In January 2010, UCLA Center for Society and Genetics held a conference Outlaw Biology? Public Participation in the Age of Big Bio. The conference attracted a number of DIYBio mailing list regulars plus some new faces of biologists from around Southern California. This started the process of coalescing a group of locals interested in biology which would eventually band together to set up an independent bio lab.
After Outlaw Bio, the locals began hosting Meetups at coffee shops around LA discussing their research ambitions and plans for combining resources in a biology-focused community lab. Towards the end of 2010 Tor secured an arrangement with Null Space Labs, a hackerspace in downtown LA, who generously agreed to hosting a small biology lab in the corner of their space. This became the social hub for independent biologists in LA and we began amassing scientific equipment and performing rudimentary experiments. Throughout 2011 the group grew in size and resources and eventually incorporated as a 501(c)3 non profit under the name “Los Angeles Biohackers.”
Throughout 2011 we hit some critical milestones, primarily demonstrating that we could actually pull off basic molecular biology experiments in a DIY lab and solidifying the groups existence with paperwork, bank accounts, and the formation of a legal entity. By the end of the year we had outgrown our corner, wore out our welcome, and were looking for new digs. Initially, we moved into Romie’s garage in Silverlake while we scoped out more permanent solutions to our real estate dilemma. Towards the end of 2012 we decided to pull the trigger and lease a unit on the 6th floor of a door factory in downtown LA. We moved in December 12th and got to work creating a spacious lab with more resources for molecular and biochem experiments.
A 1100 square foot room in this beauty of a building became our new permanent home. Great skyline views came complimentary with the lease as well as some real interesting neighbors. After signing the lease we hit the ground running. We began to move our gear in, paint, build furniture and continue scrounging for equipment and the LA Biohackers had our first dedicated lab space.
Over the next five years we grew from a loose group of science enthusiasts to a company that ran educational programs, helped high schools students do science fair projects and got amateurs started in biotech.
While we initially set out to make a space for ourselves to work in, it quickly became apparent that there were many high school students looking for resources to perform science fair projects. Our youth programs became very popular and we had many great students over the years. You can read more about the successes of some of our students here. By 2017 we had nine students win first place at the LA County Science Fair and three students go to ISEF. Our students had become a central part of our organizations. But we began to outgrow our dusty warehouse in downtown.
In May 2017 an opportunity appeared to lease ground floor retail space near the USC Health Science Campus. We pulled the trigger and never looked back. The building had been a men’s clothing shop from 1953 until the early 2000’s. Prior to us moving in it was occupied by another biotech company. The space was in disrepair but that did not discourage us.
Over the summer of 2017 three of us worked for 4 months to rebuild the entire place from the ground up. Floor, walls, ceilings and everything in between was completely remodeled. Even the facade got a facelift. We wanted to make a space that people would feel comfortable working in and that we would feel safe inviting kids and families to. The end result was a clean, modern work space that students could thrive in and professional scientists would love working in.