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. 

It’s Almost Here: Reserve Your Tickets for IndieBio NY Class 4 Demo Day

IndieBio is proud to announce its Demo Day for New York Class 4, taking place at The Gramercy Theater Wednesday June 29, 2022. Doors open at 5pm EST! Reserve your tickets here.

IndieBio is the world’s leading biotech startup development program, which supports founders 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.

This is your opportunity to celebrate with these incredibly talented teams, as they highlight the many milestones achieved during our four month intensive program.

Interested in learning more about what they are working on? Get a sneak peak of the startups that will be presenting here.

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.

Meet Pae Wu, the new general partner at SOSV’s IndieBio in San Francisco

Pae Wu photo

Pae Wu is the newest general partner at SOSV. She runs IndieBio SF with fellow SOSV general partner Po Bronson. Pae is also the CTO of the program. 

Prior to joining IndieBio in 2020, Pae served as the Scientific Director of Telefónica’s moonshot factory – Alpha (Barcelona), Science Director at the US Office of Naval Research – Global (Singapore), and technical consultant at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  She holds degrees in Electrical Engineering from Duke (PhD) and Princeton (BS).

Here are a few questions we asked Pae to mark the start of her new role.

Pae Wu photo
SOSV General Partner Pae Wu

Why IndieBio? 

Simply put, this place is an enabler of people who have great ideas and a genuine desire to bring positive change to the world. There are those in the industry who gate-keep and those who enable – I wanted to be with the enablers. 

But wait, you’re not a biologist, you’re an electrical engineer! How does that work?

I was met with a lot of resistance

Actually not true at all – I came out of academia at a time when biology was hitting its stride as something humans could engineer.  I was lucky to help the US government deploy huge sums of early R&D funding to accelerate biology’s transition into an engineering discipline.  The last decade or so, my portfolio has expanded to encompass the broad intersection between engineering and biology.  Really what I’ve learned through the years is that the most interesting new technologies emerge at the interfaces of seemingly disparate disciplines – semiconductors and molecular biology, neurobiology and phase-change materials.  So pretty much I spend my days mashing up topics that pique my curiosity.  

Engineers basically look at the world and try to figure out how to control systems to do useful things.  This is applicable whether the system in question is living or not.  What I’m saying is, if a company is trying to build a business that solves a big problem, there are inputs and outputs that matter and it’s OK to me if it’s electrons, photons, or neurons. 

What’s been the biggest surprise since you started working with biology-based startups?

What’s been exhilarating in my time here at IndieBio is how committed our team is to the mission of solving problems of human and planetary health.  That’s allowed us to really flex the definition of what is an IndieBio company.  Beyond biology, we’ve taken a more agnostic approach to solving problems like the decarbonization of heavy industries, to include physics and chemistry-based technologies.  

IndieBio is a place of great optimism.  Every day I’m inspired by our founders who have the mettle to see big existential problems as an opportunity to do an audacious thing.  Most of them leave academia or healthy careers to bring this thing to reality out of a sense of mission.  Here in the Ivory Basement, as Arvind calls it, I am constantly reminded of what a huge responsibility we have to these founders to launch sector-defining companies both from souvenirs left by the amazing alumni Arvind, Po, Jun, Alex, Parikshit, and Maya nurtured all these years and from the constant energy of the current founders pulling the long hours in the lab.  

IndieBio covers a lot of ground, from pharmaceuticals to bioreactors, CRISPR technologies and alternative proteins. How do you make sense out of all that? 

Very carefully. 

Is there such a thing as too much non-dilutive money?

There is such a thing as too much of the wrong kind of non-dilutive money.  One thing that I remind founders is that the cadence of capital from the government does not align with the cadence of execution for a venture-backed start-up.  Plus, it’s only mostly free money – trust me, I’ve read the required proposals, budgets, and reports and know the time and energy those take to generate. 

The ecosystem is growing flush with other forms of non-dilutive support for deep tech founders, which is largely great, as long as start-ups continue to move quickly.  There’s a reality behind the romantic vision of the lean and gritty start-up.   

In short: Don’t let your non-dilutive funding steer your execution.       

Can you tell us just one thing about DARPA that only DARPA people would know?

Sorry, I have to run to another meeting.

Introducing IndieBio SF Class 12

The TechCrunch article “Meet the 13 startups in IndieBio’s SF cohort, and discover what about each swayed investors” gives a brief rundown of the startups in our newest cohort (IBSF12 2021) and quotes our Managing Partner Po Bronson on “the clincher” that earned each company its spot in the class. The cohort’s diverse and bold collection of goals range from “a urine-based bladder cancer test that goes beyond screening,” to developing “drugs that can control the death cycle” of cells, to growing the world’s best tasting seaweed “into a scalable food source.” Learn more about each of these startups.

While IndieBio SF is just getting started with this new cohort, IndieBio NY is about to hold a demo day for its latest on January 27: Register here.

SOSV’s Perfect Day raises $350 million, reaches $1.5 billion valuation

The Wall Street Journal broke an exclusive on Perfect Day’s big fund raise and planned IPO. Perfect Day launched in Cork, Ireland in 2014 as part of SOSV’s now retired Rebel Bio program, and SOSV was its first investor. From the Wall Street Journal story:

“Perfect Day Inc. raised $350 million in a late-stage funding round, valuing the non-animal dairy startup at roughly $1.5 billion and setting the stage for an initial public offering.

“Singapore’s Temasek and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board led the Series D funding round for the California company, co-founders Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi told The Wall Street Journal. Other investors include Walt Disney Co. Executive Chairman Robert Iger.

“Since its founding in 2014, Perfect Day, which uses fermentation technology to produce animal-free dairy proteins and counts actor Leonardo DiCaprio as an adviser, has raised $750 million.”

IndieBio’s New Age Meats raises $25 million series A

To stand out in the increasingly crowded cultured-meat market, Berkeley-based New Age Meats, an IndieBio alum, aims to provide “the best of both worlds: the sensory experience and irreplaceable flavor of meat that’s safer and more sustainable than conventionally-grown meat.” That message helped the company raise a $25 million series A, according to a story published in TechCrunch today.

TechCrunch reported that Hanwha led the round and was joined by SOSV’s IndieBio, TechU Ventures, ff VC, and Siddhi Capital. CEO Brian Spears told TechCrunch that the company can now “go after our mission to become the largest and most innovative meat company on Earth,” and plans produce the company’s first product, pork sausage, next year.

SOSV HAX alum Opentrons raises $200 million, reaching $1.8 billion valuation

IndieBio’s fellow startup development program, HAX, just recorded a big win, as reported by Bloomberg in “SoftBank Invests in Robotic Company Behind NYC Covid Testing. HAX alum Opentrons Labworks Inc. raised $200 million in round led by Softbank to reach a valuation of $1.8 billion. The Brooklyn-based, laboratory robotics company used its automated systems to decrease Covid-19 testing result times from 14 days to 24 hours and reduced test costs from $2,000 to $28. Opentrons “has grown to support a community of more than 1,000 scientists and 46 countries.” Other participating investors in the funding include Khosla Ventures and ex-Pfizer Inc. CEO Jeff Kindler.

“Biology opens the door to solve many of humanity’s grand challenges. For far too long, scientists and clinicians have been locked-in by slow, expensive, and overly complex lab solutions that underpin their work.” —Brennan-Badal, Chief Executive Officer, Opentrons

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

Announcing IndieBio 2021 Demo Days

Announcing IndieBio Demo Days:

Two days to showcase the IndieBio classes and the amazing work accomplished throughout the four-month IndieBio program.

Rewatch IndieBio New York Demo Day: broadcast June 22, 2021

Rewatch IndieBio San Francisco Demo Day: July 15, 2021

IndieBio startups are founded by some of the most creative, ingenious, and fantastical people on earth. Our founders bet everything they have on their abilities to improve the world using science. The current batches, IndieBio NY 02 and IndieBio SF 11, founded their companies in the midst of a global pandemic, determined to advance their technologies and business models in our post-COVID world. IndieBio is proud to present the advancements these companies have made in our two distinct Demo Days.