By Gabe Montoya ENG’18
I first found out about BioBots in the introduction class to my bioengineering major, BE100. The founders, Danny Cabrera and Ricky Solorzano, came in to talk to us about their application of bioengineering: 3D bioprinting.
Typically, 3D bioprinters are huge and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars since they are often hand-built by the researchers themselves. In order to combat this exclusiveness and make bioprinting more accessible to researchers, BioBots manufactures and sells a desktop 3D bioprinter, the BioBot1, that costs only $10,000. Although I found the concept really cool, I hadn’t yet developed my entrepreneurial interests. It wasn’t until the next year when I saw BioBots at the Healthcare Startup Conference and then the Startup Career Fair that my interests in entrepreneurship lined up with them. Wanting to get experience in a startup to see how I liked the style, I decided to pursue BioBots. I had briefly spoken with Danny both times so I decided to just take a jump and shoot him an email expressing interest. And just like that, my interview process started, developing into a phone interview, 2 on-site interviews, and culminating in an offer for summer of 2016! I was going to be a wetware intern, helping to develop the “bioinks” that the BioBot1 prints with.
As people often say, at a startup the smaller team size means that everyone needs to play multiple roles, which means that on-the-job learning is a major skill to have. Although I became well versed in a lot of aspects of 3D bioprinting, a practical, hands-on skill wasn’t my main takeaway from the summer. I learned most about how to be schedule-driven, increasing one’s effectiveness with just a simple timeline. During the first few weeks of the summer, I had my own project but wasn’t making much progress on it, instead focusing more on minor tasks. My project involved developing a protocol based on a scientific article from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University to allow BioBots customers to print soft hydrogels in complex structures that were previously impossible. In my biweekly meeting with the CEO, Danny, I was encouraged to create a timeline that would hold me responsible for accomplishing certain tasks by definitive dates. Right after the meeting, I plotted out key steps in my project and how long I expected them to take. Even though I didn’t make every deadline (a tough task in biology) the difference was immediately tangible. To anyone interested in working in a startup, I would warn that although it can be a lot of work, using a timeline that you stick to will make your life much more manageable.
By the end of the summer, I was sold. I really enjoy the startup culture, and can see myself staying in the small company arena. No place is better for being on the cutting edge and in a great team. I’m excited to continue working part time with BioBots throughout the fall semester on a continuation of my summer project.
Bio: Gabe Montoya is a junior in SEAS majoring in bioengineering and minoring in entrepreneurship. He’s interested in clean energy, regenerative neurology, and space.