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19 May 2017

Action story #2 – Shazzad Mukit of Unibiome

What is your story?

I am Shazzad Mukit, studied AIV masters (2014-16) at CRI. Co-founded Unibiome (previously Peer to Peer Probiotics), a biotech startup in France and Funush, a startup focused on education in Bangladesh.
I am a philomath, I love to learn through doing. Two things I care most, education and biotech for sustainable future. My works/entrepreneurship journey reflects that too.

What was your experience as a CRI student?

One of the best things that happened in my life – being accepted as an AIV master student (I was on the waiting list!). I had limited quantitative experience with life science, so I had to work hard and it was quite challenging. But it helped me a lot to change my perception of life science and accelerated my personal growth.

One of the main aspects of AIV master course was doing multiple internships according to your goals, it was driven not by what CRI wants but what we as students want to do in life.

It started with an internship in Institut Pasteur at David Bikard’s Synbio lab. For me, it was first time working in a professional lab and as I came from a very humble background I was overwhelmed. But with constant guidance of people at David’s lab and their kindness, it brought positive changes. Then I joined iGEM and learned tremendously. That time I had a personal loss and I remember CRI was always concern over my personal well being. This kindness continued when I joined Olivia du Rour’s Lab at ESPCI. And I cannot be enough thankful to these people.

Meanwhile, iGEM project took off to a new direction and it started as “Peer to Peer Probiotics” project and won “Thought for Food Challenge 2016” at Zurich. Then P2PP got accepted into world’s first synthetic biology accelerator “Indiebio EU” at Cork, Ireland. CRI stepped in and they were so flexible to let us have our final internship at the accelerator itself! Thus CRI is involved in putting most of the founding stones of this company since its birth.

 

How was your project born?

Every year Paris Bettencourt iGEM team brainstorms months prior to the iGEM competition. At one of these events we were talking with guest speaker Michael Molitor and our Synbio teacher Jake Wintermute on different global issues and how synbio can tackle them. The topic of malnutrition came up and we were discussing the lifestyle of the most malnourished people. Serendipitously we all realized most of these people eat fermented foods and fermentative microbes present in these foods ferment them! Later we dig a bit more into the scientific literature and selected this as our iGEM project.

Gradually we realized changing microbiome of fermented foods could be a game-changing solution for malnutrition or enhancing the existing foods around the world. We got called for Thought for Food challenge 2016 and the project kind of took off! We won Kirchner Food Fellowship at TFF, got accepted into Indiebio EU and then won Genopole Young Biotech Award 2016.

How did you manage to combine your studies with the time needed to build the project? Can you describe your routine at that time?

Our project and our study were not two different things, thanks to CRI we could align these two easily. iGEM was considered as an internship for AIV students and thanks again to CRI teachers, our accelerator program at Indiebio EU was also considered as an internship!

In between iGEM and Indiebio EU, during the internship at ESPCI I used to work extra hours after my lab time and if anything urgent came I had enough space to be flexible with my work (thanks to my supervisors Olivia and Julian at the lab)!

What kind of support or resources did you find within CRI ecosystem? What was the most helpful?

The notion of letting student dictate their own growth. I observed everything in CRI happens around this fundamental aspect.

What do you wish you had/knew if you had to start again, at CRI? What would you do differently?

My Computational biology course during AIV M1! I would read the materials provided on the moodle first and then dive into Matlab/ coding. I got overwhelmed with Matlab not realizing it is just a tool for computational biology, not the goal itself.

What is your current project status and what are your next goals/ambitions? What kind of support do you need now?

Right now at Unibiome, we are working on making a library of fermentative microbes present in the fermented foods collected from all over the world!

The biggest challenge is having a wet lab/ biotech space in Paris. Another challenge is access to finance/ case study/entrepreneurial literature in biotech. CRI can have a partnership with one of the many existing business schools in Paris, generally, they already have existing libraries for this purpose. CRI does not have to build such library from scratch, but ensuring a partnership with a business school will help the first time entrepreneurs from CRI to have access to these materials. And this may also provide some of the students interested in entrepreneurship to have access to mentorship directly from the business school or access to some of the business courses.

What is your advice for aspiring project teams at CRI?

Know your goals. Have the bigger picture in mind. I remember when I was applying for AIV in my interview when they asked what I wanted to become in life, I explicitly told them “bio-entrepreneur” so that I can go back home (Bangladesh) one day and built a biotech industry. Chances come to the prepared mind for sure.

Any specific tools, books, techniques that you want to recommend?

1. Have a look into entrepreneurship program at CRI and they have pretty good list of resources.
2. One can read blogs like-  for bio entrepreneurship: LifeSci VC by Bruce Booth, Biostrategy analytics by Demetris Iacovides, Nature’s Bioentrepreneurship series. For general entrepreneurship: Paul Graham’s blogs, YC’s blog, Startup and entrepreneurship question/answers on Quora.
3. If you are a first-time entrepreneur and looking to raise money read: Venture Deals by Brad Feld.
4. An entrepreneur can learn much from someone’s mistakes, one can read failure stories of startups. For startup failure stories, read blogs on medium or follow this website: autopsy.io

Open remarks:

iGEM is very vital part of CRI. But every year students face challenges to build up an iGEM team from scratch and have new ideas. Most of the hurdles they face are identical and repetitive. I wish there is a neat guideline on CRI website on building iGEM projects, so they can start from the experiences of the previous iGEMers and have a roadmap to follow.

(if anyone interested in making a guideline, feel free to contact Unibiome’s team at: info[at]unibiome[dot]com)