Tag Archives: DNA Art

Pitching for Investment: Our Journey to the Den

It all started in September 2012, when I decided to fill in the online application form for BBC2 Dragons’ Den.

Screen shot 2014-02-16 at 15.10.45Our novel DNA artwork company PlayDNA had been going commercially for about 6 months, and while we had had some successful patches following (expensive!) exhibitions in London and Oxford, with a non-existent marketing budget we were struggling to gain any momentum in terms of sales. This was not part of our original plan – we did allocate a marketing budget from the small pot of cash that was originally intended to be our first home deposit– but issues with lab work soon gobbled that up.

So what to do? How to round up that marketing budget and simultaneously generate as much interest in what we do as possible in a short time-span, at minimal cost? “Well”, I thought as I sat down at the computer, “this seemed as good a punt as any”!

I spent an hour or two filling in the application, fired it off into the abyss of the internet and waited. I heard absolutely nothing for several months, and by February 2013 had pretty much forgotten all about it. It was not a good time.

My amazing nan

My much missed, amazing nan at my PhD graduation

My seemingly indomitable and energetic nan had just passed away after a short illness and we were all feeling very down. I was back at my mum’s house the night before her funeral when I got the phone call.

It was a representative from the BBC, who wanted to have a chat about my application. I shut myself in my old bedroom and answered his questions, in what turned out to be a phone interview. At the end of it, he declared that they would be interested in seeing our pitch, and, after completing another (Pre-Audition) Questionnaire, could we come along to Television Centre at Shepherd’s Bush in London in a couple of weeks time?

“Sure” I said, before heading downstairs to explain to boyfriend and business partner Stuart what I had just got us both into! I couldn’t help thinking about what nan would have said if she were with us still, she had always supported us and I like to think she’d have been quite excited by it all.

Comic-Relief-photoshoots-2013-one-direction-33642345-541-750

Like cat-nip for girls apparently.

It was the weekend of Comic Relief 2013 when we pulled into BBC Television Centre to make our pitch to the Dragons’ Den production team. I distinctly remember the massive queue of young (and, shamefully, not so young!) girls snaking around Television Centre waiting to get a glimpse of One Direction.

It didn’t start well when I narrowly missing John Bishop’s car in my fluster getting into the poorly signposted concrete BBC carpark. After pulling ourselves together, we headed to reception (star spotting some ‘Lewis’ cast members on the way and musing on the irony of seeing them so far from our home town of Oxford) and within ten minutes or so were being shown in to the room we were to present in.

It reminded me a lot of my old school classroom: quite small, full of desks, chairs and decked out in carpet tiles. The unimposing room, and the friendliness of the production team members set us both at ease immediately. We ran through our 3-minute pitch, props and all, in front of a single camera, and managed it in a single take (it was a relief to get it all out!). We then answered a string of personal questions while the camera continued to roll, about our background and motivation for starting our own business, as well as why we wanted the money.

Sign life awayFinally, we were sat down and taken through the paperwork. There was quite a lot of it and it was all quite thorough! All done, we were thanked and shown the door, being told we would hear shortly if we were picked to go through to the final show. It was quite surreal being back out on the street afterwards. We rewarded ourselves with a burger at the Westfield Shopping Centre over the road before heading home.

Another 6 weeks passed before we heard from them again. We had once more assumed that we hadn’t made the cut, when a phone call at work one Thursday told us they had shortlisted us for the final week of filming, to start the following week. “You may, or may not get on” we were informed. Well that put us in a pickle! We were in the midst of quite a busy period, so should we take time off to prepare for something that might not happen? We decided not, and to prioritise our customer orders instead. The following day they called again. “You’re definitely on, and we’ll need you up in Manchester on Monday to prepare for filming the following day”.

Now it was time for panic stations!! It was Friday morning, we had pre-arranged plans for the weekend and we were expected to be ready to pitch to the dragons next Tuesday. Oh, and did I mention the reams of paperwork we were sent through to complete?tons-of-paperwork An 18-point list of information we would need to provide them with beforehand, from outline business plan, to evidence of domain ownership, legal approvals, insurances, market research on competitors, evidence of sales, it went on and on! It took me until Sunday afternoon to complete the paperwork. Meanwhile Stuart worked on the improved pitch, and pulling all our figures together. If there was one thing we were certain of it was that we weren’t going to be caught out on the figures or valuation.

We know how to argue like cat and dog

We know how to argue like cat and dog

We drove up to Manchester on Monday late afternoon. The BBC had arranged for us to stay in a hotel the night before, as we were being picked up early the next day. We were getting quite stressed by this time and starting to bicker over the detail – at one point during our journey Stuart threatened to jump out of the car while we were on the motorway!

Suffice to say after 17 years together we’ve had enough big bust ups to know when we’re over-reacting and made up shortly afterwards.

We ran through our pitch for the first time that evening – it wasn’t the only pitch we had our minds on that night though.

Like Villa's motto - we did our best to 'Be Prepared' (after the match of course)

Like Villa’s motto – we did our best to ‘Be Prepared’ (after the match of course)

Memorising the figures was made all that much harder by there being a rather exciting Villa game on in the background. Villa demolished Sunderland 6-1 in a vital relegation battle match, so we consoled ourselves that the week couldn’t be all bad!

The morning came. It was Tuesday 30th April when we were to finally get in front of the dragons. The car came at 7am to pick us up and whisk us to the studio at Media City, Manchester…

Find out more about our ‘day in the den’ this time next week!

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Doctors told us our twins were non-identical, but our DNA portraits revealed the true story

Oliver and Oscar, or is it Oscar and Oliver?

Oliver and Oscar, or is it Oscar and Oliver?

When John and Liz O’Neill were told they were going to have twins they were over the moon. During their scans they found out the twins were developing inside separate amniotic sacs, and as a result were told by the medical staff they would be non-identical.

The adorable Oscar and Oliver were born on 9th February 2012. Both parents were understandably smitten, but also amazed at how alike the tiny siblings were.

O'Neill twinsOver the next 12 months Liz and John were constantly stopped in the street or the supermarket where strangers would coo over the twins and say ‘they must be identical!’ Although they would explain no, they were actually non-identical, the twins striking similarity meant they themselves had always harboured some doubt. “I think I might have even mixed them up during bath-time once” jokes Liz.”I felt like a terrible mother because I couldn’t tell them apart!”

Shortly after the boys 1st birthday, while reading an article on twins, Liz discovered that it was actually possible for identical twins to develop in separate sacs if the egg splits very early on during development. With this new information and a sneaking suspicion that their initial instincts had always been right, Liz contacted PlayDNA to ask for help.

“I went to school with Sam, and knew through facebook that she had started a business creating DNA artwork with meaning. I thought her forensic artwork might offer some clue as to whether Ozzy and Olly were identical or not” said Liz. We agreed to help, and took samples of DNA from each family member, including the twins older brothers Jack, age 8 and Josh, age 5.

“When I saw the photos of Oliver and Oscar I too had assumed they must be identical” says Dr Sam. “I thought it would be a wonderful project to have a peek inside their genes and see what that told us about their story, and also make a wonderful family memento!”

The O'Neill family DNA Portrait

The O’Neill family DNA Portrait

Dr Sam prepared a bespoke piece of artwork for the family, which looked at ten different genes related to particular traits, such as eye colour, memory and whether you’re more likely to be an early bird or night owl. The results were pretty conclusive.

“Olly and Ozzy shared all ten genes in common – which combined with their amazing likeness is a sure sign that they are actually identical twins!” says Dr Sam. “This is made more apparent when we see their DNA portraits alongside their elder brothers, who very obviously have several differences in their DNA. We calculated the odds of them sharing these genes by coincidence, and it works out at 0.39% – in other words, less than a 1 in 200 chance. The O’Neill family now has their colourful DNA portraits framed and on the wall for all to see.

Mum Liz told us: “Thank you so much for taking the time to explain what it all means despite being so busy. We really appreciate it. It was so interesting and is all we’ve talked about since. We’ve named ourselves team night owl and are putting together our owl names and power rangers style salute! The kids are loving it. We’re so excited about having the artwork in the house and being able to explain it properly to all our family and friends. It’s a brilliant thing for the kids to be able to grow up around and learn from. I just wanted to let you know how grateful we are”.

Personalised DNA art company PlayDNA will be on Dragons’ Den on Sunday 2nd February 2014 – tune in to see how they got on!

The whole O'Neill clan!

Team Night Owl: the whole O’Neill clan!

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Komodo, the Magic Dragon

by Dr James Sleigh

To celebrate the appearance of PlayDNA on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, we are diving into the mystical world of dragons…

Here be dragons

Here be dragons

Powerful, fearsome, venomous. A rare breed of predator with sharp claws, razor-like teeth, and an insatiable appetite. No, we are not talking about Deborah Meaden, Peter Jones, or even Duncan Bannatyne of Dragons’ Den fame. We are describing the Komodo dragon, the largest living lizard, and native of the Indonesian Islands of Southeast Asia. But, do they deserve their dragon moniker?

They have no wings, and they can’t breathe fire, you say. Nor do they live for centuries, or like to hoard gold.

A real dragon

A real dragon
Photo courtesy of http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com

Not a real dragon

Not a real dragon
Photo courtesy of http://hollywoodlife.com

Nevertheless, these creatures, which can grow to over three metres in length and eat up to 80% of their body weight in a single feed, do possess an almost mythical ability worthy of the dragon name.

0117_MALO_Komodo_Eggs_013A_t607Miraculously, in separate zoos in the UK (Chester and London), two female Komodos, which were completely isolated from males, laid clutches of eggs that resulted in lots of baby dragons. This ability for females to produce offspring without mating with a male is known as parthenogenesis, and is very rarely seen in vertebrate species (those with a backbone like you and me). In fact, only about 1 in 1,000 vertebrates can reproduce in this manner. It was particularly unexpected that such a large animal as the Komodo dragon would join this rather selective group.

Intriguingly, all the virgin baby dragons were males. This is because of the interesting genetics of Komodos. Much like we have X and Y sex chromosomes (XX = female and XY = male), Komodo dragons have W and Z chromosomes. However, rather than females having two of the same sex chromosome like humans, female Komodos have one W and one Z chromosome while males are ZZ. When female dragons are isolated from males, through parthenogenesis they are able to duplicate either their W or Z chromosome (along with the rest of their non-sex chromosomes), resulting in eggs that are either WW or ZZ. The WW eggs do not survive, but the ZZ eggs produce viable male baby dragons.

_66452824_komododragon

Hello mummy!
Photo courtesy of BBC

It is believed that this ability to switch between sexual and asexual reproduction has evolved as a strategy to be able to survive in the Komodo’s natural habitat of isolated islands. Females finding themselves washed up on unpopulated islands are able to reproduce asexually, producing males for future mating.

Fascinating.

Not quite cloning, but I’m sure some of the BBC dragons would be interested in making similar duplicates of themselves so they could make twice as much money! What’s that? You want to know the outcome of PlayDNA’s adventure in the dragon’s lair? Well, you will just have to wait until Sunday to see how Dr. Sam and Dr. Stuart fared…

PlayDNA is on Dragons Den Sunday 2nd February BBC2 at 9pm.

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Filed under Animals and Plants, Dr James Sleigh, Genetics, Media, Science

PlayDNA in Forbes

Forbes-MagazineWe had some particularly exciting news this week – an article on PlayDNA co-Founder Dr Samantha Decombel was published by Forbes magazine! The article, written by Lorraine Sanders, Contributing Writer for Women 2.0, documents the journey of Dr Sam from her PhD at the University of Birmingham, to part-time Lecturer in Evolutionary & Conservation Biology, all the way through to the current day, in which novel artwork genetic company PlayDNA is really taking off alongside a new spin out you’ll be hearing much more of very soon – MuscleGenes!

“It is a real honour to be recognised as a female innovator in technology by such a prestigious magazine” says Dr Sam. “The last few years have been hard work, with researching the genes we think people will enjoy learning about and developing the novel artwork to illustrate this, but we’re finally starting to see it paying off. And of course I couldn’t have got this far without such a fantastic team around me, both in PlayDNA and MuscleGenes!”

You can read the full article on Dr Sam here: The DNA of a Pivot

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All in the genes

Dr Samantha Decombel, co-founder of PlayDNA, talks about the blossoming success of her unique DNA artwork company with Margaret Henry in this weeks Oxford Times In Business magazine.

Read the full article here: In Business article on PlayDNA

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Come PlayDNA at Taylor Wimpey’s Kingsmere Development – and win!

The new Taylor Wimpey development at Kingsmere

The new Taylor Wimpey development at Kingsmere

Are you anywhere near Bicester in Oxfordshire this weekend? If you are, you can drop into Taylor Wimpey’s Kingsmere development and view some of our unique DNA Art on display – and as if that wasn’t enough to tempt you, you could also win a fabulous prize worth over £2000!

A keen supporter of local small businesses, home developer Taylor Wimpey have very kindly offered us the use of their three, four and five bed showroom properties for a photographic shoot. Beautifully designed inside and out, we’re looking forward to taking some stunning images!

Darren McCormack, regional sales and marketing director for Taylor Wimpey, says: “We are really pleased that we have been able to work with such a prominent local artist and help display her work. The PlayDNA artwork is totally unique and makes a great talking point for any home. What’s more, the artwork can be displayed in various different colours and formats, so you can have it styled ready to feature in your brand new home.

We love Sharmaine's traditional yet natural style. Copyright: Sharmaine Sepehr photography. Not to be reproduced without permission.

We love Sharmaine’s traditional yet natural style.
Copyright: Sharmaine Sepehr photography. Not to be reproduced without permission.

“Plus, anyone who visits the development during the event can enter into a free prize draw to win a family membership at Bicester Hotel Golf & Spa worth over £2,000!”

To make the most of this fabulous opportunity we’ve teamed up with up and coming Oxfordshire professional Wedding Photographer Sharmaine Sepehr who will be taking our shots on the day. Sharmaine specialises in family portrait photography with a creative yet unobtrusive style. She will also be providing the sample images for our new range of Framed Photo Prints. You can view a selection of Sharmaine’s work here.

A collection of our unique artwork will be on display at Taylor Wimpey’s Kingsmere development on Sunday 21st April from 10.30am to 5pm. Dr Samantha Decombel, Co-Founder of PlayDNA Ltd, will be attending personally from 11am to 1pm, so if you want to talk all things DNA, pop in and say hi!

Please click here for the full press release: DNA Artist Event at Taylor Wimpey Kingmere – Press Release

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PlayDNA gets thumbs up from Debenhams crowd!

Debenhams wedding fairAfter an overwhelmingly positive response to our first wedding fair at the 5* Randolph Hotel, Oxford, in January we were delighted to be invited to exhibit our new range of Framed Prints at the Debenhams Oxford department store last weekend.

Following hot on the heels of Valentines Day, the traditional British retailer held a Wedding Fair on Saturday 16th February 2013 to celebrate love, commitment – and how to have a fabulous wedding!

Dr Sam talks through our new product range

Dr Sam talks through our new product range with some keen shoppers

Dr Sam explains the interpretable nature of a PlayDNA portrait

Dr Sam explains the interpretable nature of a PlayDNA portrait – and why they make such great wedding gifts!

As well as the many excited brides and grooms, a busy Saturday crowd kept PlayDNA Founders Dr Samantha Decombel and Dr Stuart Grice chatting about their novel artwork all afternoon. More than one person were stopped in their tracks by the colourful display pieces and paused to admire the ‘extremely cool’ and ‘fascinating’ artworks as they browsed the aisles.

As a wedding gift never to be forgotten you certainly couldn’t do better than a PlayDNA portrait – a fun way to see how compatible the bride and groom might be!

Do opposites attract? Or are you the perfect match? Beautiful genetic portraits for couples and families that come complete with your own DNA analysis and guide.

Available now, just contact sam@playdna.co.uk for more information or take a look at our facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/playdna.

Own a wedding portrait as unique as you

 

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The cool new way to show off your DNA

DNA Art Portrait Rug Home PlayDNA

The perfect finishing touch to your family home, a personalised PlayDNA rug!

This might just be one time you’ll be happy to be walked all over! The latest edition to our DNA PORTRAIT product portfolio is probably our favourite so far: the personalised DNA rug.

We’ve teamed up with bespoke rug manufacturer and official producer of the Stamp Rug – Rug-Maker.com – to bring this fabulous new product to you.

Interiors UK design rug dna collaboration playdna art

PlayDNA Founder Dr Samantha Decombel and Rug-Maker.com’s Julian Blair discuss the potential of a collaboration to create a new and unique personalised interior option.

Following a chance meeting with Sales Director Julian Blair at the 2013 Interiors UK exhibition, Dr Samantha Decombel immediately saw the potential for a collaboration between PlayDNA and Rug-Maker.com, renowned for bespoke handmade rugs perfected through technology. By combining our high-tech science with their high-tech design, we have created a totally unique and stylish concept in soft furnishings and interior design!

After preparing your personal DNA art with the PlayDNA difference, Dr Decombel and our talented graphic designer Callie Bowyer work alongside Julian to create the perfect design for your home.

DNA Rug playdna art portrait of family

This DNA rug showcases a family of four with every band representing a different trait, such as the gene for eye colour, or whether they are early birds or night owls. Can you spot the family resemblance? We can create a combined DNA portrait for any number of family members!

As you would expect from one of the leading custom rug manufacturers in the world, quality is at the heart of this product, with each beautiful rug hand-crafted from 100% New Zealand wool and silk in the Kathmandu valley of Nepal.

With prices starting from just £599 (1m x 1.25m) and over 350 colours to choose from, you’re certain to find the perfect rug to add the finishing touch to your family home.

www.playDNA.co.uk

www.rug-maker.com

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PlayDNA gets a WOW for its DNA Art!

We are greatly honoured to have been chosen by the extremely glamourous and high-flying businesswoman Jacqueline Gold as one of her favourite three businesses of the week on Twitter!

Jacqueline is the Chief Executive of Ann Summers and Knickerbox and runs her Twitter #WOW competition weekly, hand-selecting the most exciting female-led businesses around. Renowned for being one of the most powerful woman in retail, we are thrilled she has recognised the potential in PlayDNA!

Jacqueline loved our concept of mixing art and science to create unique prints based on your own DNA that can be meaningfully interpreted to tell you what secrets lie in your genes. Plus, unlike some other DNA art companies our DNA Portraits are not computer-generated, they are actually digital photographs of your DNA! Find out more at www.playdna.co.uk.

Interested? You can follow us on Twitter @PlayDNA

Jacqueline Gold announces our #WOW win for DNA Art!

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PlayDNA at Fallowfields

Fallowfields Country House Hotel

Fallowfields Country House Hotel

The green and romantic setting of Fallowfields Country House Hotel in rural Oxfordshire made for a perfect location to capture a selection of our striking PlayDNA Portraits in situ.

DNA Art Portrait PlayDNA

The award-winning Fallowfields Restaurant

This charming independent hotel, which has won the award for “Best Small Hotel in South East England” not once, but THREE times, also holds a coveted two AA Rosette award for culinary excellence. So where best to start but their award winning restaurant!

Duo DNA Portrait in the Rose Garden

Exploring the peaceful grounds, full of bright and colourful rose bushes, we were reminded what a wonderful wedding gift a PlayDNA Portrait can be, offering newly-weds an entertaining peek into each others genetic make-up. Who has the greater sporting endurance or the better memory? Are you both night owls? Do you both carry a hidden blue eye gene? A much more exciting gift than an expensive tea set we reckon!

Thank you to James, Anthony and Peta for kindly hosting us at Fallowfields – always friendly, always smiling and sure to give you a warm welcome!

-Dr Sam

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