If you're short on cash, there is a new way to earn a bit of spending money while helping to advance disease research: selling your spit to science.
The idea comes from Olivier Noel, the CEO of DNA Simple, who explains how it works during a pitch on ABC's "Shark Tank" on Sunday, while asking the sharks to invest $100,000 in exchange for a 12.5 percent stake in the company.
"We are paying you for spitting in a tube," Noel says. The stipend is $50 and can be done over and over again.
Here's how it works: First, people go on the company's website to upload a bit of information about themselves, like age, height and medical history. Then the person is matched with researchers who may be interested in their DNA. If researchers choose you, a collection kit with a plastic tube is sent, the donor swabs their cheek, sends the sample in and collects $50. And according to the company, the whole process is anonymous.
"I used to sell my blood all the time," investor Mark Cuban says after hearing the pitch. "This is just a new-age version of that."
As long as there are research organizations interested in your samples, you can keep sending them in and keep getting paid.
"Normally, it is an extremely expensive and very long process for researchers to get enough samples for studies," Noel explains. He adds that a typical study at an academic institution could require between 30,000 and 100,000 participants — meaning a lot of DNA. "Our company is basically making it simple: We pay you for your spit, researchers get the samples they need and we get paid for making it all happen."
For that coordination, research companies are willing to fork up money. Typically, DNA Simple gets paid $155 for each sample they bring in, Noel says on the show. It is costing him $12.50 to make each collection kit, in addition to each $50 cash pay out the company is sending participants. Since the company's inception in 2015, it has matched over 500 spit donors to studies, bringing in $30,000.
Noel, 29, himself has experience doing research. He is currently studying at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine for an M.D. and Ph.D. But his success today is far from where he started.
"I grew up in Haiti, but in Haiti, we had the earthquake," he says. "So, after high school, I moved to New York because I had a lot of family there, and that is where opportunities took me."
While living in Queens, he began studying at Queens College and tackled challenges as they came.
"I worked up to five jobs in college majoring in chemistry and biochemistry and graduated with honors," he explains on the show. "I tutored French, Spanish, math, chemistry and biology to private students. I was selling bags and watches at Fossil, and I was working also next door selling jeans and shirts at American Eagle."
During his time studying the medical field, he noticed challenges in research for recruiting study participants.
"Some researchers, in a five-year grant, you spend three to four years to recruit people," he explains. "Literally there are studies that die because — let's say you're doing a study where you need 1,000 blacks or Hispanics. I'm in Hershey, Pa. No offense, it would take about 100 years to get those people."
That too, is a bigger problem he hopes to alleviate.
"Less than 5 percent of clinical trials have minorities in them," Noel continues. "Some people are hard to find, and so this idea, that is our competitive advantage."
The idea struck a cord with both billionaire investors Richard Branson and Mark Cuban.
Branson offered $100,000 for 25 percent, but Cuban upped the pressure, offering $200,000 for 20 percent. And, Cuban had another condition: "I'll make you an offer, but I want you to say yes or no right now."
Noel quickly made Cuban a counter offer, asking for the $200,000 for 15 percent.
Cuban's answer? "Sure. Done."
For Noel, the deal marked an inspiring moment.
"I was this little kid, 18 years old, coming from Haiti with no money, and no directions and no plans, and now I'm striking a deal with a shark," Noel says. "This is the American dream."
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