Life as a Rebel / Week 5

We move to the lab and immediately feel the loss of the coffee machine. The seating arrangements are also unfortunate since, as anyone who’s ever worked in a lab can testify, whoever provides laboratory stools believes we should all get humps by week 1. The hunchbacks of Micro Lab. I can feel my back crying already.

That Tuesday, Wayne Murphy stops by to help us set ourselves for success. That’s literally the tagline of his talk in our calendar, so there’s a lot to expect.

He does not disappoint. We get about an hour of key characteristics and profiles of startups that once went through this same process and are now the unicorns in the making of the accelerator. If we can at least emulate their behavior during these months, some of their success could rub off on us too, right?

(Here is where I redirect you to that article about how emulating Elon Musk’s habits is ridiculous and we all share an uncomfortable laughter)

Of course it’s not about copying what somebody else did and expecting it to work the same for us. It’s about getting as much as we can out of this weird, hard and sometimes draining learning experience. It’s about being able to tell early on if what we are doing makes some sense at all. As Wayne artfully put it during his talk,“An accelerator is about finding if your idea has wings, and if it can take off. So if it crashes and burns right away that’s good – you won’t be working two or three years on something that’s never going to work.”

As someone who’s been working in the same thing for over three years (I won’t tell you exactly how much because I have a modicum of decorum) this hits a little too close to home. On the other hand, I love this perspective on failure: find out quick so that you can put your time in a better place. No shame, no long tortured roads to self-discovery through pain, just plain old simple Where Is My Time Best Used. A great spin on what entrepreneurship really is, at least to me.

There’s another point Wayne touches that is especially interesting to me. As you all probably know at this point, we have four months here: one of business pre-acceleration and three of laboratory work.

When was the last time you were able to achieve anything in a lab in three months or less?

(If you have at all, mind you, you should apply to Rebel)

It’s a ridiculously hard and almost unrealistic task. So what’s really the point of it? Wayne gave this a great answer. Once you’re done here, he said, you get to say “Look at what I’ve done in three months with almost nothing. What do you think I can make out of a year and a million dollars?”

On Wednesday, Twist Biosciences comes to UCC. I cry a little on the inside because I absolutely love them. It might also be due to the fact we were all starving and they brought us pizza. You can’t really pass out on science and pizza.

We talk about their industrialization process and the whole idea of liberating scientists from mundane cutting and pasting genes so that they can focus on “building the stuff that matters”. It’s amazing to see how they have achieved almost atom-level industrialization – Moore’s law and Ford’s mass production assembly line may be on life support but the power of diminishing sizes and sheer production volume stands tall, even in biotechnology.

They describe it as a sum of microfluidics, silicon, robotics and DNA. It sounds like the future, and it sounds like now.

After the talk, we chat over pizza about the world outside of the US and Europe and being the activist Latina that I am, I ask whether they have even considered us as a region of interest. To my delight, they have. To my ultimate embarrassment, they tried it out before and it didn’t quite work out.

But that was before and this is now, and thankfully their interest still stands. There is still hope for us from afar.

Fast forward to Friday because I miss Thursday due to life in Cork: moving, setting up myself on the new place, and setting off the alarm after hours at the office because Karma is Karma and I laughed at the team that got locked in the office on week one. And yes, it’s on camera.

The pitch session drags on a bit longer than usual but we get some great quality feedback from a special observer. She’s a story collector and she fixates as much in our story as in us as storytellers, so there’s a lot of comments on voice, stance and gaze. It’s great to see we’re getting to the point where that’s the kind of useful critique we get, miles away from the initial “You lost me on the first slide and I fell asleep by the end.”

It’s not that we’re free of mistakes. It’s that we’ve come far enough to point them out.

“Call yourself out” Bill told us unexpectedly. Instead of sweeping it under the rug, go with “Oh. Let me say that again.” And mistakes do happen, and it makes more sense to keep practicing this week after week after week no matter how repetitive or tiresome it can get because by the end of this, as Bill says, we have to be able to deliver your pitch with a hangover, in the rain, to a total stranger, on an idle Tuesday.

It hits me that pitches, much like stories, are personal. We have spent the last month sharing and building their scripts together, but at the end, they are ours and ours alone.

So now, as stories become personal as well. The group somehow disintegrates as everyone starts pursuing the winding road they have planned for the past month, each one laying their path brick by brick moving a little further from the interconnected web of bridges that we started out of.

Our adventures, I expect, continue, as does our work. There is a lot to be done for the little less than three months that we have left in Cork. So many things to build and say and try, and so much more magic that we must turn into science before it’s over. So stay tuned for what comes, as our ragtag band of rebels fights on with the drive to continuously, relentlessly, improve.


(Onwards for the final article of the series: a wrap up)

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