Gas station without pumps

2017 July 12

UCSC iGEM crowd-funding 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:30
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Each year a group of UCSC bioengineering engages in a summer research project in synthetic biology as part of the iGEM synthetic biology competition.  Although they get some support from the University, they have to raise the money for going to the iGEM jamboree (the conference where every team presents its results) by crowd-funding.

The UCSC iGEM team has opened their crowd-funding site for this summer:
UC Santa Cruz | UCSC iGEM 2017: Bugs without Borders

UCSC iGEM 2017: Bugs without Borders

What is iGEM?

The iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) competition is an international symposium dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology. For over 10 years, iGEM has been encouraging students to work together to solve real-world challenges by building genetically engineered biological systems with standard, interchangeable parts. Student teams design, build and test their projects over the summer and gather to present their work and compete at the annual Jamboree.

The epitome of undergraduate research, iGEM provides an unparalleled opportunity for talented students to administer their own projects, advocate for their research and procure resources for funding. In doing so, the competition promotes creativity, collaboration and curiosity as students develop the critical, analytical, and independent real-world problem solving skills that are difficult to cultivate within the classroom.

Our Project: Bugs Without Borders

UCSC’s 2017 iGEM team is focused on the shortage of supplements and essential vitamins in third world countries. Affectionately dubbed “Bugs without Borders”, this year’s project aims to engineer a Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) microorganism capable of producing a target supplement or essential vitamin in a safe and efficient manner.

Go to their crowd-funding site and watch their video to see what they are planning for this year.

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2016 October 23

UCSC athletics “town hall”

A year and a half  ago, I wrote a post, I’m proud of UCSC undergrads, in which I praised UCSC undergrads for rejecting a fee to subsidize the approximately 250 Division III athletes on campus, and last Spring I wrote Not so proud of UCSC undergrads this year, when they voted 63% in favor of being asked if they would support a new fee of $270 a year to support the NCAA athletes (about $4.3 million for 16,000 students, or $14,000/athlete for the 300 NCAA athletes).

Last Spring, the Faculty Senate put together an ad hoc committee to report on athletics, but only those who strongly supported athletics volunteered to serve on it, so it came out with a very strongly pro-athletics report that I don’t believe honestly reflects faculty opinion. I particularly object to the claim

Perhaps more importantly, as faculty, we have great concern that the termination of UCSC student athletics, a program that distinguishes itself in the classroom and in competition, would signal to the world that we cannot maintain a first-class university.

That is BS of the highest order—being a first-class university has nothing to do with athletics, certainly not in the world outside the USA.  And even in the USA, a few Division III teams has nothing to do with the perception of the university.

Quite frankly, I find it shameful that the administration is spending $1million a year of unrestricted funds on NCAA athletics—that amount of money would hire instructors for about 100 more classes, helping about 3500 students, rather than 300.  The big advantage of sports on a campus comes from student participation, not being spectators, so funding models that provide facilities for intramurals and club sports that any student can participate in make much more sense than dedicating funding for a tiny number of privileged athletes.

Last Wednesday the Faculty Senate athletics committee had a “town-hall meeting”, ostensibly to get comments from students, but the audience consisted almost entirely of the NCAA athletes and their coaches, so turned into a “how can we get this passed?” rather than having students discussing whether it was a good idea.  The few students there who were not NCAA athletes were probably too intimidated by being surrounded by athletes to raise any objections—though one student did bravely ask what fraction of the students benefited from the student fee (a bit less than 2%).

There were some very strange ideas being passed around—like that students who weren’t athletes were getting sweetheart funding that the athletes should be getting instead (or perhaps as well).  The question was brought up of where engineering students got their funding from (which was not answered).  That one struck me as particularly strange, as engineering students generally end up either self-funding, crowd-funding, or getting funding from grants that faculty have spent years trying to get—they aren’t getting any handouts from the rest of the students!

A case in point: the iGEM project team needed about $25,000 for the 20-member team for the equipment, reagents, and travel to the iGEM conference. They raised this money through a crowd-funding campaign (which means that most of it came from family and friends).  The instructor’s salary was paid out of summer-school tuition (again, paid for by the team members, as there is no general-fund subsidy for summer school).  Rather than getting a $14,000 subsidy per team member like the athletes are asking for, they were paying out thousands of their own money to attend summer school to be on the team, and doing crowd-funding for the rest.  I have no objection to the NCAA teams running crowd-funding campaigns.

There is some industrial sponsorship for a few senior engineering capstone projects (maybe a quarter of all the capstone projects in the Baskin School of Engineering).  That sponsorship comes as a result of many years of hard work by faculty and administrators making contacts in industry and begging for support for student projects (and those projects come with several strings attached, sometimes including ownership of the students’ work by the sponsoring company, I believe).

Funding for student projects in engineering is much more like club sports than like NCAA athletics—essentially everything is paid for by the students involved, either directly or through fund-raising.  The same is largely true of other student groups on campus (theater groups, dance groups, artists, … ).  All the groups can apply for tiny amounts of money from student fees through the student government—only the NCAA athletes seem to feel that they deserve much, much more than that.

Theater and dance groups often need instructors, the same way that athletes need coaches, but there is no built-in funding for these instructors.  For the most part, they are paid for teaching courses, as OPERS coaches are—why should one group of instructors have a dedicated student fee, when others do not?

The NCAA athletes at UCSC are not dumb jocks—they have a higher GPA and graduation rate than the campus as a whole, so they must be aware that they are asking for very special privileges that are not given to other students.  Why do they or their coaches deserve special treatment?

2016 July 30

UCSC iGem 2016: Sugar Slugs

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:46
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UCSC’s 2016 iGEM team has finally had their crowd-funding site go live at https://crowdfund.ucsc.edu/project/2548.  They have an interesting project this year:

Engineering a Better Future

The world of crop production is laden with agricultural co-products that are unfit for human consumption. The vision of the UCSC iGEM team is to develop a novel process for converting these co-products into the high-value sweetener, Erythritol. It’s simple, sweet, and best of all, zero-calorie.

Ever wanted a bioreactor you can control at the click of a button? Our team is also designing and building our very own autonomous bioreactor, the Taris V1. Whether its temperature, pH, nutrient uptake, or beyond, our bioreactor will also monitor and feed its internal conditions into an online interface where users can seamlessly track their data and change conditions as they see fit. Talk about convenience.

With its low cost and ease-of-use, we hope our Taris V1 bioreactor can serve as a platform for other teams across the globe to create innovative solutions to real-world problems.

Source: UC Santa Cruz | UCSC iGem 2016: Sugar Slugs

I don’t know much about what they are doing for the metabolic engineering to make the erythritol, but the bioreactor project is a rather fun “maker” project.

They have posted their budget on-line, and by far the largest cost is getting to the iGEM “Jamboree” in Boston in October. All the lab equipment is provided by UCSC (except the bioreactor they are designing and building), and all the student labor is free (in fact, they are paying summer tuition in order to take the iGEM course). So they have about $1000 for hardware, <$200 for reagents, and $31,300 for travel to the conference.  I think that they’ve over-estimated the price of flying to Boston, though, as Southwest flights are currently about $320 round-trip, and ground transportation at each end would probably add only about $200 to that, so 21 people  (20 undergrads and 1 instructor) should be able to do the travel part for under $11,000.  They’ve probably underestimated the lodging costs though, unless they are planning to pack like sardines into an AirBNB rental.

I’ve been thinking of going to the iGEM conference myself this year (on my own money, not crowd-funded), as I’ll be on sabbatical in October, and not teaching. I’ll have to make up my mind soon, though, as the cheap flight prices will probably go away.

I’ll be giving the iGEM team some money for their crowd-funding campaign, as it would be valuable for all of them to be able to attend the conference after the work they’ve put in—I know many of the students on the team this year, and they are the hard-working students that teachers love to have in their classes.

I urge others to make at least a token donation, to let them know that the hard work they are doing is recognized by the community.  Donations can be made through the UCSC crowd-funding site.

Disclaimer: I’m officially the “2nd PI” for the iGEM team this year, because the iGEM organization insisted on there being two faculty involved. I’ve done some advising on the bioreactor project also, though only through a few conversations with the lead designer on that team (who was also my group tutor for my applied electronics course in the spring).

2015 January 11

Kickstarter campaign finished at 307%

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 13:01
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kinetic_big

In Kickstarter campaign continues strong, I predicted

I’m expecting to see a bit of tick upwards on Boxing Day (26 December) as people are given monetary presents and decide to get themselves the lights, and perhaps another uptick on Jan 2 or Jan 5, as people go back to work.

In Kickstarter campaign still slowly gaining, I said

The first of those predictions was not met.  According to Kicktraq, there were only 2 backers ($378) on Dec 26, the second smallest day they’ve had (Dec 23 was 2 backers and $338).

In Kickstarter campaign predictions partly right, I said

The $55k stretch goal is no longer looking likely, but still possible—they would need to raise $780/day for the five and half remaining days.  But they have already announced on the Kickstarter site that they’ll be doing clear bulbs for everyone even if the stretch goal isn’t met—so there is no special incentive for the stretch goal any more.

I’m very happy to have been wrong.  I managed to time my contribution to put them over their $55k stretch goal a couple of days ago, and they ended up with $61,337, well over the minimum of $20k they needed to get funded and to do a small production run. I estimate that they’ve sold about 3370 boards (adding up the number of backers at each level may be a slight underestimate, as some backers may have ordered multiple sets).

It was interesting watching the progress on Kickspy, which provides a history of their predictions of where the campaign would end up (on the original site, mouseovers give you the daily funding and prediction figures):

Kickspy was always a bit too optimistic, with a low of $63,144 (2.9% too high) and a high of $79,054 (28.9% too high).  The predictions are better than I would have made, though (I was much more pessimistic).

Kickspy was always a bit too optimistic, with a low of $63,144 (2.9% too high) and a high of $79,054 (28.9% too high). The predictions are better than I would have made, though (I was much more pessimistic).

Kicktraq‘s predictions fluctuated a lot, and they don’t report their history of predictions for a single project (probably because it is such a wild swing back and forth).  But they do report the daily funding:

The big burst on the first day was the big surprise for the campaign, but I was also surprised by the negative days in the middle, where more money was withdrawn from the campaign than added.

The big burst on the first day was the big surprise for the campaign, but I was also surprised by the negative days in the middle, where more money was withdrawn from the campaign than added.

They did a good job of their promotion campaign, which was mainly done through their Facebook page (and lots of social media sharing). This was not a “family and friends” fund-raising—most of the backers were people that were previously unknown, who were genuinely excited by the product. The campaign also benefited from some good press coverage, particularly by the Santa Cruz Sentinel, which covered them in three separate articles during the month. I’ve collected the media reports I’ve been able to find onto a Futuristic Lights media page.

The Futuristic Lights campaign succeeded much better than I would have imagined (better than the founders thought it would also). Of course, they don’t get the full amount, as Kickstarter and Amazon take out their fees—they probably get a little over 90% of what was pledged. They’re thinking that for the next product they will probably skip Kickstarter and introduce the product directly, funding initial production out of proceeds from the Kinetic sales. That’s still some time in the future, though—for now they have to focus on getting the Kinetics manufactured and shipped.

I think that they are planning one more round of prototypes to confirm a couple of improvements that they came up with during the current prototype run, then full production! They’re still looking at small-batch production (probably 7000 boards, unless they’ve gotten a big wholesale order), but they should get somewhat better pricing than at the 1000-board level (and much better than the 100-board level, which is the biggest prototype run they’ve done). There are generally price breaks at 10000, though, which I don’t think that they can quite reach (again, unless they got a wholesale order).

 

2015 January 5

Kickstarter campaign predictions partly right

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:32
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kinetic_big

In Kickstarter campaign continues strong, I predicted

I’m expecting to see a bit of tick upwards on Boxing Day (26 December) as people are given monetary presents and decide to get themselves the lights, and perhaps another uptick on Jan 2 or Jan 5, as people go back to work.

I Kickstarter campaign still slowly gaining, I said

The first of those predictions was not met.  According to Kicktraq, there were only 2 backers ($378) on Dec 26, the second smallest day they’ve had (Dec 23 was 2 backers and $338).

The Jan 2 and Jan 5 predictions were better: both were good days at $897 and $1492. But I hadn’t predicted that there would be negative days, where more backers withdrew than contributed (–$123, –$149, and –$492 on Dec 29, Dec 30, and Jan 4), so they hovered around $48k–$49k for quite a while. Kicktraq and Kickspy projections have diverged even further, with Kicktraq suggesting $53k–$56k and Kickspy  more optimistic ($66.7k). (Yesterday Kicktraq was even lower, and Kickspy was higher—we’ll see who got it right next week.)

I don’t know how much of the uptick on Jan 5 is due to the back-to-work phenomenon, and how much is due to an article about the company in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. That article is pretty good, though they make it sound like Abe J. joined the company before Abe K., and that Abe J. contributed to the software on the Kinetic (he’s been working on other product ideas and on the web store that the company plans to open). I’ve added that link and a few others I’ve found to the Futuristic Lights media page I’m keeping (as an outsider, not for the company, though they are welcome to copy it to their site).

The $55k stretch goal is no longer looking likely, but still possible—they would need to raise $780/day for the five and half remaining days.  But they have already announced on the Kickstarter site that they’ll be doing clear bulbs for everyone even if the stretch goal isn’t met—so there is no special incentive for the stretch goal any more.

They’re now up to 2782 boards pre-sold, so I’m pretty sure they’ll make at least 6000 (more if they can get a wholesale order before they have to commit to manufacturing).

They expect now to pay off all the loans to the company and have enough of the Kinetic manufactured to open their web store after the Kickstarter orders have all been fulfilled. They won’t be paying themselves yet—still plowing all proceeds into growing the company. They do have other ideas for products, which they plan to develop and release at a rate of one or two a year—I don’t know whether they’ll be able to do that with Abe K. being a full-time college student (taking an overload of courses this quarter—3 computer science, 2 math, and 1 acting class, plus joining the Multicultural Drama Company at UCSB). My son corrects me, to say that it is 4 ¼ CS, 1 math, and 1 acting.

 

If you haven’t checked out their Kickstarter page, please do so—they really have created the best of the microlights on the market, and their web page describing the product is quite well done.

 

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