Nine creatives in biotech you need to know right now

NextNature.net
May 28th 2020

The field of biofabrication is still new to most people. As founder and CEO of Biofabricate, Suzanne Lee shared with us this exciting online event series Creatives in Biotech. If you are a designer dreaming of a career in biofabrication, this is for you. Spanning four weeks in May six conversations have been had with creatives that work full-time-in-house at biotech startups in the US and in Europe. These livestreams have been recorded and are available online, and we are happy to share these with you.

Maurizio Montalti in conversation with Suzanne Lee (screengrab NNN) © Biofabricate

Meet Maurizio Montalti | MOGU

The first conversations kick off with Maurizio Montalti, the co-founder and managing partner of MOGU. Montalti tells us about the path he took to get to where he is now. His choice to learn design by himself allowed him to get a master’s in design. This provided him with the opportunity to work in between science and design and to stumble upon the “Kingdom of Fungi”. Now Montalti works at MOGU, a transdisciplinary design research practice based in Amsterdam.

Montalti goes more into depth with regards to funding their work and describes the progress of going from an exploratory process to founding a company. His life has changed dramatically by starting his own company because it turned his role more into a managerial role and having to deal with practicalities.

Within his company there are many different skills sets in the teams. Teams are composed of biologists, material scientists, biotechnologists, designers, marketing communication experts, business developers, chemists. A very diverse team indeed. Some of these people are more experienced workers, but some are also juniors. 

Montalti shares his experience in the field by advising other creatives with some optional routes into this field, such as an academic study, doing a residency, joining a DIY biology community. Most important however, is that you find your own personal path that correlates to the drive of the individual. As a company, Montalti is looking for a demonstrated level of expertise, general qualities such as working in a team and having your own drive. Most important however, is the resonance of the individual with the missions and values of the company. Montalti says that “you’re not working for us; you’re working with us”. A communal feeling is the most important.

👀 Watch the conversation via this link.

Grace Chuang in conversation with Amy Congdon © Biofabricate

Meet Grace Chuang | Ginkgo Bioworks

The second conversation is done with Grace Chuang, a creative and marketing specialist at Ginkgo Bioworks. While her education caused her to be predestined in engineering, she sought out creative outlets such as photography and storytelling. However, while working for a film agency or working with creative programs such as Adobe, Chuang was missing the technical aspects such as working in the lab. Her biggest quest was to find a place where she could do both. “To live in the messy in between”. 

This is when she came across Ginkgo, a synthetic biology company she was somewhat familiar with and reached out to the creative director via LinkedIn. Her biggest focus with her job at Ginkgo is to manage how they communicate what they’re doing internally and externally. Luckily for Chuang, the job she now has was created around me so she had no doubt whether it would fit her. The most enjoyable part of her job is the human connection part of it. The more challenging aspects are being too naive, and the logistics involved with various processes. A very valuable skill according to Chuang was project management, while she had no prior experience with this she learned along the way. 

Her advice to you: you have to be able to switch. You need to talk between different lenses and teams. 

👀 Watch the conversation via this link.

Aaron Nesser, Aleks Gosiewski & Tessa Callaghan in conversation with Suzanne Lee © Biofabricate

Meet Aaron Nesser, Aleks Gosiewski & Tessa Callaghan | AlgiKnit

The third conversation is with Aaron Nesser, Aleks Gosiewski and Tessa Callaghan from AlgiKnit. They all had the need and desire to create a company that could support the biotech community. They won a biotech competition which caused them to realize that starting a company may even be a valid idea! 

Starting a company caused them to work in areas they didn't have experience in, they used personality assessments to analyze their skills and strengths that allowed them to be pointed into the right directions. This caused everyone to create their own tendencies and focuses but still be able to work a unit. 

Something that comes with starting a new company, is dealing with industry expectations. Callaghan notes that it is very important to constantly communicate and map both sides of the chains. It is important to draw out what is realistic on the inside and what is wanted by the outside. Timelines is a tool that they use for this. It allows them to balance the market, runway, creating the expectation for deliverables. Investors want to see something that is marketable right now, but it’s also important to communicate what kind of progress is happening on the R&D end and all the costs that go into that. 

Now that they’re focusing more on the company, it is interesting to hear how they still get their creative fulfillment. Sometimes they can spend some time on design, but there is also space for design within the corporate identity. Think of for instance graphics and language and how a company represents itself in the world. 

Skills that they are now developing are mostly related to building a product from the group up, being one unit and learning to communicate effectively. They note that while a design student may be in their heads a lot, there is no room for solo in a company. Everything is being done as a team. 

So now that they’ve started their own company, it might be insightful to see what they look for as employers! Much of this is discussed in the conversation. 

Their future will be about scale, they want to bring their work out into the manufacturing environment. They want to get ready to make the impact that they wanted to make, they want to see their products out into the world.

👀 Watch the conversation via this link.

Grace Knight in conversation with Amy Congdon © Biofabricate

Meet Grace Knight | Ecovative Design

Grace Knight is a product designer at Ecovative Design. While her education was in industrial design, during her minor she focused more on nature and culture and sustainability. With the goal to bring science into the design practice she took an industrial design crash course for one day. 

A question that has always driven Knight is: what are we going to do about it? That is why she wanted to be part of the solution. She was very much a fan of companies working in biotech since their work is focused on the environment. When looking for a job, Knight had the luck of finding the exact job position that was open on the Evocative website which would suit her.

Her role at Evocative consists of wearing many different design hats. It ranges from informational marketing material to photographing and filming, working on the website and working on mycelium designs. 
She did not expect her job to be more marketing focused than just being in a studio and doing design aspects. But she has realized that this is indeed a very important aspect of what Evocative does: they need to sell what they’re making.

Her advice: take workshops and crash courses to figure out where you fit in! Listen to what your strengths are, every team is going to need a lot of different backgrounds so you can still focus on environments, but you don't have to be a scientist to do that. Get out of your head and just do - be physical and hands-on and don't be afraid to make mistakes.

👀 Watch the conversation via this link.

Callie Clayton in conversation with Amy Congdon (screengrab NNN) © Biofabricate

Meet Callie Clayton | Modern Meadow

Callie Clayton is a materials designer and researcher at Modern Meadow. She studied textile design and minored in sustainability studies. By being involved in the BioSteam club she managed to get more involved in the intersection between design and science. 

She got more familiar with the field of biodesign in the second year of her studies. This started with her exploring biomaterials and matching them with textile materials, using mycerial. As a designer, Clayton felt like she was lacking rigorous understanding of biology. And while she found speculative work interesting and exciting, she wanted to do more - to make it real. 

This is when Clayton applied for a grant at a public biolab and spent a summer learning and taking classes, this caused her to look for a job in the field of biodesign. She now works at Modern Meadow on the product team and works closely with the material science and process team. She works mainly on tactics, aesthetics, and effects.

The teams at Modern Meadow are very multidisciplinary, this is very exciting and causes her to shift mindsets and jargon. After all, it is important to be intentional about what you say and what language you use across fields.

Working at Modern Meadow Clayton realized that Communication skills are important. The working process can require a lot of patience, so it is especially important to ask questions and not be intimidated.  

Her advice for someone looking to work in the field: seek out education while you’re a student. Go explore other interests - there will be an intersection out there and otherwise you can create it. You should also apply for grants and just see what happens!

👀 Watch the conversation via this link.

Georgina Gilmore in conversation with Suzanne Lee © Biofabricate

Meet Georgina Gilmore | Colorifix

Georgina Gilmore is a commercialization manager at Colorfix. She studied at the University of the Arts and got her BA in textile design and specialized in knitwear. Her first few jobs were working in the industry of fashion and were a mixture of everything. 

During one of her job tasks she was asked to look for more sustainable options and this was her first insight into the biofabrication world “I had no idea how incredible it was and how many opportunities there are”. Around this time, she was approached by recruiters of Colorifix. During this time Colorifix was still very much in start-up mode and didn't really have a website yet. 

Colorifix is a biotech company based in Norwich that uses synthetic biology to produce and deposit dyes on fabrics. The company works with sustainability on different levels: environmentally, socially, and economically. 

Gilmore’s job at Colorifix entails the following: brand discussions, marketing/communication, picking colors, work on the dyehouse, work on the showroom, and more. 

The transition of a mostly creative job to a job surrounded by biologists was in the beginning a bit of a shock to Gilmore. There were a lot of data and long words that were still a bit unclear to her. Now that she’s more used to the jargon she mentions that it’s great to be part of something so early that can really make such a big difference.

When she reflects upon her previous jobs, she finds it interesting how she was actually part of the problem for so many years. What am I adding to this? Potentially going back and doing a masters.

Her advice: be patient and flexible. Read a lot, research, look at things that inspire you, reach out to people - you have nothing to lose. 

👀 Watch the conversation via this link.

And that's a wrap! Though the first series has come to an end, Biofabricate is looking forward to the next. If there’s a theme or person you’d like to see featured you can let them know via their website!

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