New York applications ongoing until September 12th

How IndieBio helped Geltor set its sights on the lucrative bio-engineered collagen market

Using a plant-based fermentation process, Gelter biodesigns collagen for beauty, nutrition, food, and beverage markets. Source: Gelter

The New York Times recently spotlighted Geltor, an alt-protein company in Indie Bio’s portfolio (IBSF02 2015), in the article, “Is Bio-Designed Collagen the Next Step in Animal Protein Replacement?”.

The New York Times charts Geltor’s foray into the production of bio-engineered collagen, produced without any animal ingredients, and the firm’s success in working with cosmetics companies to provide essentially vegan collagen for all manner of cosmetics. The story recounts how seven years ago Geltor’s plan looked very different, and how SOSV’s IndieBio helped re-write the script.

“The new company was accepted into IndieBio, a biotech venture capital firm based in San Francisco that has incubated a host of alt-protein companies including Upside Foods (which cultures cow and chicken cells to make meat) and Perfect Day (which bioengineers microbes to produce milk proteins),” the article reports. “IndieBio’s leaders convinced [Geltor founders] Dr. Lorestani and Dr. Ouzounov that Geltor needed to sell a product, not a platform, and the partners settled on bio-designed collagen. Collagen is plentiful in all animal bodies, but Americans often encounter it in food-grade gelatin, nutritional supplements, and hair and skin-care products. They saw a growing market for collagen in luxury skin-care products, particularly in Asia.”

Amid vegan ingredient shortage, IndieBio’s NotCo taps AI for plant-based alternatives

Chilean plant-based food producer NotCo is using AI to find vegan dairy and meat alternatives—even amid supply chain disruptions. Source: NotCo

Plant-based food producer NotCo (IndieBio SF05 2017) has a secret weapon against critical supply chain disruptions, according to Bloomberg’s recent article, “The AI Platform Behind a Bezos-Backed Startup’s Vegan Burgers”. The Chilean-based company is tapping into an artificial intelligence platform named Giuseppe to find an alternative to sunflower oil—a crucial ingredient to one-third of all vegan meat alternatives, and one that has been in short supply because of the war in Ukraine. Giuseppe draws from a large database of plant-based versions of animal products, allowing it to create new formulas based on flavor, texture, color, and nutritional profile. 

Bloomberg cites NotCo’s impressive list of investors from Tiger Global, which led the series D, to Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton to Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos. (Notco has raised $363 million.) SOSV is also an investor and Notco is a graduate of SOSV’s IndieBio program. The article also paints the breadth of plant-based producer’s reach across fast food chains globally: NotCo has brought vegan options—both plant-based burgers and milkshakes—to Burger King, Shake Shack, Smash Burger, and Starbucks, among others, throughout Latin America, Australia, Canada, and the U.S. The unicorn startup will release its products in Europe and Asia this year.  

Giuseppe has helped NotCo formulate its two most popular dairy and meat alternative lines, NotMilk and NotBurger, using ingredients as surprising as cabbage juice and as common (to vegan recipes) as pea protein. “What NotCo is trying to do is offer a solution to the entire industry,” NotCo co-founder and CEO Matías Muchnick told Bloomberg. “When you take the animal out of the equation and you replace it with plants, everything gets way more efficient, exponentially.” 

Indiebio’s Kelp-based textile company AlgiKnit closes $13M series A, opens new facility

scientist looking at spindle of thread
AlgiKnit Closes $13 Million Series A To Scale Production To Meet Global Demand. Photo credit: AlgiKnit.

In the article, “Materials Innovator AlgiKnit Closes $13 Million Series A T Transform the Textile Industry’s Environmental Impact,” SynBioBeta reports that biomaterials company AlgiKnit (IndieBio / RebelBio 05) has completed a $13 million Series A funding round led by Collaborative Fund with additional support from Starlight Ventures, Third Nature VenturesHorizons Ventures, and SOSV. Just Style’s article “H&M Group joins funding for seaweed yarn maker Algiknit” also reveals that H&M CO:LAB, the investment arm of H&M Group, has lent additional funding support.

Algiknit leverages kelp, a type of seaweed, to create sustainable yarns and fibers across a number of industries including fashion, interiors, and automotive. In addition to closing its Series A, AlgiKnit also opened a new manufacturing facility in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, according to SynBioBeta. 

Speaking of Algiknit’s recent funding efforts and new manufacturing facility, AlgiKnit co-founder and CEO Tessa Callaghan commented, “This is a huge next step in bringing this technology to scale, and creating positive, tangible change for the planet. We are so excited to partner with new and existing investors who share our vision for transforming the fashion ecosystem.”

Closing a $6M series A, Chinova Bioworks targets mushroom-derived preservatives

In the article, “AgFunder-backed Chinova Bioworks raises $6m Series A funding for natural shelf-life extender”, AgFunderNews reports that Chinova Bioworks, a company developing fungi-based preservatives, closed a series A round worth $6M. This brings Chinova Bioworks’ total funding to date to $11.8M. 

Leading the most recent series A round was DSM Venturing and Rhapsody Venture Partners with additional participation from Rich Products Ventures. In Chinova Bioworks’ 2018 seed round, DSM Venturing and Rhapsody Venture Partners invested $2M alongside AgFunder and Natural Products Canada. The company’s pre-seed funding was headed by SOSV, the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, and the First Angel Network, according to AgFunderNews.

Using white button mushroom fiber, Chinova Bioworks creates a clean-label alternative to chemical preservatives in food—particularly in dairy, plant-based meat, baked goods, sauces, spreads, and beverages. 

Explaining the consumer demand for natural ingredients, Chinova Bioworks co-founder and CEO Natasha Dhayagude remarks, “The [Covid-19] pandemic has accelerated the trend for food safety and health-focused products.”

By Hannah DeTavis

Meet Stephen Chambers, the newly promoted general partner at SOSV’s IndieBio NY

Stephen Chambers
IndeBio NY program Managing Director, Dr. Stephen Chambers, PhD, SOSV 's newest general partner
IndeBio NY program Managing Director, Dr. Stephen Chambers, PhD, SOSV ‘s newest general partner

Two years after starting the IndieBio NY program as its Managing Director, Dr. Stephen Chambers, PhD, SOSV named him a general partner.

Stephen has been active in synthetic biology for 3 decades and founded multiple organizations. Immediately prior to joining IndieBio in 2020, Stephen was Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence at Imperial College London where he helping commercialise world-leading research and address skills gaps in the emerging synthetic biology ecosystem.

Before that, he was co-founder of several organizations including London’s BioStart accelerator, SynbiCITE (an innovation and knowledge centre for synthetic biology), Abpro (producing novel antibodies & proteins for biomedical research) and had a 17-years tenure as founding scientist and Director of Gene Expression at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, one of the first biotech firms to use an explicit strategy of rational drug design rather than combinatorial chemistry.

Stephen holds degrees in Molecular Biology from the University of Warwick (PhD), Biotechnology from the University of Birmingham (MS) and Biochemistry from Bangor University (BS).

Here are a few questions for Stephen: 

Dr. Chambers, you’re a bona fide Ph.D. in molecular biology. What attracted you to this field?

Please call me Stephen 🙂

Well, I didn’t start as a Molecular Biologist. I grew up watching Jacques Cousteau explore the undersea world on TV and initially wanted to study Marine Biology. However, I soon transferred to the less flashy but more employable Biochemistry degree and followed that with a Master’s in Biotechnology. At that time, there was an international moratorium on genetic engineering, and the only place in the world where this work could be performed and scaled up was Porton Down in the UK. This is where I did my Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and, in retrospect, was where I caught the startup fever—working alongside Biotech startups, like Biogen and Genentech, using the containment facilities and large-scale fermentors only available at Porton Down. After that, I joined Vertex in the US, as one of their founding scientists; Vertex was one of the first pharma companies to successfully utilize molecular biology in the drug design process.   

You’ve been a serial founder of biotech companies and a big supporter of the UK’s synbio scene. What lessons did you learn on the way? 

Through these experiences, I’ve been fortunate to have worked on numerous drug discovery & development programs, both small-molecule and biologics, resulting in regulatory approvals. And while I share the insights gained from those successful experiences with IndieBio startup founders, I make it a point also to convey what I learned from my many failed projects. Interestingly, I’ve found these are the most valuable lessons.

It’s easy to become pessimistic about the commercialization of science because the probability of failure is high in Biotech. It’s much harder to be optimistic when the odds are so poor. While founders must follow the data, they also need to create an alternative reality for themselves and their company with the belief that they can overcome the many challenges ahead.

Why do you think synbio matters so much today?

Molecular biology was always a very artisan process, highly variable, and not easily transferable or scalable. Synthetic biology can substantially increase predictability by applying engineering principles to biological processes. This shift towards synthetic biology matters because it is seeking to solve some of the biggest societal and environmental problems we face.

How did you get involved with IndieBio?

I followed what Arvind Gupta was doing in SF and Bill Liao in Cork with RebelBio. I visited the Jessie Street labs during a Synbiobeta conference and was very impressed with the team and the companies coming out of the program. I ran BioStart, a synbio pre-accelerator program in London, so when RebelBio relocated to the UK, I reached out to them to help with connectivity and mentored some companies – I feel like that is how many get involved in IndieBio.

Today’s reality is that early-stage investors are all looking for a founding team capable of executing a realistic scientific plan and business model to deliver asset-generating revenues.

You opened IndieBio’s NY office right when Covid hit. How did that work?

Amazingly well.  We opened just as Covid closed New York. But thanks to Po and the SF team who shared their insights and playbook, and the heroic efforts of the NY team –  Alex, Lindsay, Xavier, Julie, Gwen, Sam, Rodrigo, and more recently, Maddy and Sabriya – we recruited great founders and companies into the program and prepared them for the entrepreneurial journey ahead.  The results are there: 90% of the first cohort in IBNY received seed financing, and the subsequent three cohorts continue to impress, raising over $50M.  

What do you think could be done to get more biotech scientists to build startups?

Entrepreneurship is the art of creating something out of nothing and founders are on a constant search for scarce resources. For any scientist, starting a company is like visiting a foreign country for the first time: you need a guide to help with the language, the customs, what to do, where to go, who to see, and hundreds of other insights that make the journey less stressful. I like to think of IndieBio as a welcoming community of peers who will help you pack the right stuff and learn the right things for your journey, providing supportive resources and removing the barriers for biotech scientists wanting to build startups.

What key differences do you see between the biotech startup scenes in SF, NY and the UK?

The New York ecosystem is behind SF in terms of the numbers of biotech startups. But the raw material for success is there, with well-funded world-leading universities and research institutions, graduating the most bioscientists in the US. New York is also home to 12 of the world’s top 20 biopharmaceutical companies. The lack of resources, particularly the first check for early-stage life science companies, has been attributed to the lack of startup activity – and this is where IndieBio can help founders in New York.

I think the difference between coasts is oversimplified: “West-Coast investors with a tech background are more early-stage, founder-driven”, while “East Coast investors with Pharma backgrounds are only interested in a clinically ready asset”. Today’s reality is that early-stage investors are all looking for a founding team capable of executing a realistic scientific plan and business model to deliver asset-generating revenues.

Compared to the US, the UK doesn’t have a robust startup tradition in Biotech, and while the ecosystem is growing fast, it is still much smaller than in the US. And since this is a numbers game, more startups and more shots on goal results in more success. The UK still doesn’t have the critical mass of life science startup companies we have in Boston and SF and starting to see in NY. Biotech is now global, so many UK biotech startups are increasingly looking to the US for resources, investment, and markets – which is good news for IndieBio.

Meet Mohan Iyer, the new general partner at SOSV’s IndieBio SF

Mohan S. Iyer photo
Mohan S. Iyer, the newest general partner at SOSV

Mohan S. Iyer is the newest general partner at SOSV, focused on the IndieBio SF program with fellow SOSV general partners Po Bronson and Pae Wu.

Prior to joining IndieBio in 2021, Mohan was the COO of Pendulum Therapeutics working on probiotics for metabolic health to help people with type 2 diabetes to manage A1C, naturally. He was also Chief Business Officer at Second Genome, the first venture-backed microbiome genomics company, and CFO of Tethys Bioscience, which developed the first commercial test to predict those at highest risk of converting to type 2 diabetes.

Mohan holds an MBA from Yale, and degrees in Biomedical Engineering from Duke (M.S.) and Chemical Engineering from the University of Tennessee (B.S.).

Here are a few questions for Mohan: 

You started out as a biochemical engineer at Genentech, the mecca of biotech, before getting an MBA at Yale, then had various C-level roles in life science companies before focusing on -omics and a longer stint in microbiome. What made you take this path?

Genentech, in the mid-80s, gave me an amazing opportunity to experience first hand how a key insight from molecular biology can disrupt entrenched industries and positively impact human health. My entire career has been focused on chasing and expanding this vision. Each of the startups I worked with were based on a specific molecular biology insight with the potential to transform medicine and health. The technology platform was different in each case, whether genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics or microbiomics. The product and business models varied too, whether a novel molecular diagnostic, a new small or large molecule drug, or even a direct-to-consumer novel medical food. The thread that ties it all together is the drive toward translating disruptive biology into healthcare products that people really need. 

How did you connect with IndieBio and what made it catch your attention?

The last 25-30 years of biotech is just the preamble of how synbio will impact many sectors. It will help switch from petroleum-based and animal-based GHG-intensive products – from meat to packaging or cosmetics. Human health will transform too, and I realized that contributing my experience to founding and launching dozens of startups in that space would be very fulfilling, while also making an innovation-driven impact on the climate crisis.

I joined the intrepid team here focused on scaling up the venture capital industry to launch dozens of life science companies a year, each hoping for a singular impact on human and planetary health. 

I had mentored a few IndieBio companies in the past and I called Po Bronson to discuss how I could increase my involvement. Here’s some advice: If you are not ready to shake up your life, you really should not call Po. I quickly found myself in the basement on Jessie Street hanging out with IndieBio’s amazing startup founders, and I knew I had arrived: I joined the intrepid team here focused on scaling up the venture capital industry to launch dozens of life science companies a year, each hoping for a singular impact on human and planetary health. 

Mohan S. Iyer, Pae Wu and Po Bronson

You’ve been working with IndieBio startups for a year — what are the most common knowledge or experience gaps you can help them fill?

Many IndieBio founders are first-timers. My broad and deep operational experience helping to scale half a dozen startups brings them practical advice on how to articulate, structure and execute against their north star goals. Rolling up my sleeves alongside these amazing change agents is a great privilege.

What biotech sectors are you most motivated to work on?

A key ingredient to my personal happiness is continuous learning; so I am fairly agnostic about the sectors and very apt to plunge into new areas. Here at IndieBio, my inner biochemical engineer is like a kid in a candy store. There are so many blue-sky challenges to work on and overcome, they remind me of my first job at Genentech scaling up the manufacturing process for biotech’s very first products. Of course, based on my history and pattern of behavior over the last 30 years, I am intrinsically drawn to a company story where there is a stunning insight from biology with revolutionary possibilities. 

Last, what’s your secret hobby?

Well, it’s not much of a secret. On a weekend afternoon, after a couple of sets of tennis, you will find me picking a new tune on my ukulele. 

Meet the new chief science officers at IndieBio in NYC and HAX in Newark

SOSV: Susan Schofer (left), PhD, Chief Science Officer of HAX Newark facility, and Sabriya Stukes, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer of IndieBio New York.
Susan Schofer (left), PhD, Chief Science Officer of HAX Newark facility, and Sabriya Stukes, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer of IndieBio New York.

At SOSV’s IndieBio and HAX, two new team members are helping deep tech founders address scientific challenges. Earlier this year, Sabriya Stukes, PhD, joined IndieBio as Chief Scientific Officer in Manhattan and Susan Schofer, PhD, joined HAX as Partner and Chief Science Officer at its Newark, New Jersey facility. Stukes and Schofer both bring world-class credentials to these leading programs addressing human and planetary health. 

The two scientists will work in a variety of areas, starting with due diligence on the science behind the startups applying to the programs. Once founders are on board, Sabriya and Susan will help them define their scientific milestones, build a compelling narrative, and develop a commercialization strategy. The aim is that by the time founders graduate, they are ready to raise seed capital and pursue regulatory approvals. 

HAX, founded in Shenzhen in 2011, opened its Newark facility this year in partnership with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. IndieBio expanded to NYC from San Francisco, where it started in 2014, in collaboration with New York state. Dr. Stukes and Dr. Schofer will build upon this foundation by developing the network of scientists and corporate partners crucial to emerging startups. 

Sabriya Stukes: Innovating With, Not For

Born in Arlington, Virginia, Sabriya grew up as a voracious reader with a dinosaur obsession. IndieBio can thank The Hot Zone, the nonfiction thriller about Ebola, for convincing Sabriya to study infectious diseases instead of pterodactyls.

After graduating from Virginia Tech in 2005, Sabriya conducted research on HIV at the National Institutes of Health and tuberculosis at New York University. She then pursued her PhD in microbiology and immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, graduating in 2015.

At a seminar highlighting women in STEM, Sabriya met Dr. Gilda Barabino, then dean of engineering at the City College of New York (CCNY). Dr. Barabino was about to launch the Master’s in Translational Medicine (MTM) program at CCNY and asked Sabriya to help build it. MTM would be the city’s first graduate degree to train scientists and engineers in medical technology innovation and commercialization.

“You can’t design in a vacuum. I’m big on designing not just for a specific population or community, but with them.”

Over the next six years, Sabriya mentored MTM student-founders working on everything from treating atopic dermatitis in individuals with melanated skin to a wearable device for managing the effects of menopause. Ideas like these “…got me thinking about who gets technologies designed for them, and who doesn’t,” Sabriya says. 

Sabriya noticed that many founders struggled because they often excluded their intended customers from the innovation process. “You can’t design in a vacuum,” she says. “I’m big on designing not just for a specific population or community, but with them.” 

In 2021, Sabriya brought that drive to Stellate Therapeutics, a biotech company using microbiome-derived molecules to treat neurodegenerative disorders. She took on operations for Stellate while continuing to teach MTM graduate students. 

Early in 2022, Sabriya heard about IndieBio’s opening for a Chief Scientific Officer doing what she loves: creating a community of scientists and engineers, in New York, dedicated to designing innovative and inclusive solutions for unmet clinical needs.   

“Sabriya is a perfect fit for the IndieBio New York program,” said SOSV General Partner Stephen Chambers. “She brings a track record of accomplishments as a research scientist, an academic helping grad students translate research into commercial opportunities, and hands-on operational experience in a New York life science startup. In addition, Sabriya brings an enormous amount of energy and positivity with her can-do attitude, making her a pleasure to work alongside.”

Susan Schofer: The Commercialization Wiz

Born in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Susan was lucky to attend New Trier, a massive public high school where she could “nerd out,” as she puts it, and “be challenged to my limit.” As an undergrad at Brown University, Susan got hooked on chemistry. 

After graduating in 1997, Susan tried out management consulting (“not a fit”) and instead went to Caltech for a PhD in chemistry followed by a postdoc in Sweden working on artificial photosynthesis. In 2005, she joined Symyx Technologies, a Bay Area chemicals startup accelerating new material discovery. 

Not many PhDs enjoy thinking about scale, cost, and marketing narratives, but Susan did. In her next job at Amyris, a San Francisco-based synthetic biology startup, she transitioned from the lab to product management and commercial operations. This was her sweet spot.

“You want to be inventing things that are new to the world, not inventing things that are new to you.”

In 2014, Susan landed a job as the eighth employee at Modern Meadow, then a New York-based startup that was working on animal-free leather and debating how to commercialize it. Partnerships, Susan reasoned, were the missing bridge between the laboratory and market. “You want to be inventing things that are new to the world, not inventing things that are new to you,” she says.

Susan secured partnerships with an Italian textile mill and major luxury and performance brands eager to be part of the innovation process. That way, Modern Meadow was able to develop a useful leather directly, without Marco Polo-ing its way to product-market fit. Susan’s approach helped Modern Meadow raise a $130 million Series C in April 2021.

In 2022, Susan met the HAX team at a hard tech happy hour in New York, where they were scouting for a Chief Science Officer. “This role combines all the things I love,” says Susan. “This team is super talented and trying to create the future.”

Susan applied for the job believing that HAX can revitalize planetary and human health—and New Jersey. “The way we produce, ship, and acquire things is broken and needs to be reinvented,” she says, arguing that cities like Newark—dismissed as Rust Belt relics—will be part of an industrial renaissance as hard tech innovations reshore manufacturing to the US.

“Susan not only has stellar academic credentials, but she has also spent most of her professional life focused on scaling new technology,” said SOSV General Partner Duncan Turner. “As HAX companies continue to push the envelope of hard tech, both in science and scale, we needed an experienced scientist to help us grow our expertise and capabilities in this area. We were absolutely delighted to meet Susan as she is a perfect fit for this role and so happy she chose to join our team.”

They Have Your Back

Sabriya and Susan know firsthand how communities of scientists and engineers, embedded among thoughtful mentors and experienced partners, can commercialize science that changes life for the better. They have seen what lies ahead and can spare founders from avoidable mistakes. They will ask the questions founders have never been asked and help guide startups where they never thought they could go. They know the science, and they have your back.

Announcing IndieBio NY Class 3 Demo Day

IndieBio is proud to announce its Demo Day for New York Class 3, taking place on January 27, 2022, with activities scheduled from 12:00pm-1:00pm.

Reserve your tickets here.

IndieBio is the world’s leading biotech startup development program, which supports startups tackling the biggest problems facing human and planetary health. Startups develop scientific projects into products that will transform our food, therapeutics, biomaterials, and diagnostics industries–and more.

IndieBio Demo Day is the opportunity to celebrate with these startup founders, as they highlight the milestones made during the IndieBio program. We welcome you to IndieBio NY Class 3 Demo Day to meet and applaud the deeply mission-driven teams.

The program will feature CEOs from around the world, using biotechnology to solve the biggest problems facing human and planetary health. Get a sneak peak of the startups that will be presenting here.

SOSV ranks SOSV #1 investor in climate tech since 2018

Pitchbook released their inaugural report on Climate Tech for Q3 2021, where SOSV was ranked the most active VC in climate tech by deal count for the period from January 2018 to the end of September 2021.

This came notably from our startup development programs in Hard Tech (HAX) and Biology (IndieBio), which backed dozens of startups notably in the field of alternative proteinbiomaterials and industrial technologies — three of the largest contributors to the emissions of greenhouse gases.

As a reminder that VC in general and Climate Tech in particular are a team sport, we are glad to count many of the other firms ranked as co-investors in our top startups (more details here).

Prelude Ventures and Khosla Ventures also shared insights about their investment approaches during the recent SOSV Climate Tech Summit (summary and videos).

Link to the original Medium post by Ben Joffe

The environmental benefits of Perfect Day’s animal-free dairy products

Cows — and the methane they produce — are a major contributor to the overall greenhouse gas emissions of the dairy sector. Taking them out of the equation could be a net environmental positive.

Alternative methods that use fermentation to produce dairy proteins could significantly cut the environmental cost of milk, cheese and ice cream.

In a study released first to Axios, independent researchers tapped by Perfect Day found the company’s process produced more than 90% less greenhouse gases, required 20% to 60% less energy, and used more than 96% less water per kilogram of protein produced compared to conventional bovine dairy protein.

Inside Hermès, where MycoWorks mycelium leather will soon join the product line

Vanity Fair recently published a photo essay, “Inside the Hermès Workshop That Makes Its Iconic Bags,” that discusses the iconic designer’s plans to use IndieBio alum’s MycoWorks‘ “Fine Mycelium,” in an upcoming line of products. From Alexis Cheung’s piece:

“Despite this staunch adherence to tradition, Hermès will introduce a decidedly modern material this fall: mycelium leather. Developed in collaboration with the San Francisco-based biotech company MycoWorks, this “Fine Mycelium,” coined Sylvania by its creators, derives not from cattle but from mushrooms. Fournier insists that its quality and durability meet the same high standards of traditional leathers and that the material continues Hermès’s long legacy of innovation—it was, after all, Thierry’s grandson Émile-Maurice Hermès who introduced the zipper to handbags in 1922.

“We strongly believe that we should not oppose new technology with what we do with the hands and tradition,” says Fournier. “Both are compatible.” Plus, he adds, “It’s a fantastic opportunity for creation, to play with new materials.” (For now, this particular play is reserved for the Victoria handbag from the autumn/winter 2021 collection, constructed at a workshop of its own.)”

UPSIDE Foods founder and CEO Dr. Uma Valeti to speak at SOSV Climate Tech Summit

We are delighted to announce that a pioneer in cultivated meat, Dr. Uma Valeti, founder and CEO of UPSIDE Foods, will be speaking at the SOSV Climate Tech Summit on October 20-21. UPSIDE (formerly known as Memphis Meats) produced the world’s first cultured beef meatball in 2016 and the first cultured chicken and duck in 2017.

From a climate tech perspective, the hope is that the cultivated proteins that UPSIDE has developed will eventually help reduce live animal production and slaughter, which are a major contributor to climate change. Read more…

This could be the milkiest vegan ice cream ever

“Perfect Day’s research found that its process generates 85 to 97 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional dairy production. It also doesn’t use any of the hormones or antibiotics (or, for that matter, land) needed to keep that immense livestock machine running. You won’t find any lactose or cholesterol, either.”

Join IndieBio at the SOSV Climate Tech Summit

Since its founding, IndieBio has worked with biotech startups addressing the biggest challenges in human and planetary health. “Planetary health” isn’t merely a tagline, but a new reality that IndieBio companies have created by rewriting the way we make food, design materials, and utilize waste streams. The need to mitigate human-made climate change through novel technologies has never been more clear to anyone who has followed the news and observed the new norm of extreme weather.

IndieBio is joining its parent firm SOSV for an event all about climate tech. The SOSV Climate Tech Summit will be produced in conjunction with other VCs who have committed to using capital to build a better planet. Join top founders, investors, and policymakers to discuss how to accelerate the startup ecosystem taking on climate change.

The event is free and open to everyone. Register here to attend

Gwen Cheni’s IndieBio Podcast: Pablo Zamora, PhD. Co-Founder of NotCo

Gwen speaks with Pablo Zamora, Co-Founder and original CSO of NotCo. From their website: “When we discovered removing animals from food production would protect the planet, the solution was simple: create an algorithm – that we named Giuseppe – who could learn infinite combinations of plants to replicate animal products, make them sustainable and taste even better. Now, for the sake of the planet, let’s reinvent the food industry — one delicious mouthful at a time.”

Podcast Episode: How to CSO a Unicorn


Pablo: At the initial moments of a startup, you have so a limited budget that you can not make mistakes. And if you made mistake, you need to [make that mistake] cheap and fast. 

Gwen: Hi everyone. On today’s podcast, we have Pablo Zamora, who was the co-founder original CSO of NotCo. Everyone’s probably heard of NotCo by now. It is has saturated the Chilean market, and now in the US market and can be found at a Whole Foods near you. So Pablo, welcome to the IndieBio podcast.

Pablo: Thank you Gwen for the introduction. 

Gwen: So Pablo, I have to tell a joke to everyone to start the podcast. So I was actually on a on a radio show with Pablo. And you know the letter Y is pronounced like a J in Spanish. So Pablo goes, “Oh Gwen got her start in jail.” And so I was thinking, “I’ve never been to jail!” Where is this coming from? So I went to Yale university. So Yale is pronounced like Jail in Spanish. It took me a second, but I very quickly said “no, no, I’ve never been to jail.” So that’s the little bit of Spanish lesson for everyone here. So Pablo, with that start, tell us about yourself. How did you get started with NotCo? How did you get that idea?

Pablo: So I started with NotCo six years ago. I think because the food industry was really static, and real innovation wasn’t there, at least in Latin America. When we started the company, the three founders, we met in the US. I was in California at UC Davis. My co-founder was at Berkeley taking some courses, and another one he was at Harvard. So we connect to each other in the US, and then suddenly we realized that innovation was required in a space where everybody can be a user, right? It could be tangible for everyone. And food industry was the first reaction that we get to, how we improve technology in a space that is kind of [backward] in that time, we were talking about 2015, 2014 we started a company and we decide to move it, three of us to Chile to start it here. Chile make a lot of sense for us because we were Chilean. So if we succeed or we fail, nothing happens because we get some kind of reputation over here. And at the same time, I think that we identify that new tools that they were available for other industries like biotech, biopharmaceutical or medicine weren’t there for the food industry.

So that’s how we ended up bringing to profile of deep science: I’m a biochemist, plant biochemist and with a lot of expertise in genomics, my co-founder Karim [Pichara], he was expert in machine learning for astronomy, um, use of data sets and creating algorithms for that kind of application.

So we bring together – and I always say that when we met Karim and we tried to pull together these two angles of food – it was a train 200 miles per hour, because we try to bring up a solution when the data was not there, we create some experimental data and then we use the optics of astronomy to resemble food. And that was pretty amazing at the beginning.

Originally reason, for me at least, on my end was a pure academic exercise. And then we find out with the help ofMatias [Muchnick] that we can really build a business around it. 

Gwen:  So it sounds like the three co-founders were actually bicoastal. How did you find each other?

Pablo: I think it was funny, you know, because I was living in the US for, I dunno, nine years. And Karim, he was doing his postdoc at Harvard. He [was there for] a year and a half. But Matias had traveled to get some entrepreneurship courses in Berkeley, Stanford, these small programs, and then he moved to the east coast and he find out my name because the Chilean diaspora is kind of a small, and there were not too many Chileans working there and doing great stuff. And I was, at that time, getting a very senior position at Mars Incorporated doing pretty awesome and deep science project with plants and Matias wanted to contact someone with expertise in plant biotechnology mainly.  I think that he didn’t understand very well what was the type of expertise that he was looking for, but I was a Chilean, sitting there, leading a lab. So he contacted me and then he moved to Harvard, because a friend of his was an alumni, friend of Karim.  And of course Chileans, we love our country, we always communicate with our peers outside of Chile. So he was, I think contacting Chileans that came highly recommended. So he ended up contacting me and contacting Karim on the East Coast. 

Gwen: Got it. So I do know that hiring – both after the initial IndieBio stage or even during IndieBio – hiring is such an important role for both founders and VCs. So always I’m always asking for tips. How did you bridge that? And Pablo is super humble: NotCo, with their $235 million recent raise just became IndieBio’s first unicorn. Congratulations! 

Pablo: The decision of investing in it. 

Gwen: I always feel like it’s the team, right? There was a meme on Twitter recently of the real athletes and then the spectators that are watching it on TV or in the stands. But I really feel that as investors, that’s all we are is that we’re cheering you on. We’re helping you. We’re buying your schwag, but you know, we’re not the ones in the arena fighting.

Pablo: Yeah, but I think that particularly in the case of IndieBio, right? Because you, for example, you help with fundraising, but at the same time you have access to facilities. The iteration that happened internally really triggers a lot of progress, not just pure business side, but also the experimental one, and the experimental one with the interaction that you have with the mentors and everybody around the ecosystem have with IndieBio. We spend time in SF – New York didn’t exist at the time – I think it’s very fast how every iteration happened between the experimental and the business, because you are developing business skills all the time. In the case of our our CEO, Mathias is very smart and he learned pretty fast. But at the same time, you have a layer of experimental skills that you are improving and you are interacting with the business, in the day-by-day, very concentrated. Because when we were in Chile, of course, the team was in Chile, there is a lot of business to attend, including, how you hire people, how you build a business, how you build a lab, how you manufacture, how you contract services. So, I will say that the momentum of IndieBio is something that of course it’s very good for founders because you’re aligned with the founders. You need to be, really, at the end of the program. But at the same time, I think it gives some kind of peace for people that are sitting there, just thinking on executing what was proposed on the regional plan. And I think that that is very valuable because I for instance, I spent a lot of time with Matias in Japan, getting selected by endeavor. And I think at that week in Japan, just two of us working together helped me understand better my co-founder. And I think that is exactly what happened at IndieBio:when you spend more time with your co-founders and you try to map out how they think, how they take decisions, you know friends you could be, or how colleagues you could be. 

Gwen: Yeah, I think that is the differentiation between IndieBio and regular investors, whether it’s an angel investor or a seed fund. We really are free employees for six months for you. For some of our companies that just went through the batch, I literally sat in every large sales meeting with them and for them, because when you’re selling B2B, you might only have a dozen possible clients. And so you can’t burn any of those meetings. So I made sure to attend all of them. Because if you miss one of those opportunities, It’s jeopardizing the survival of your company. So totally agree with you on that. Thanks for pointing that out. We don’t see a lot of founders that really appreciate what we do, but you’re definitely very grateful for the people that help you. And maybe that’s why you guys are so successful, right? Is that people want to continue helping you guys.

Pablo: Even more! I remember that after we raised series A and B, and we needed to be back in the U S with the long run of growing in Chile and expanding to Brazil and Argentina. I remember the time that I went there, 2019 and the first door that I knocked on was IndieBio SF, because we needed to find space for working. And you said you were alumni like two, three years ago, but this is your space, you use it. And when you’re ready, you move on. So through IndieBio, we ended up in another place in San Francisco where everything is happening with big companies. But the first door we knocked on was IndieBio because we were involved in the past and that kind of continuity, it’s good because you have a partner overseas, in a case like our company based in Latin America.

Gwen: Yeah, that’s definitely been true: we’ve never kick out any of our alum companies. You essentially have free coworking spaces, in both San Francisco and New York now, which has a benefit. You have West Coast and East Coast. So let’s talk about the operating side of NotCo because you guys grew very quickly in Chile. How did you do that? And how did you pick Chile?

Pablo: I think for many reasons. First of all, I think that Chile is small enough as a country and it’s very organized in terms of retail. So if you are in the three main retailers, you concentrate like 80% of the market. And we have some retail that is very well organized and very innovative. So we have one specific brand called Jumbo, they are looking for brilliant products overall. So we have a small market, small enough to make a proof of concept, and at the same time, I will say smart retail for bringing in new concepts. And we aligned perfectly with them because we were the new kids on the block, with an aisle that was very depressed. The first product we launched was NotMayo, because people change their decision on the price point, based on how cheap was the competitor. So you didn’t have any attachment to the brand. So when we created the first product, I think that we make a lot of noise, because [we were] equal price from the competitors, and we were doing in-store tasting, and saying to people that [NotMayo] was exactly the same, but with no cholesterol, not saying that it was a better product, or anything like that. Very smart way of communicating this. So, I think that we broke some kind of cultural boundary of consumers saying that plant-based product was for vegan. And we never communicate that we were a vegan company, because vegan for a big retailer, you will be a niche product on their organic aisle. And we ended up working on the same aisle with the regular mayo, and nobody noticed because [our] competitors were based in Europe and another one with the R-and-D center in Brazil. So I think that we grew in market share, without the competitor [knowing] that we could be a good and strong player. So I think that combined many things: an organize market, a very good retailer mindset, an aisle that was very depressed, and in-store tasting, I think that was key because if you just leave your product there and [go] home, nobody will shift their decision based on a label. You need to test and interact. We, myself and my co-founders, we went to the supermarket and gave samples to them. And I think that makes some dynamic internally inside the supermarket, with how people interact with the product. And that was pure marketing, and Matias is brilliant there. Yeah, that’s how we grew and people started adopting without being vegan. So they go for X and they go for NotMayo. And that was perfect because we, in some way democratize how the plant-based food was perceived in the market. And we were very focused, I would say, in one supermarket, and with that case of success, we went to the second one and the third one, and negotiated better terms, and eventually grew nationally. But [Chile is] still one-third of California in population. So I think it was good for creating this narrative of the company. And with that enhanced experience, we are opening in more aggressive markets like Brazil and Argentina.

With regards to regulations and how we develop the product, if we want to develop the product internally and then ship it to other countries, or start operations in other countries. So that exercise of perceiving ourselves on a growing process, I would think that Chile helped us to [nail] down [a process]. If we make mistakes, it’s still a small market. If something happened in the aisle, we drove there and see what happened. And that was very cool. I think it, for me at least, made a lot of sense because I was in charge originally in the company of creating the science platform. And you have great universities, excellent, these student, a lot of PostDocs everywhere from Chile, from overseas that can flow back, and be back in the country. So the kind of people, the highly skilled people recruited for the company was already in the country. So that makes everything happen pretty fast. 

Gwen: So I just got a request to do a go-to-market and distribution session for the next batch. And I think I’m going to use what you just said. I think you summarized it really well. The number one thing it sounds like from what you said is, find a partner that has an unmet need, right? So if you’re knocking on doors, you want to knock on the easiest door. Somebody that is looking for the solution that you can deliver. And number two, is after you found the partner, the product that you picked is one with very little loyalty, right? And so that’s another easy product. So you want to find the easiest product there as well. And then I think number three that you mentioned, after you’ve done these two, you can’t just sit back and let the market do its work. You actually have to put in the sweat and maybe blood and tears to actually do the one-on-one product introduction to get the customers up the learning curve of what is this new product, have them try it. And then I guess the fourth thing, if possible, you’re hoping that the [distributor] that you’ve partnered with has enough market share such that if it works, you get enough growth right away. But I think of the four items that you mentioned, the fourth one is a nice to have, but not a must have, 

Pablo: Yeah, very good you explained it better than me. So number five, I will say – it was critical and not intentional – is the mainstream products, their R-and-D operations to challenge us wasn’t in the country. So we grew 1 point of market share to 2, 3, 4, 10, 12, 15, and the people [finally] noticed. What is happening in Chile, why we are losing market share why wouldn’t, why we don’t release our own plant-base? 

And when they went to launch their plant-based product, we were already on the top of the mind of every customer. So we created a brand very powerful, so people give loyalty to us. When they reacted, that was too late for them. When they released their plant-based product, we’ve already captured the people that want to jump into the plant-based. So we didn’t, I would say, lose market share because there were other plant-based from the current mainstream brands releasing product. And that was pretty awesome, because people start defending us, to say, this is what NotCo does, so why you are buying this other brand, if this concept belongs to NotCo. And that was great. And you can see it on the supermarket because I was, you know, as a customer seeing, looking at the aisle with the natural products for 20, 25 minutes and people make choices. And they choose this cool brand from this, how the people define us in the YouTube comment, overeducated hippies, right? That they were creating this concept of plant-based products. 

Gwen: I think that’s a really key point. I’ve actually heard the same thing, uh, from, uh, companies in Mexico, that if the product is made by an international manufacturer outside of the country, they’re not as quick to react, because they don’t have as many boots on the ground and this actually highlights the importance the numerous number of hours spent in the grocery stores, right? Your large international, global competitors didn’t do that. So they didn’t have boots on the ground. They weren’t able to react quickly and they, frankly, maybe you just didn’t care as much. I’m so glad to hear. You’re reiterating a lot of our points that we’ve been teaching our founders. 

On that part, I guess it’s always easier to raise when you’ve seen a lot of success, but any tips on fundraising.

Pablo: Yes, I’m helping right now because I’m not part of NotCo management team anymore. So I’m helping companies because I’m in Chile and my co-founders they’re in the U S growing this beautiful business. So I’m helping a lot of startups right now with fundraising. 

I think the lessons that we get from NotCo to exercise the strategy of fundraising, I think that the main lessons for me is, of course, not get easy money. First, people at the beginning, I remember giving a conference for a bank in Ecuador, and a millionaire in a private jet came in and said, I want to have 40% of your company. You will have $20 million dollars. And he had no clue on on CPG products, he had no clue about the technology. He had no clue, nothing. And that was the easy part, right? Getting the funding for an attractive idea, in some way, could be very easy. But you need to pick, very well, your investors. And the main strategy that I used, maybe my co-founder thinks differently, but people that are aligned with your purpose: it’s very important, right? People that are not just can understand your business, but aligned with what you want to change. My goal behind startups, and NotCo is one of them, but I co-founder other too, is to change culture in stuff that I believe that are not correct in society. So that notion need to be shared with your investors: they need to be aligned with the goals of your intervention in society in some way, right? This is very important because they will create empathy with you and they will try to fight with the same passion for that change of culture that you are pushing from your end. This the first one. 

And second one, they need to be hands on, your venture [investors] need to be hands-on. I remember that the first investor that we got was Kaszek, the largest venture fund in Latin America. And they were awesome. Not just because they helped us educate ourselves as a management team of a startup, but also they will really helpful in creating and open their own network to hire people, management, positions. If we travel to Buenos Aires for a meeting, we used their office. And we always were very welcomed by their team if we want to talk some strategies. So one dimension is the board of director role that they play, we were looking for people that can really support the operation in many dimensions. And I think VC was key in that role. And also we, we bring other people, right? The Craftory is a brand focused VC. And they were great as well. And keep moving with the rest of the investor. But I think that combination of aligned with your purpose and your goal and your vision is critical, and also that they have the perception that they need to be a partner with you, and they need to help you to grow, not just every month kicking your butt with question and creating new new strategies. 

Sometimes the projection of the company doesn’t accomplish what we promise. It’s normal. And having someone there sitting with you that you can call in the middle of the week without being in a board meeting saying, “man, I’m in trouble. You need to help me make a decision here.” That kind of a partnership role. I think it was critical, for not just to accomplish the economy part of the company, but also to create a culture internally, to create a kind of a way of seeing the business that can really help you to put in their current role as some responsibility of the success of the company. And that was great because if we want to open in Argentina, there will be a venture helping us to do that. If we move to Brazil, we have another connection to do that. So including office space, that is very simple, but imagine being a small company, open a new business in a country that you have no clue, and you don’t speak the same language. So that part of the growing, is with the venture. And I think we made great choices. 

Gwen: Yup. I totally underline everything that you’ve said. I always advise founders, “don’t think of it just as money, but as a co-builder with you.” And so it’s really easy to be on the board and demand everything. Much harder to sit side by side with the founder and say, “okay, how do we solve this together? Here are all the intros I’ll make for you. Here are the things I’m going to do to help you,” instead of just saying “you do this.” I totally a hundred percent agree with you. And sometimes I think investors underestimate the power of the intros: if you’ve been in the venture business for 20 years, you have contacts to make a huge difference in a company. And for anyone listening, who’s not from LATAM, Argentinian Spanish is very different from Chilean Spanish. When Pablo says two different language, that that’s what he meant. 

Pablo, Matias sort of scouted you out from the stories that I’ve heard. How did you know this is something that [would work]? The business founders have an idea. They have a grand vision, a CSO is such a key hire. How do you find the right one? And the same, the reverse is true, right? If you’re a scientist, oftentimes a lot of scientists don’t recognize the importance of the business side, especially on the pharma side. How do you find a good business executive that will get your product to market? I see a lot of failures on this part. 

Pablo: Very, very hard. I think it’s very hard because normally most of the venture doesn’t help to recruit good scientists because sometimes some investors [don’t see the science]. And I’m seeing this after my fundraising with NotCo. They see science like an excuse of building a brand. They don’t see a science has a deep part of the soul of a technological company. They love to mention that science is important, but they don’t want to invest because it’s too expensive and it’s too risky. I’m a scientist like you, I recognize that you are also a business woman. I think that we as scientists have some very important problems with ego, and it’s a hard to recognize that we need to build some people on the table to do what we don’t know how to do. And I will make the question on both sides when you are on the  business [side], and you try to convince the scientists, it will be always hard because the scientists will check your resume.

And your resume probably say nothing about what really you are in the business side. So this has happened to me with Matias. When the first time I met Mathias, he said, “Yeah, this is a idea with red hair, and I don’t have too many with red hair in my network, so he could be interesting, but I will contact my one of my PhD students and work with you in what we are planning, but I don’t have the time. And at that time, I was associate director of an innovation center with a forty-five scientists with a huge salary, with many labs. So I was very good in my position, working for UC (University of California) system. So building a new company was not something that I was looking for, because I got everything that I wanted at the time. And I was 35 or 34. Now my career was very crazy. So I was sitting in my lab in floor number 12 in a business district with a lot of brilliant scientists all over the world, and I was having this idea with Mathias and Karim to start something tangible in Chile. So my first reaction was, “yes, we can do this, but I will spend none of my time, I will spend zero time on this until we see if works or not.” So I contact someone in the university, “why you don’t help me to solve these couple of questions and see if that works, I will jump in and I will take the lead on this. And that was exactly what I did. 

And also Mathias remind me that at first, when we went back to Chile, he was calling me and [when I pick up the phone and see the name] Matias, “ah no, I don’t want to talk to this guy” because I was very busy. And I had in my hands a $35 million grant and needed to make too many things. So getting the attention of a scientist is not easy. So at the end, what happened is what we were proposing worked experimentally and they say, well, if this is work, this could be a game changer. So I decided to jump in and dedicate my time and put all my energy and my quality behind it.

This is my experience. And I have been approached by many business people across time. And that was the very first time that I talked to them deeply, to try to understand what they’re looking for. But of course, I was in my personal life. I was a scientist in a university, then I moved into the patents, knowledge and writing patents, then I moved to the private sector. I was leading an Institute of Advanced Research in a company. So my mindset was easy to jump into a startup because I was doing research for four years in the private sector. But if you want to convince someone in a university, [that’s] even harder, because their life is already solved, because they have their tenure track, they receive grants every year, they do whatever they want, they have two months of vacation. So dealing with that part of the scientist, I wouldn’t say is even harder, because maybe they know the science, but they are not familiar with the business. They don’t know how to execute the correct science for delivery, and not go too deep on the science to make papers, realizing what the company requires from you. So I will say that my recommendation for hiring CSOs is like always go to people on middle position in companies, on a startup, people that can really achieve in their minds about how to apply to business, not just apply like at a university, because someone else will take the post, and someone else will make it work. You need someone that has experience of delivering on very very tight budgets, with the right specific experiments that will allow you to move into the next level. And that experience is the private sector. There’s no way that you can have a game-changer CSO from a professor position because he will try to replicate whatever he does in the university, that is absolutely different to the one that you need to accomplish in the private sector. And of course, being a CSO, when you are a startup, you need to be the middle scientists that can learn, have experience, and can jump in into your startup with very good incentives, with stock option and bonus or something that would help him to move on from his current position. 

Gwen: How many years in the private sector do you think is enough to have learned those lessons after academia? And also, do you think private sector is sufficient or does it have to be a startup or innovation focused private sector?

Pablo: I would say the private sector will, if he is in a good position, private sector? will be enough. I think because also if you’re in a big company, not as a startup, you can bring your clients, you can bring your network, you can have access to big facilities. But sometimes when you’re a startup, you’re poor for the first 10 years. So you are kind of in a battle position, always fighting for the paying for experiments. So that going from startup to startup, sometimes you don’t have the vision of creating a business around science. So having been a scientist in a real strong consolidated company – of course maybe the person is less creative – but at least he has the view about how the system works, and eventually he will help you to create that kind of vision from your startup to the consolidated company.

So I will center timing for me at six months [to] change my mindset because … 

Gwen: I think you learn a little bit faster than … 

Pablo:  … maybe a few years, three, four years to get a good sense. What you can not do is like bring in a corporate guy that sees science has a commodity, as people in the private sector normally have that view. If you take that profile, you will make a big mistake because he will kill the startup. 

Gwen: Yeah, I think this is the reason why I just love IndieBio, is that one of our core thesis is that science is the asset here. My personal view is that the scientist is the IP, is more valuable than IP. What I’ve seen is that the scientists that wrote the patents, they can always figure out a way to get around it. So if you think that the patents are the assets, you’re wrong, it’s the scientists that are the real IP. So I totally agree with you on that part. So how long did it take for Mathias to wheel you out of your $35 million grant …

Pablo: I think a few months, three or four months. Because at the time, the company didn’t exist, was kind of a concept, but we were iterating. So Karim was doing some things, I was providing some data and helping to collect some data on the repositories, Karim was doing the first iteration, and Matias was experimenting in his kitchen.

So until we get good food, we decided to wait to create a company. When we say this is not disgusting, this tastes pretty good. Wow. This is amazing. So why wouldn’t we take a seat and create a company around it?

So it was funny because our experiments are eatable experiments. If you fail, it doesn’t matter because you eat it and if you don’t like it then move on. You’re not killing anyone, you know? It was funny because in my lab at NotCo at the time, there was no toxic compounds. So everything at the experimental site needs to be edible. So the molecular biology was in another lab, right? So easy because everybody can evaluate the successful experiments. People from marketing, people from the office, can have  an opinion  about it.

Gwen: Yeah, I am very jealous of the future-of-food companies. Their lab is their kitchen, so it sounds like fun. I think you mentioned something about recruiting a business co-founder or a CSO, but it also sounds like you also did a lot of the recruiting once you were in Chile. Any advice on how to build out a team, once you do raise your seed round or your Series A.

Pablo: I think that will depends upon how ambitious you want to be. First of all, if we bring someone from McKinsey and we were not able to pay his salary. The salary of a former McKinsey is the salary of the total team, makes no sense. So much experience at the beginning and so much reputation, sometimes it’s not good because when they perceive that the founders are not mature enough, that they will jeopardize their operation, because they will feel that they know more than the view that is implemented at that moment.

So later on, I will say that in my case, and I think it in any case, because we in some way have some sort of reputation on the science and technology side, we were the ones building our team with people that we really trust from our previous positions. So, I say this correctly because at the initial moments of a startup, you have such a limited budget that you can not make mistakes. And if you made mistake, you need it to be cheap and fast. You can not create very huge deep long-term experiment to demonstrate anything. You need to be very sharp, very efficient. And for that, I will say in my personal experience, I hired people that I most trust in my entire career. So I’d bring people from the US, I bring people from Chile. They were my peers, they were my colleagues, they were my students. And I bring them from everywhere, I [tell them] what we are building is so powerful that you will not regret on that decision. We have no much money to pay you, but you will be playing a role in a game-changer company. And why I’m saying that it’s a game-changer company, this is the data that we get. This is the kind of logic that we have behind the company. This is the technological platform that we want to build. The skillsets are required, but the mindset and the trust are equally important as the skillset.

So I will say at the beginning, only just two first employees, they were kind of agnostic on the search. The other ones they’re strategic, they are people that we trust and we give to them the role of building the platform that we want, because they are people that demonstrated in the past that they can do it in other positions, whether at a university, at a center, in another startup So I think that was a very, very, very critical: skills, trust and mindset. 

Gwen: Yeah, a hundred percent agree with what you’re saying is that the beginning stages of a startup, especially when you’re a sub 10 people, you’re very likely running on very low capital. So you’re not like a large company where, if the hire didn’t work out, you’ve wasted six months of salary. You don’t have that six months of salary. So it must be somebody that you trust. And also you don’t have the time to deal with personnel issues. I think another thing I’ve advised founders on hiring for a technical role, which is something that they probably don’t have from their own network, is that the person who’s asking you to match their current salary is likely not the right person, because they’re not giving up anything. They’re getting salary plus your stock. So don’t go for the mercenaries, go for the missionaries. 

Pablo: Right. True.

Gwen: Every guest [on the podcast] I always ask them, what topics do you want to talk about? And Pablo, despite being how smart he is, he has a big brain, but he has an even bigger heart. He said, I want to talk about how entrepreneurs founders can give back to their community. So I want to yield the rest of the time for you to talk about that.

Pablo: I think that for me, that is critical, right? If we want to move the economies, I think that startups are at the peak, the margin of the economy, important players. And for that, we need more NotCo’s, we need more, we need more.

And it’s not a matter of concentrated just for concentration, it’s being concentrated to distribute. And I think that the entrepreneurs, we get some kind of success, right? Success in the economical dimension is one type of success, but you need to have a vision that all the people need to come after you, and build that capacity, not just to move the economy, but also to create great jobs, to create knowledge as a pinnacle of moving societies. And for that, for me is critical. So right now I’m working from the municipality of my city, the city that I live. I live in the countryside and I decide to support the municipality and create an innovation department over here, and bring in the best startup that I know to, to try to create impact on the territory that I live.

I’m not saying that that is the way to go, but I think it’s good to read, to perceive that entrepreneurs have a way to go that can really have impact in many dimensions. And startup was one experience, but public policy could be a second one, helping other entrepreneurs could be a third one. Playing with people that are trying to build a business that are not technical, scientific driven companies. It’s important to give some tips. So I think that we need to have a vocation or some kind of empathy with the society and we have some entrepreneurs need to play that game as well. So what I’m doing in my day by day basis, not just sitting on boards and helping entrepreneurs, but also helping my neighborhood. I create a school for instance, for teaching kids, because I think that it’s key. Someone called me from Germany, from Netherlands, from Africa, I will find my time and I will talk to them because I think that is valuable for everyone to receive feedback that is not lessons. I spoke to a woman that is doing peptidomics, and I’m a biochemist, and I have no clue about the strategies for peptidomics for humans, but I think I have some view that can help that founder to shortcut some process that I struggled with myself in the past. So I think that we need to spend time in our life of giving back, and I have four hours a week on my calendar, blocked for anyone that want to talk to me for five or ten minutes. I am open to do it because it’s a great way to give back. And I decided to use the office of the municipality, mot because I’m an employee of the municipalities, because I have so many great people in my network that can support the municipality that in an hour I have a meeting with two startups that they want to pilot their product with this municipality. It’s very poor, I’m not sitting in New York. It’s a place that no one knows, but I think that everybody needs to [give back], it’s like going to military school for people from Israel, right? You hit [it big], you need to go there and you need to spend your time sharing your knowledge. And I think on my end is the only way to really move the engine in our space because people can can say, we rely on the government on pushing these ideas, but the government had no experience in reality of creating innovation on the ground. So the only people it’s the consolidated business: they have no idea of sharing that knowledge because they are concentrating [on business]. And you have this more democratic access to knowledge and capital that is entrepreneurship. And also we need to support each other.

One of my goals with the companies that I’m [advising] right now, not related to food of course, because I am pretty respectful of NotCo, but it’s how we hire service of another startup, how we create business with them. If you need to go and screen for your diagnostic, you don’t need to go to the private consolidated Roche. You can go to a business that is equal to you and needs your support. So creating network it’s important. And helping each other is very, very critical for me. This is the way to make this ecosystem more dynamic. And also I am playing, I would say, an important role of building companies, right?

And that’s why I’m sitting in accelerators and company building programs, to help scientists, to change their mind and find co-founders, like exactly what we have been talking, and develop a business around their skills. Last year we create 12 companies that come in directly from universities, and we train scientists, we forced them to learn about business, look for co-founders, help them to create a business, talking with the university changing policies just to create a new company. And that was very successful. And now I’m starting a second process of that: it’s called APTA builder. And we plan to have another 12 companies, scientific based companies that are driven by a lot of fundamental research paid by all the citizens, because these are professors at universities. So I think that we need to, we need to play that role. Absolutely.

Gwen: I love what you said, and I wish there were more Pablo’s or everyone’s a Pablo. There are two quotes that I really like. One is, “service is the rent you paid to live on this earth.” And the second is “to whom much is given, much is expected.” And I think a lot of people, look at that quotation and think that much has given just means you were born rich. No, I think we’re all given so much. The fact that we have intelligence. The fact that we have drive and the fact that we have a willingness to make change, these are all gifts, right? And so it’s up to us to channel these gifts to make a difference. And I totally agree with you that if you want to make a difference in this world, startups actually might be the way to do it instead of waiting for bigger changes, you may be just have to start.

So last question is, what are three people you want to see me interview next?

Pablo:  I think that the three founders that really inspired me, one of them, the first one, we did a mentoring session. But at the end, I learned way more than that. What I teach, I think, or I try to propose to her. It’s a company it’s called Nuritas. It’s a scientist, brilliant scientists with a really great optic about pharmacology and human physiology. Overall. It’s called Nora Khalid. It’s is the first one. She’s great. She’s in the growing stage, but I would have $200 million revenue I still feel this is what I like most. She feel that still need to develop skills. They still need to learn. It’s on the learning curve. It’s a very successful business, but it still has a startup spirit. And that is great. 

The second one is a company that I know, because I’m very familiar with the technology, they are based on fertilizers, Pivot Bio.  They were raising, like I think $400 million for this round. There I worked on a technology exactly in the same one that they are leading here. That is how we can replace the use of nitrogen fertilizer to have very high impact on the environment, and how we reset the microbiome of crops of being not dependent of the nitrogen coming from the fertilizer. Microbes can do that work and fix the nitrogen from the air, like biological nitrogen fixation. And this is very deep revolutionary for agriculture. They call it the holy grail of agriculture. How we can change the way of making food, basically, on a species that they lose the ability of taking nitrogen from the air, because they don’t have the association with the right microbes. Pivot Bio is great. And the person is Karsten Temme, one of the founders, scientist brilliant as well. I have seen some of the lectures that he had done. 

And the third one is the founder of 23andme. They made an IPO like few months ago. I’m a user of 23andme from the very beginning. Speeding on that too, when they were in the first few months that they released when I was in California. And it’s still I’m impressed with what they have been doing, not just in terms of precision snips, like single nucleotide polymorphous, which is a tool for identifying stuff, but also because they train and educate the users. If you go to their webpage and you screen your data, you can look at the papers behind it, the scientists that discovered this. So it’s more than a service of providing you data. It’s a way of changing and bringing in science [to] every person that can use this platform. And that, that for me, it’s great because I think that they are doing better than universities of teaching. 

Gwen: Totally agree. One not well known fact about 23andme is that they actually store your genome for five years so that if they learn new things through GWAS studies and whatnot, they might actually re-sequence your genome or parts of your genome and tell you new things that they’ve learned.

Pablo: Exactly, and it happens very often by the way. 

Gwen: Yeah. So don’t think of it as, I just spent $2-300 dollars, they might update you in a few years with new data as well. Thank you so much, Pablo, for all the great lessons. I’m glad I’m not pointing our founders in the wrong direction. You’ve reiterated some of my advice. So I’ll definitely send this podcast to them as well. And thank you so much for your service to not just to Chile, but the probably globally, the startup world. 

Pablo: Great. Thank you Gwen. I think that was a very honest conversation. That was perfect. 

Gwen: Always. Thank you, Pablo.

This startup is creating ‘real’ dairy, without cows

Hong Kong (CNN)We’ve grown used to oat milk and soya milk — now a food-tech startup is taking alternative milk to the next level.California-based Perfect Day uses fungi to make dairy protein that is “molecularly identical” to the protein in cow’s milk, says co-founder Ryan Pandya. That means it can be used to make dairy products such as cheese and yogurt.

Today, we welcome our third cohort of world-changing biotech founders to IndieBio NY!

Synthetic biology could help business save the planet

Just five years ago, Uma Valeti, a cardiologist, Nicholas Genovese, an oncologist, and Will Clem, a biomedical engineer, quit their jobs to start Upside Foods in Berkeley. They developed a biological process to grow synthetic meat products by taking stem cells from animals and eggs; feeding those cells nutrients, carbohydrates, minerals, fats, and vitamins; and speeding up their growth in a bioreactor. Using this technique, Upside Foods has been able to produce beef, duck, and chicken at scale. 

Congrats to @animalbiome for closing their Series A led by @Cargill!

Protera Announces Final Close of Its $10M Series A Led by Sofinnova Partners

Protera Announces Final Close of Its $10M Series A Led by Sofinnova Partners. AI-powered startup to use funds to advance its protein platform as company moves towards commercializing its product portfolio. Mexico’s Bimbo Group and the ICL Group join financing round.

Former Hermès CEO Patrick Thomas says alternative leathers could account for at least 10% of the luxury goods industry over the next two decades.

NotCo gets its horn following $235M round to expand plant-based food products

By Christine Hall

NotCo, a food technology company making plant-based milk and meat replacements, wrapped up another funding round this year, a $235 million Series D round that gives it a $1.5 billion valuation.

Tiger Global led the round and was joined by new investors, including DFJ Growth Fund, the social impact foundation, ZOMA Lab; athletes Lewis Hamilton and Roger Federer; and musician and DJ Questlove. Follow-on investors included Bezos Expeditions, Enlightened Hospitality Investments, Future Positive, L Catterton, Kaszek Ventures, SOSV and Endeavour Catalyst.

This funding round follows an undisclosed investment in June from Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer through his firm EHI. In total, NotCo, with roots in both Chile and New York, has raised more than $350 million, founder and CEO Matias Muchnick told TechCrunch.

Currently, the company has four product lines: NotMilk, NotBurger and NotMeat, NoticeCream and NotMayo, which are available in the five countries of the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia.

Q&A with the new Managing Director of IndieBio, Po Bronson

Po Bronson
Po Bronson
Po Bronson

Q. Uh, seven bestselling books … you could be retired on some private island … why are you here?

A. It’s simple. I fell in love with IndieBio. I mean, I really love it. I’ve been deeply committed at every level for over two years. I know this isn’t a conventional answer but that’s because most people don’t feel this way about why they do what they do.

Q. SOSV was named the US’s “most active VC” in Q2 — a time when economic GDP fell by 34%. IndieBio’s activity was a huge part of that. Why didn’t you slow down like so many others?

A. Everyone says COVID is the great accelerator — and they’re largely talking about the shift to ecommerce over retail, or the shift to at-home entertainment. But it’s been a huge accelerator in our sectors: scientists are heroes.

Q. What’s unique about leading an organization like IndieBio?

A. That it’s a network. Sure, at the core is our SOSV set of funds. But IndieBio is a community, and it’s been built by founders, by investors, by non-profit advocates, by so many friendly universities, and by fans who pack our rafters at night. They all have a stake in IndieBio. I have experience leading three previous organizations that had this community dynamic. It’s very much about service. I’m here to serve. Not boss.

Q. What’s the most-important-but-least-discussed secret to venture capital?

A. Trust. All financial transactions are about trust and belief at their core. Trust and belief is the foundation of all organizational activity. Derisk, derisk, derisk — but there has to be a nugget of trust and belief.

Q. How is IndieBio changing?

A. There are not new changes. We’ve been implementing them over the last two years and they are largely in place. 1) We’re not just an accelerator anymore, we’re a bigger fund, investing in our companies for years and years (80% of the money we’re deploying this year is not at the accelerator stage); 2) We opened IndieBio NY, with the help of the State of New York, and have a tremendous team there led by Steve Chambers, doubling the number of startups we’re accelerating; 3) We’re making a little more capital available to each startup through Genesis Consortium. I know this has been a hard year for so many; but it’s been a record year at SOSV.

Q. What’s Genesis Consortium?

A. Many funds and partners have long wanted to invest programmatically into our portfolio at the very early stage — and now there’s a way.

Q. Favorite Arvind quote that inspires you every day?

A. “Alpha is in the Basement.” It means that the greatest value we add to our companies is working really hard with them, one on one, in the first five months.

Q. Why did you and Arvind write a book?

A. It’s said in basketball, “Shooters gonna shoot.” So, “Writers gonna write.” It’s just what we do. I think most people kinda had a sense that Arvind was also an artist, or had been an artist — but I think they’ll be blown away by his chapters. Absolutely blown away.

Q. What’s front of mind these days?

A. Ahh … I have to say, the industrial and manufacturing sector, and how it underlies the deep psychological need for self-sufficiency, self-determinism. We work with a fair number of nations and NGOs who see biomanufacturing of raw materials as a path to self-sufficiency. But this applies equally to the US too.

When the pandemic hit, we couldn’t even make masks. We couldn’t produce test kits. We couldn’t make ventilators. We were out of toilet paper. In some cases, we couldn’t even make drugs.

The only full-stack US manufacturing sectors left are food processing and construction. Products that wear a “Made in USA” label, like our cars, are assembled here from parts made elsewhere. The processing of raw materials we’ve long abandoned. The result is an economy with lots of jobs — but jobs making $5 sandwiches at Subway rather than making the $1,000 phones we use.

Even the food sector has shown incredible vulnerabilities. Milk is being poured out, crops are rotting in fields, hogs are being asphyxiated, all while there’s huge long lines at the food banks. Grocery prices are going up as restaurants are going down.

China didn’t take our jobs. We gave the jobs to them, so our televisions could be bigger and our clothes cheaper and we could decorate our homes with new furniture they built for us. In the ’90s, we decided we wanted to be the manufacturer of digital and virtual products instead. Stuff like movies, and advertising, and insurance. (Except health insurance.) Everyone was going to be a “knowledge worker.” Remember that? It only works when knowledge is reasonably scarce. Then the internet dumped all the world’s knowledge online, and made it free. We soon led the world — in borrowing money. We’re #1 — in incarceration. Nobody can compete with us — in dog and cat ownership. We crush the rest of the world — in plastic surgery. Poor counties stopped hoping for a factory, and started hoping for a casino.

The collective sense that we’ve gone astray may show itself in protests and in a moral divide, but its roots are in the economic system. The intense polarization of this election is just the downstream effect of fundamental economic weakness. America was built on a creed of self determination and self reliance. Then we abandoned it. Now we lead the world — in divorce.

Watching how we’ve gutted our industrial base has been painful. But I would argue the path forward is vividly clear: take advantage of the massive shift to sustainable production, and reestablish our industrial base with cleantech across every sector.

The means of production is undergoing a complete reinvention to address greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and natural resource constraints. Almost everything we make — from cars to houses to clothes to food — is being stripped down to its raw ingredients and reassembled. Even the very base of the industrial economy, chemistry, is going green. Exxon was the most valuable company in the world as recently as 2013. Exxon dropping off the Dow Industrials in just seven years should ring alarm bells in every boardroom.

I think it’s important to juxtapose “advanced manufacturing” vs “biomanufacturing.” Advanced manufacturing uses automation and robotics to deliver unprecedented precision — it’s still about finished, durable goods. Biomanufacturing is really about new raw materials. For the first time, we can produce superior raw materials that don’t need post-processing — (not just like for like) — in bioreactors at scale. It’s a technology that will change global power, because it allows any country to stop importing. All technological revolutions are also social revolutions, and this one will be wild to live through.

Q. Short answers, please.

A. Check.