofounding a BioHackerspace, I started to garner a lot of press. It started with an interview with Geekwire, and then KUOW starting talking about me. I got invited to TEDMED for free through my amazing friend of Milsal + McCaul, Taylor Milsal. My age fascinated people, and I was passed around from person to person. I feel honored and lucky to have these opportunities at my age, when other people more deserving don’t – but there is only so much astonishment I can take. Age should not be the determining factor. We use it as an easily quantifiable indicator, but many 40-year-olds act 16, and some 16-year-olds can have the maturity of 40. Some things do need to be gained by experience, and obviously I’m missing some things, but so is everyone else. I’ve experienced many things that others never will, and I’m missing out on others. I don’t want this to be a sob story about the troubles of being so young. Most of the time people are excited to help me, asking, “how can I help?”.

I’ve learned a lot about my ability to persist and push myself harder than I thought I could go. When I was building my original model, there was so many times I thought I was doomed to failure. Just reorienting it took me half an hour because of the complexity. I would be sitting in my basement, almost in tears, worrying that I was set up for failure. But somehow, I got through it. Now I approach everything thinking, “of course I can do it, I’ll find a way”. It sounds cheesy, but it’s on of the keys to my success. People laughed when I told them I was going to contact IMEC, but I thought I could, and I did. I believed I could find lab space, and maybe I couldn’t find it, but I could build it. If I had believed I had the capability to finish my model, I could have saved a lot of water rehydrating myself from all those tears.

Oh and also, all those people who said no earlier, I still keep in contact with all of them. In fact, one of them just gave me $100 for a recent crowdfunding project. When I was little, I hated being told no so much that I never asked for things. I had to teach myself how to put myself out there and risk rejection. Entrepreneurship is one large question – do you like me? Because your project becomes you. Whether it’s taking the form of funding, press, hiring, or what not, you constantly put yourself out there. I quit acting the first time I didn’t get the lead, but I’m learning how to keep going after rejections in all forms and varieties. I had to learn how to take constructive criticism, which seemed like an oxymoron. I had to learn, they weren’t necessarily rejecting me, or my idea, they just couldn’t help in the exact way I needed. Though sometimes, people will say NO. Well they say…

 

I received this image in an email I sent to an IMEC researcher asking to talk with him about a gene chip I wanted to use in my system. I sent him a four-paragraph email; he sent me this. Only this. So sometimes they will say no. Out of the 25 IMEC people I researched, three replied, one of them him. Later I talked with the head of their life sciences division tomorrow. Cindy once told me, “A No is always a Maybe until it’s a Yes”. One year ago, his response would have sent me into tears. I probably would have huddled up with “How I Met Your Mother” and chocolate, never thinking of the matter again. But forgoing the pity huddle manifested itself in a call. Trying something will always get you rejections that you’ll have to learn how to persevere through. If you can’t deal with rejection, you will never get to the point of acceptance.

And now I’m starting proof of concepts for my original biotech idea, and working on expanding it into a company – Medi.Rev. Bergen and I got nominated for Women to Watch in Life Sciences Northwest, and we’re only growing. I no longer plan to be just a researcher in an academic lab, and I’m finding much more to high school than a 4.0 and extracurriculars. I believe in what I do, and it makes me happy. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that. 

Thiel Fellowship Finals – The Real Version, please ignore earlier versions

Sorry. I realize the post I published earlier had some factual errors. Please ignore it, and here is the correct one.

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Ok Ok. I know I’m a little bit on the tardy side for writing this post. I’ve been extrodinarily busy lately. We’re hoping to open up HiveBio in the next month (More on this to come), so everything has been eating up my time like Pac-man. But away from what quickly approaches whining territory, and back to the amazing trips I took.

The finalist weekend was one of the best weekends in my remembered experiences. For the first time, I wasn’t the youngest in the room. I don’t mean to get all mushy on you guys, the emotional equivalent of a smashed pumpkin, but it really was incredibly inspiring.

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. 40 nerds were standing around in a hotel lobby…

They were all standing in a pack in the lobby, but it seemed easier to break in than usual. Everyone was warm and excited to meet other people.  After the appropriate time of tentative socializing, we departed in a mass cloud to the Bart station. I flitted around, trying to meet as many people as possible.

We arrived at ChezJJ and I ended up next to Karan Sikka. We talked for about 15 minutes, and then the social games began. We had two minutes to answer random get-to-know-you questions. I talked to Kettner, who originally disgruntled me quite a lot by questioning the credibility of my project. After reflecting on it though, I came to realize he wasn’t trying to shoot me down, just give me advice.

After the usual buffet breakfast activities, we meandered over the Hotel Marriot. Andrew Brackin was leading the way (though many checked his assuredness with Google maps.) We sat down at tables by numbers, and proceeded to hear the orientation – the catalyst of many jokes throughout the weekend as well as some useful information. I worriedly looked over to see that Mom had sat at the table with the Thiel committee, but based of their expressions, she didn’t seem to be berating their educational model.

And then  – the scavenger hunt began. I was with Taylor Amarel, Rachel Phillips, Nelson Zhang, Abody Aljoudi, and Charles Yu. At the beginning, we were extraordinarily competitive. Looking up pictures on our phones, running and solving puzzles frantically. We rushed to statues and parks, slowing bonding close together. (The grand irony of the job distribution was that I had the map – a paper map even! I actually did quite a good job of getting us around, with only one mistake)

After about three hours, we headed to the ferry terminal for a snack. Imperceptibly except on reflection, we had started to bond and become friends. We got to the water, and I happily lead us off the left. Just one building down – I continued to promise. We chatted along the way, me with Nelson, Taylor, and Rachel, and Abody trailing behind. Me and Taylor kept insisting that it was only one building more. “The next one. You can see it.” After a mile or so, we realized we had been heading in the wrong direction. We quickly harkened back. We fell upon the free samples at the ferry terminal like wild animals. There were more clues after that, but our motivation had decreased exponentially, and we mostly focused on getting back to the meeting place.

When we arrived again at Next Space, confusion arose at the sight of yellow police tape. What had happened? As we got in the news shocked us –a shooting?! I talked to Nikita, who retained the shock from hearing the shots, and benevolently relinquished one of my many oranges. We started to socialize, and I ended up next to Laura Demning and Riley Ennis. As Riley explained cancer immunology project, I attempted to occasionally ask and impressive question, but amounted to barely more than a conspicuous eavesdropper.  I eventually left to talk to Cessi Bakshi (name has been changed) and Christopher Olah, a current fellow, about the state of the US meritocracy. Cessi told us about how she immigrated to the US, was homeless for a period of time, and couldn’t even speak English in fourth grade. Because a teacher offered to tutor her, she managed to work her way up. She remains undocumented, but is working the help change immigration legislation.

As the official time ended, we were offered to attend a party at Connor’s house (a next of Thiel fellows).  But I had heeded Kettner’s advice, and realized the imminent need to file a provisional patent. Upon earlier information that Taylor had filed a patent, I hijacked him to help Cessi, Rachel, and me. We headed back Cessi and Rachel’s room, and had a party of our own. I actually enjoyed myself immensely in that stressful, studying-for-finals kind of way. We disperse at 2:00 am, though I worked until 3:00 in my room.

The next morning I woke up to have my interview, and slathered cover up on to try to hide my lack of sleep. I nervously headed up after a snarffed breakfast, and waited at the chair outside the door.

They began by asking me what I would make absurd in 10 years (Like how the idea of pagers is absurd now). I answered with some thing about how we needed to include biotechnology in medicine, and the rest of the interview followed as such. I felt like it went pretty well, they were laughing and didn’t seem to frown at ay of my answers. At the end, we joked about the gorgeous view from the office, and I headed down triumphant to breakfast number 2 (When in doubt, always more food).

I checked my phone, and my friend Matthew Scholz had emailed some IP lawyers he knew to see if any of them could look over my application. Gary Myles of Merchant and Gould offered to look it over, so I sent him the mess that constituted my draft. That evening he sent my a 27 page document. “What’s this?” He had turned my 3-page, 3AM patent into a 27 page provisional that actually made sense. He has spent his Saturday to do Pro Bono work for a girl he didn’t even know! (Right now he’s continuing to help me Pro Bono.   I recommend buying stock in some chocolate companies, because I owe him and other friends and mentors a lot chocolate.)

The next morning began the nervous energy of the lightening talks! We changed into our nice clothes, and frantically rehearsed (and in some cases wrote) our pitches. We nervously ran over to Yerba Buena, and met Mike Gibson along the way. We joked around with him, walking in slow motion and singing “The Final Countdown”, but soon, we entered the stage. We waited nervously in the dressing room, and I rehearsed my pitch while listening to variations of inspirational songs (much Disney was involved).

Image
Photo Credit to Matt Scholz, my amazing mentor/ friend.

We walked onto the dark stage, and waited our turn. The nervous energy was almost crackling in the air. I stepped out on the stage. I gulped a deep breath of air, and began. “Imagine a world where you can prick your finger and if you have a certain disease, a light turns on. I’m making that dream a reality.” Two minutes! How can you fit everything you want to say in two minutes! The timer blinks distractingly, whispering it’s siren song of distraction “45, 44, 43”, “Genetic…. Genetic catalyst”. I recovered quickly, and bolted to freedom.

But at the same time, as I nervously sat in the back of the auditorium, I wanted to do it all over again. Get back on that podium. Tell them why they should support me. Explain my vision. Because I want the chance to tell as many people as possible. I’m like the parents with a new baby, happily showing it off to every befuddled passerby.

Zach Hamed ended with an amazing speech, heartwarming, and emotion raising. We then scrambled off to our tables for the Mentor Match! This part involved Cafe Style interviews where the mentors would walk around and talk to who they were interested in. We milled around, inhaling boxed lunches, nervously worrying that we would be left like the fat kid being picked for baseball teams.

I happily welcomed my first mentor to the desk as soon as they shuffled in, and from that point on, my table was packed. I actually had people circling by – trying to find a place. I only had one moment where I was alone.  I got lots of advice, and gained new ideas as well as made new connections.

We ended with an emotional closing circle. Put a bunch of super passionate kids in a room, add high stakes and little sleep, and normally you get a Hunger Game’s like match up. But I didn’t even register competition. And this is from the girl that breaks a sweat from concentrating on board games. We really felt like a family. I would happily invite everyone of them to come live with me (Ok, I actually did invite my roommate Laura Ball.) I left feeling reinvigorated in a very tired way. Seeing other people doing what they loved, helped to convince me that I really do love what I’m doing. I think all of us have the small doubt in the back of our mind “What if I actually hate this. Then I’ll have studied for 20 years and for what?!” I mean, what if I miss my calling as a professional hip hop dancer? Or opera singer? (My friends would argue that I have no calling towards these careers as they involve being able to sing and dance. I think I perform a great version of “I’ll make a man out of you”.)

With Regards,

Katriona

P.S. I didn’t get the Thiel Fellowship this year. I’m figuring out how I can finish my research, as well as the parent supported IB program. I’m a little disappointed of course, but the Finals were an amazing opportunity. I’m really happy to have gotten this far. And as a friend told me, “A No is always a Maybe until it’s a Yes”