Applications for San Francisco (Batch 12) extended AGAIN through September 30th, 2021!

UPSIDE Foods prepares to scale cell-based meat production for the world to see (and eat)

This recent article in The Economist “Meat no longer requires animal slaughter” explores the burgeoning cultured meat industry with a focus on UPSIDE Foods (SOSV IBSF02) and its founder and CEO Dr. Uma Valeti. 

The article tracks the emergence of  lab-cultured  proteins, like chicken, as a response to the moral issue of animal slaughter as well as the dire impact of animal husbandry on greenhouse gas emissions. The Economist wonders if firms like Upside Foods can attract consumers, and points out that Upside is shifting its focus from science to trust-building and education, starting with giant windows at its new facility in California’s East Bay through which the public can view production of lab-grown protein.

Excerpts from the article: 

“Today Upside Foods and its backers hope that lab-grown meat will not shield the revolution, but be the revolution—and in a much more appealing way. The company has broken ground on a new production facility in California’s East Bay. It is not alone. Nearly 100 firms are vying to be the first to bring cultured meat to market. Select locations—including a private club in Singapore and a test kitchen in Tel Aviv—serve it from time to time. But as yet it remains unavailable to the average diner.

“It is not hard to see why investors are excited. Demand for meat and fish is soaring, particularly among the rapidly growing middle classes in parts of the developing world. Making that meat the old-fashioned way uses a lot of land and produces giga-tonnes of greenhouse gas. Much of the fish people want is not caught sustainably, and some comes from endangered or threatened species. Plant-based substitutes can meet some of the increased demand, but currently they only really compete with processed products such as those based on mince. Growing meat directly from animal cells offers a way of squaring the circle, while also satisfying the moral demands of consumers uneasy about factory farming and animal slaughter. But it is a hugely ambitious undertaking.”

New Wave Foods’ shrimpless shrimp ready for prime time

Forbes’ article “Can Shrimpless Shrimp Catch Mainstream Consumers?” outlines the product development and funding story of SOSV IndieBio alum New Wave Foods, one of the first vegan seafood suppliers attempting the difficult-to-produce snap and flavor of shellfish. The article reports New Wave’s commitment to plant-based shrimp has held steady as the alternative seafood market has gone from “barely selling” to earning $500 million in funding.

With the help of $18 million in series A funding from America’s largest meatpacker, Tyson Foods, the startup’s first commercial-ready plant-based shrimp is being distributed to restaurants across the country. Watch this video interview with New Wave Foods CEO Mary McGovern, filmed while a chef prepared a dish using their product.

Huue founders on Inc. list of most inspiring women of 2021

The business magazine Inc. just named Huue (IndieBio) founders Tammy Hsu and Michelle Zhu to its Female Founders 100. Inc. recognized the two founders for their development of planet-friendly microbe-based dyes that are scalable for denim manufacturing. The editors did a great interview with the Oakland-based duo about the global need for Huue’s technology and why they feel confident in the firm’s ability to scale. Here are a couple of the best moments:

“The fashion industry is aware of its challenges—its troubled supply chain and the toxic nature of the dyeing process. It hasn’t been difficult to get people really excited about the technology and potential.” —Michelle Zhu

“We’ve made a lot of progress to scale up our production with a couple of facilities around the U.S. and to make our microbes more efficient. In August, we were producing 80 times more dye than at the end of last year.” —Tammy Hsu

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.

Nyoka Design Labs helps engineer the world’s first bioluminescent gaming PC

In this video from from PCGamesN, “World’s first bioluminescent gaming PC is impractically beautiful,” Linus Tech Tips and SOSV IndieBio startup Nyoka Design Labs collaborated on a project to make a gaming PC glow while it cools. Nyoka is a startup that aims to use bioluminescence as a cleantech alternative to the air-polluting fluid contained in glow sticks. The PC cooling project was a fun side challenge. But don’t try this complicated build at home, kids. As explained in the video, “the fluid’s micro-particles could also damage your CPU block. So, while bioluminescent PC lighting is mesmerising, it’s unlikely to replace your usual coolant.”

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.)”

SOSV Climate Tech 100 Startups value grows by 44% in 5 months

On Earth Day, April 22, 2021, SOSV published its SOSV Climate Tech 100 list, a collection of the top climate tech companies in our portfolio. The list was notable because the companies up to that point had raised $1.85 billion from investors (including $89 million from SOSV), and had a market cap in aggregate of $5.65 billion.

Techcrunch reported on those numbers and commented that SOSV’s “planetary health’ mission was “paying off.” We subsequently published detailed analyses of the list’s founders and investors, and we announced an Oct. 20–21 event called the SOSV Climate Tech Summit, aimed at helping the climate ecosystem move faster.

Now it’s nearly five months later, and the Climate Tech 100 list financials are due for an update. Thanks to the strength of the companies on the list as well as a powerful surge in climate tech venture investing, the financials for the 100 have taken a big step forward.

  • The SOSV Climate Tech 100 aggregate value has jumped from $5.7 billion to over $8.1 billion, an increase of 44%.
  • Total investment in the 100 increased $508 million to reach $2.36 billion, an increase of nearly 28%.
  • SOSV topped off its investments with $13.8M to reach $103 million, an increase of 15.5%.

Join IndieBio at the SOSV Climate Tech Summit

IndieBio will be a big part of the SOSV Climate Tech Summit on Oct. 20-21. The event is virtual and free. The summit’s purpose is to convene the founders, investors, technologists, corporates, media and anyone else keen to understand and accelerate the climate tech startup ecosystem. Read more about the event here. Register here.

Several IndieBio folks are a part in the programming, including Po Bronson, Arvind Gupta, Pae Wu and Gwen Cheni, and so are IndieBio alums like Dr. Uma Valeti, CEO and founder of UPSIDEFoods. There are also many speakers on the main stage, the majority in fact, who are not from SOSV and represent some the best minds at work across startup climate tech. You can see all the speakers announced so far here.

In order to help both founders and investors, one very special feature of the summit is a series of 18 breakout sessions dedicated to early stage investors, incubators and government agencies that have a strong track record working with pre-seed and seed climate tech startups. They range from SOSV’s IndieBio and HAX, to TechStars, The Engine, DVCV, MassChallenge, the NSF and ARPA-e, Greentown Labs, Energy Impact Partners, and more. Look for the full list to be published soon. The sessions will be led by senior partners at those outfits and focus on what they have to offer climate tech founders. The breakouts will be staged one after another so that founders can easily catch them all. The sessions will also be live with plenty of time for audience questions.

Finally, the summit will offer an Expo that features some of the top climate tech companies from all the programs that are offering breakout sessions. SOSV is offering Expo spots to all the companies that are part of the SOSV Climate Tech 100.

The SOSV team is working hard to produce a great event that really benefits everyone in the climate ecosystem who is working hard on breakthroughs that will help address climate change. Please join us at the event. It’s free and virtual. Register here.

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.”

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

TRANSCRIPT BELOW

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.

Built with Biology: Aja Labs and Microterra

In this podcast, hear how Marissa Cuevas at MicroTerra is solving challenges for farmers with plant-based ingredients and how Osahon Ojeaga and Mary Ellen Moore at Aja Labs are creating plant-based hair extensions that help our planet and human rights. These IndieBio startups are blazing new trails with new leadership and new vision.

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. 

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.

MicroTERRA: Feeding the World While Cleaning Water

MicroTERRA grows lemna with fish farmers to recycle pollution and feed the world. Lemna, also known as duck weed or water lentil, uses the nitrogen and phosphorus in the fish waste as fertilizer, preventing these nutrients from growing to toxic concentrations. It contains up to 40% protein and up to 25% pectin, an ingredient known in the food world for its great binding abilities. Using lemna, microTERRA creates nutritious, functional ingredients for the plant-based foods industry. The first microTERRA customers are the pet food producers, who require minimal processing of lemna meal to use it in pet food. They are also working with chefs to highlight their color- and taste-free ingredient in high-end plant-based foods.

See microTERRA at IndieBio New York Class Two Demo Day

We spoke with MicroTERRA Co-founder & CEO Marissa Cuevas to gain insight into her technology and motivation in building her startup.

What insight inspired you to start your company?

This idea of a circular economy, transforming residues into resources, is the key insight for me. 

I still remember one lecture when I heard that the next world crisis is going to be about water. It shocked me so much that I decided this is worth focusing my career on to solve it. 

70% of the world’s freshwater goes into agriculture. And it’s easy to create a solution to up-circuit or transform those residues into resources. If we focus on the majority, then we can make a difference. 

What is your go-to-market strategy?

I think this is an excellent question because this kind of questions and conversations will define if your business is alive or dead. 

For us, it’s about bringing a balance point between our vision and reality. On one hand, the more lemna we can produce and sell, the more water we can clean and save. So, we want markets that have high volumes. 

On the other hand, we have to go back to reality. We cannot produce very high volumes right now—so, we need to find a premium market. At the same time, we need to have the quality to sell to these premium markets. Because we are only a small startup, our products had to go through many iterations to reach that quality. 

To find where the sweet spot is, we had to do a bunch of empathy interviews to find out who our potential customers are and what they are most excited about. Then we try to create the architecture for those people, and then replicate. 

We are also conscious that our go-to-market strategy will change over the lifetime of the startup. For example, we were so sure we wanted to sell first to the premium pet food market. We thought it’s easy and doesn’t require premium quality ingredients (no one minds if there’s a bit of green coloring remaining in the lemna meal). But we have recently seen a lot of excitement from plant-based restaurants, because our new ingredient offers a playground for them to build their amazing creations. 

To be a successful startup, you have to have a very flexible mind. And you have to hear your customers; they know better. 

What’s the most rewarding part in your entrepreneurial journey?

Transforming an idea into something tangible is so fascinating, magical, and inspiring. 

When we look back at our initial plans, it’s exciting to realize how much of those plans we have executed. We are closer to being a real company; we are starting to sell products. It’s really, really exciting! Knowing that these products, this company  originated from a thought—that is fascinating.   

How do you differentiate from your competitors?

Our differentiating factor is our innovative business model.  We grow lemna in existing aquafarms, and this allows us to produce lemna in a sustainable, affordable, and scalable way. We don’t have a lot of capital expenditure, and we can add new farms very quickly. In fact, we have a waiting list of farmers who want to work with us. 

What does the future of food and agriculture look like in 5-10 years?

Food and agriculture tech must come together. In terms of food, we need to move toward sustainable solutions, not only for the planet but for our own health. In addition, we also need to make it affordable for everyone. 

In terms of agriculture tech, I believe that we are moving towards more regenerative agriculture systems. We need to look at ecosystems and how to enable their health while producing food.

Beemunity: Protecting Our Pollinators

Beemmunity protects bees from the effects of both lethal and sublethal exposure to pesticides. Their ingestible microsponge technology absorbs all pesticides and allows them to be safely expelled without harm. Beekeepers can simply add this product to their current bee feeding processes to detoxify their bees. This prevents bees from the direct toxic effects of pesticides, and also prevents the bees from becoming immunosuppressed due to constant low-level pesticide exposure. Beemmunity protection leads to healthier bees, strengthening both crop pollination and honey production.

Watch Beemmunity at IndieBio New York Class Two Demo Day

We spoke with Beemmunity Co-founder & CEO James Webb to gain insight into his technology and motivation in building his startup.

What was your inspiration for saving the bees?

I have always been interested in how insects contribute to our natural world and their importance in our food production. And I also get frustrated that the bees are dying. Although people keep on researching that, an effective solution is lacking. 

I luckily found myself in a lab which allows me to explore ideas using functional and useful biomaterials. I’m glad that I could make something happen in that space. 

How do you decide who your first customers are going to be in preparing your technology as a product?

We looked at what is the earliest stage we can put a product out there with the data supporting the functionality of the product. Right now, we are carrying out these colony scale trials and gathering data from that. And the commercial beekeepers are quite sensitive because their hives are their livelihoods. So, we are looking at the consumer market initially. 

Hopefully we can launch some consumer products this year which we are rapidly designing at the moment. And then, early next year, we hope we will gather enough data so that we can put together a good strong package for beekeepers. 

Overall, we got a lot of interest from backyard beekeepers. And we hope that the commercial beekeepers, the large scale beekeepers, can adapt in the pollination season next year; February 2022. 

How do you differentiate from your competitors?

Unlike our competitors, Beemmunity has a naturally-derived solution. Our approach is different from others who attempt to either brace the bee’s physiology for pesticide exposure, or simply deal with the inevitable impacts of exposure. 

Beemmunity directly and specifically detoxifies pesticides, thereby eradicating the issue. It means our approach is far more effective in preventing bee mortality and sublethal effects.

What does the future of your industry look like in 5-10 years?

In the future, we will successfully protect the critical pollinators from pesticides in areas like agriculture when pesticide application is absolutely necessary. 

I also hope technologies, such as this, can reveal how nature can thrive when pesticides are removed from the equation. I hope there will be a reform around pesticide application.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your entrepreneurial journey?

The most rewarding thing definitely is to bring people together and create something cooperatively. It’s amazing what we can achieve together. 

When you bring together people who don’t really know each other, you think goodness what is this going to come to. And then two months down the line, when you look back, you see that you have actually achieved quite a lot. 

Read coverage of Beemmunity’s accomplishments, including more on their technology, here.

Could This Be the Lab-Made Dinner Party of Our Future?

A slew of start-ups are engineering faux meats, eggs and dairy products that conjure a time when we move from farm-to-table to lab-to-table.

Amy Lombard for The New York Times

I spend nearly as much time talking about how I want to stop eating meat as I do eating it. I care about animals and the environment and, even more, virtue signaling about how much I care about animals and the environment. I just don’t want to make any effort or sacrifice any pleasure.

Lucky for me, a slew of venture-backed companies want to help me with my lazy altruism. They envision a world where we sit down for dinner and brag that no animals were harmed in the production of this carbon-neutral porterhouse. They want to Impossible Burger our entire diet. They want me to shift from farm-to-table to lab-to-table.

It’s beginning to work. Consumer sales of the increasingly impressive simulacra of meat, eggs and dairy products grew 24 percent from 2015 to 2020, according to the market research company NPD Group — and 89 percent of those people are, like me, not vegetarians.

Carbix: Turning CO2 into Stone

To meet the challenge of our climate crisis requires humanity to reinvent industries on a global scale. Eliminating emissions as fast as possible is critical, and it has become clear we also need to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere, as well as prevent more from collecting. As we do this a new question emerges, where do we put it? Carbix is working on a solution for long-term carbon storage while simultaneously decarbonizing cement, a notoriously hard to clean up industry. I sat down with Quincy, their CEO, to find out how.

 Enhanced Weathering is a term that more and more people are learning about as climate science goes mainstream, yet its geological nature feels so distant to human timescales. How are you learning from nature to take on the challenge of producing carbon negative cement?

 Nature has perfected the capture of CO2, but over timescales that are far beyond the urgency of humanity’s climate crisis. We know from extensively studying the natural carbonation cycle of minerals like calcium silicates and olivine that certain conditions must co-exist in order for CO2 to turn to stone. At Carbix, we have distilled this biological process to engineering parameters optimizing heat, pressure, mixing rate, UV-C and CO2 injection.

We don’t have to pipe CO2 underground near hydrothermal veins to achieve optimal heat and pressure for carbonation. To further speed up the process we learned from the chemistry of the upper atmosphere that UV-C light energy can enhance carbonation reactions at lower pressures than what may be possible on Earth. The Big Reactor in the Sky (Sun + upper atmosphere) has taught us the role that UV-C light plays in generating hydroxyl radicals (OH) to accelerate the carbonation process.

Our X1 reactor has been designed from day one to give us control of these key variables.

 Can you tell us about the X1? What does it look like to potentially deploy in the world to meet the incredible scale of construction?

The X1 reactor scales up to about 150m3 (cubic meters) to meet the demand of the cement and concrete industry. In operation we need a few inputs. Certain minerals, like olivine, have the greatest carbon sequestration potential so we’ll be finding sources with the smallest carbon footprint possible to ship in. The other critical input is CO2, which we can get by partnering with direct air capture (DAC) technologies or at lower concentrations through direct smokestack effluent. While effluent has lower CO2 concentrations, it actually is still a good feedstock since we then forgo DAC costs and capture other pollutants which otherwise end up in our air and lungs. We also will need energy and water, which we hope to get from renewable sources and lower costs with water recirculation and energy recovery devices.

 Ooh sounds sci-fi!

The X1 reactor looks like something out of an “Alien” movie series so I guess that makes it Alien tech hahah.

The design keeps in mind that size and speed matters when it comes to tackling the emissions from cement making, which accounts for up to 8–10% of GHG global emissions! It’s a huge climate issue, and a huge market as cement and concrete products are a nearly $330B annual global market. The use of concrete, as well as heavy CO2 emitters, are distributed across the globe so the X1 can be deployed as a single unit or scaled to multiple to match the rate of emissions or concrete production needed.

 You’re a young company, yet already in deep conversations with large companies about working together. Can you share more about the appetite in industry for climate solutions?

 The interest is strong from the industry to reduce their GHG footprints. The public and private incentives are expanding but already moving the industry in our direction. The US and other major governments have incentives through the 45-Q and LCFS standard (California) to help pull the industry in. The call to action — in a country like Japan for example, are mandates that require cement companies to reduce their GHG footprint by 30% by 2030, no exceptions.

These incentives are important because the scale we’re talking about is so big. One potential customer, Dangote-West Africa as the example, processes nearly 6000 metric tons per day of clinker at one plant!. That’s an annual rate of nearly 2.0Mt (megatons). Other cement plants have production rates of about half that at 1MM(megaton per year), like Mitsubishi.

We’re in talks and even sharing ideas on which product makes sense to pilot. Dangote proposed the idea of creating tiles with carbon negative carbonates and oxides so that every one of their customers can buy carbon negative products. Imagine that — individuals and businesses can beautify their homes and offices and become climate champions while effortlessly installing tiles. We think it’s an amazing idea as it lets consumers vote with their dollars to act on climate change.

 Finally, tell us about yourself and your team. What inspires you all to work on this problem?

 We’re all passionate about protecting our natural environment (and the humans in it) and have been so for most of our lives. It’s an internal drive. We’re also technologists. So for us the pathway to healing the plant comes through technology, like the X1 reactor. Inspiration to take this direct path to removing CO2 from the atmosphere and creating products like cement and concrete is driven in part by the scale of impact we can make. What we’re doing works in parallel with the transition to a clean energy infrastructure by giving the planet some “breathing room“ until the transition is complete.

Myself, I have over 10 years in clean energy design engineering, with a previous finance background. Dr. Vintit Dighe has also been in the cleantech space. He is an expert in fluid dynamics, wind energy, and machine learning. He‘s developing fluid and chemistry solvers to guide enhancements to the X1 reactor kinetics. Samip Desai has a clean energy and finance background in cleantech and is actively working in business development to bring in multinational cement and concrete ready mix producers.

 

AsimicA: Raising the Bar for All Biofermentation

In May 2020, a McKinsey report found that the global bioeconomy is slated to become a $4 trillion gold rush as synthetic biology’s promise to make high-quality, sustainable products gains traction. These products range from food to textiles to medicines, and biofermentation is the manufacturing process that makes all of it instead of having to extract them as natural resources. Today, we sit down with Nik Mushnikov, CEO and co-founder of AsimicA, whose technology promises to solve the bane of biomanufacturing: low yields that formerly could not compete with traditional manufacturing methods. Using his invention, dubbed “microbial stem cells,” Nik thinks he can achieve multi-fold yield increases in product, and keep the bioreactors running longer.

Ok first off, what is a biofactory, and why is everybody talking about them?

Microbial biofactories are basically reactions in which we use microbes (like a bacteria or yeasts) to make the product we want. This was a solution when the product itself was biological, like insulin, and we didn’t know how to engineer a synthetic process that is smarter than a living cell.

Now with genetic engineering, biofermentation is becoming more popular as we are learning how to make other products that aren’t even biological in nature. For example, we used to make plastics with petrochemicals because it was cheaper and more efficient, but the synthetic biology field is learning they can engineer microbes to make specialized plastics.

Wow, so do you think that biofermentation will be used to make everything?

I think petrochemical or chemical synthesis is still more efficient, but it comes with problems like relying on oil as a feedstock and toxic pollutants as a byproduct.

Microbes, on the other hand, have the potential to produce any chemical compound in a sustainable manner, using renewable resources, if you can engineer it correctly. If you factor in the externalities, I think that traditional chemical synthesis is starting to lose its edge, especially when it comes to specialized products.

Why isn’t everyone using biofermentation right now?

Microbial biofactories can’t operate non-stop. As they divide, every generation becomes less productive and you have to restart the entire batch. Every restart is expensive in terms of expensive, specialized labor and downtime. We’re talking several days. Economically this doesn’t fare well, and we need to find ways of making them more efficient and more productive.

People have tried ways to make the microbes live longer or more resistant, but evolutionary genetics eventually catches up and drives the population to become sickly and unproductive. The solutions in the past have been… lackluster.

So I guess that’s where you come in! How are you solving this problem of low yields?

Instead of trying to make the microbes live longer, we found a way to repopulate and replenish biofactories with a fresh generation of microbes during the batch. We’re doing it using our innovation of “Microbial Stem Cells.”

In our bodies, our stem cells essentially replenish the cells in our tissues so that they stay functional for decades, much longer than individual functional cells can live.

Our idea is similar to that — microbial stem cells are constantly replenishing the fraction of productive microbes in the bioreactor. It is a way to bring up new young and strong “workers” to the factory, so to speak. We’ve published mathematical models that show that this replenishment strategy would result in a 2–4 fold higher number of productive microbes in the bioreactor, which translates to higher productivity per reactor, and longer batch runs.

The effect that microbial stem cells can provide on bioreactor productivity can significantly increase the profitability of bio-manufacturing.

How did you come upon this insight? Was this always something you engineered with biofermentation in mind?

I was always very intrigued by the potential of biofactories for manufacturing all sorts of chemicals: pharmaceuticals, fuels, advanced materials, and so on. And I wanted to be involved in designing new strategies for bio-manufacturing using microbes.

When I started my PhD, I had a couple of projects, focused on increasing yields of microbial fermentation. The idea of realizing stem-cell-like behavior in industrial strains of microbes came out from previous fundamental research insights made by my advisor, Dr. Grant Bowman. He was studying a phenomenon of asymmetric cell division in some unique bacterial species. Sometimes their cell division diagram resembles the division of stem cells. Certainly, these species are not applicable to the industry. And molecular mechanisms underlying their asymmetry are way too complex to just copy them.

What we’ve done is that we identified a minimal set of key components that can induce asymmetric division in other species. We borrowed them from several different bacteria and transferred them into E. coli, and our Nature Chemical Biology paper demonstrated that we can indeed induce asymmetric cell division and program differentiation in different cell types.

What kind of products are you able to make and is there any limit to what yields you can increase?

We just got results last week that we are able to make several products from pharma, food, and the cosmetics industries. These are just proof of principle experiments to demonstrate how versatile our platform is. We’re thinking of experimenting with fuels next which are highly toxic products for microbes to make — again, just to flex how broadly applicable our “microbial stem cell” technology is.

Everyone who does biofermentation is dealing with the exhaustion of microbes, and I don’t think there is a better solution than ours to improve yields and lengthen batch reactor runs.

So the sky is the limit in terms of products, but what about the cells? Are you limited to E. Coli?

That is a very good point. Of course, not all biofactories are using E. coli cells as their workhorse. We see a fairly straightforward way to transfer out technology to other species of bacteria. We’re already working with Bacillus subtilis, which is what most of our industrial partners are using. Transferring our ideas to eukaryotic microbes, yeast, and fungi, would be a more R&D extensive project but we’re confident we can get there.

How does a potential partner incorporate their technology into their existing manufacturing process?

Biotech companies won’t need to change much in their manufacturing processes. What we do is a strain engineering service, which changes how the culture of cells in the bioreactor behaves, enabling microbial stem cell properties. But it doesn’t change the production process itself. Simply speaking, our partners would do the same things they were used to, but their strains after AsimicA modified them would have higher productivity.

Why did you study microbiology?

I started to learn about the broad potential of microbes back in high school and my interest kept growing throughout college. Each microbiology course taught me that the potential of microorganisms is unlimited. My first research project was in yeast genetics. I’ve learned some methods and practices of working with microbes, but the research scope was rather fundamental and driven by the needs of clinical biology, whereas I was more interested in applied microbiology.

I finally found The Bowman Lab in Wyoming to do my PhD, where my interests were more aligned with applied bio. There, I could perform my research studies, keeping in mind that we’re creating new tools, new technologies that can be directly applied to the industry. That research dynamic is closer to my heart, and launching AsimicA where I can take the application to industry has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.

What good would this do for the world?

The world needs cleaner economics. Humanity is facing existential challenges, and although we are getting closer to solving those challenges we still have a long way to go and perhaps what will move the needle the most is to change the way we make things — using renewable resources, reducing pollutants, and dropping down our emissions. Our technology can facilitate biofermentation in becoming the primary method for the production of the vast majority of chemicals. Just imagine how much dirty production we can push out if we can increase yields by 2–4 fold across the entire industry. That’s what I think AsimicA could do for the world and that’s the future that I want to help build for us.

Reazent: Powering Organic Agriculture

Despite the demand from consumers and environmental benefit, organic agriculture accounts for less than 2% of global agricultural land. Reazent is on a mission to change this by providing biologic products to supercharge plant growth and crop yields. Despite being a young company, they extensive field trials showing the benefit and consistency of their product, with more planned for late 2020 and early 2021. I caught up with Sumit Verma, their CEO, to learn more about their progress and the state of the industry.

CEO and co-founder, Sumit Verma

Alex: What inspired you to start Reazent, and what was the genesis of your idea?

Sumit: I worked in the chemicals industry for over a decade, and as an insider I encountered first hand some of the biggest challenges the industry faced. Companies grappled with how to reduce the carbon and toxicological footprint of the materials that consumers, industrials, and agriculture use, while retaining their effectiveness and performance. This problem was most evident in agriculture.

Agriculture directly affects human and planetary health, so sustainable agriculture — one that employs organic alternatives rather than synthetic petroleum-based ag-inputs — is beneficial for everyone. However, we learned farmers don’t want to adopt organic alternatives and organic agriculture because they consider it inefficient and leads to reduced income. My scientist colleagues and I had a shared passion to change this. While I was seeing this problem from a practitioner’s point of view, my scientist colleagues were working on developing sustainable alternatives for field applications.

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Quote from Earl Butz, US Secretary of Agriculture in 1971

Alex: So how are you replacing chemical ag-inputs?

Sumit: Reazent has developed a patented technology to increase crop yield and control plant pathogens in a wide range of crops such as soybean, peanuts, wheat, kale, and lettuce. Our approach is based on the effect of metabolites produced by soil bacteria. These metabolites up-regulate plant defense and root growth genes, as well as other members of the soil microbiome who in turn produce metabolites which help the crop.

We learned how to do this by studying unique genomic loci present in certain bacterial strains which increase the range and quantity of metabolites produced. We have over one hundred uniquely genotyped strains and hence we can create plant growth and disease control effects in many crops critical to the global agricultural supply chain.

Alex: You’ve been running field studies this year in several crops, tell us about what you’ve found.

Sumit: We have demonstrated the efficacy of our product in increasing both crop yield as well as plant pathogen control in bench-scale, greenhouse, and field scale trials in legume crops such as soybean and peanuts. The results we have obtained so far are fantastic — up to 400% increase in soybean root nodules, up to 30% increase in peanuts above-ground biomass, and up to 35% increase in peanuts pod dry weight. In these trials we are putting our product up against industry benchmarks of synthetic and organic products.

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Soybean root nodules from a greenhouse trial. Control on top, Reazent below

We have several other greenhouse trials underway — including soybean, kale, wheat, and tomato — and are very excited to be getting results by mid November to December. Next, we will be running extensive field trials in soybean in North America, Brazil and India during the next growing season.

Alex: In the chaos that is nature, how do you ensure consistency and predictability for farmers? This seems like a challenge, at least in perception, versus traditional chemicals.

Sumit: Farmers have had mixed experiences with ag-biologicals over the years. Often what works in the greenhouse fails in the field. Moreover, their performance varies in different environmental conditions and geographies.

Knowing this we have focused on meeting the needs of farmers in any geography from day one. Unlike conventional biologicals, our system has a very long shelf life. Secondly, they are highly resistant to adverse environmental conditions. This is because our biologics are based on unique bacterial species that form durable spores — a form that allows them to withstand adverse environmental conditions. When condition are right the bacteria activate and start to have their beneficial effect.

Additionally, we have designed our biological system in a manner that allows them to colonize plant roots and soil effectively. This adds to their consistency and predictability.

Alex: There are a growing number of approaches to biologics in agriculture. What makes you different?

Sumit: A few startups involved in this space are tackling the problem of sustainability through synthetic nitrogen fertilizer replacement. Their biologics can directly fix atmospheric nitrogen, providing an alternative source of nitrogen to the plants. Although this mode of action, if successful, would work on crops that don’t fix nitrogen themselves, it won’t work on leguminous crops like soybeans that fix nitrogen themselves through their root nodules.

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Early corn trials. Three untreated roots on left, three Reazent treated roots on the right

We have shown our product increases the number of root nodules significantly in soy, which leads to increased yields. With our library of beneficial soil bacteria we can also work in crops without root nodules, like corn. In these crops we increase immunity, root growth, and vigor of plants through the bacterial secretion of metabolites.

Alex: Regenerative Agriculture is getting a lot of attention as a potential solution for climate change. What’s your take on the role of agriculture, and how do you see Reazent being part of that?

Sumit: Paradoxically, agriculture is a well-known contributor to climate change. This is because a large amount of carbon is released back in the atmosphere due to various farming practices. Therefore, sustainable farming practices such as no tillage farming, crop rotation, and enriching the soil microbiome help in reducing carbon emission from agriculture. If less of carbon in the soil is made available for release in the atmosphere by better utilization of that carbon in the soil itself, the carbon emission from agriculture would come down.

Like the human microbiome in human health, the plant microbiome plays a crucial role in soil health. Recent studies have shown that a rich soil microbiome contributes to improved Carbon Use Efficiency (CUE). This means resident microbes are taking up and retaining carbon in their biomass rather than losing it during respiration. The increased CUE means more carbon is stored in the soil for longer, more beneficial microbes propagate, and plants thrive. Healthy living soil thus benefits humanity by storing more carbon and providing us with healthy nutrient rich crops.

Alex: Finally, tell us about your team. Who are the people building Reazent?

Sumit: I am very proud of my team. They are some of the best business and scientific minds in the sector.

Before starting Reazent, I worked in the chemicals industry for over ten years in a wide range of functions that included innovation, operations, marketing, and sales. Most recently I was with Ashland, a globally renowned specialty chemicals company, where I handled its regional innovation for Asia Pacific. Over the years, I grew to understand the limitations of the chemical industry from the demand side, and what it took to introduce a new product.

Dr. G L Rao is the CTO of Reazent. He is a plant biotechnologist with experience in plant biostimulants. He understands how to translate science into product through his work as a formulation specialist for Tinyfarms-Modgarden where he was involved in the optimization of soilless media and liquid nutrient formulations for greenhouse and indoor gardening. He also co-founded Plasma Agriculture Solutions where he developed cold plasma to treat seeds for improving seed quality and provided services to Argo-industries to perform product trials. Before this he was a post-doctoral Fellow at Faculty of Agriculture, Dalhousie University and at Earth Institute, University College Dublin, Ireland

Our advisory team has experts from the industry and academia.

Dave Warner, a former executive of Indigo, Corteva, and Monsanto advises us on go-to-market strategy and has helped us in building partnerships with potential distributors. Dr. David Mulla is an expert in soil science and precision agriculture. He is helping us build soil expertise that will provide us a competitive advantage in the market. Professor Srienc has three decades of experience in bioengineering and biomaterials. He developed technology to optimize bacterial fermentation and his expertise will help us in product scale-up.

To learn more about Reazent check out their pitch at IndieBio Demo Day on October 28th! To get in touch visit their website at http://reazent.com.

If you’re a startup solving challenges in human and planetary health interested in the IndieBio accelerator, let us know at www.indiebio.co/apply

Khepra: Renewable fuels from waste

Khepra is building continuous flow reactors that deploy high-intensity ultrasound frequencies to take waste — everything from unrecyclable plastics to biomass to cardboard — and even mixed waste — and break the chemical bonds in the waste. The result is upcycled renewable chemicals and fuel components.

Today, I sat down with the founders to learn a bit more about the field and also about their personal motivations to run Khepra as they get ready for demo day. Below is a paraphrased and condensed version of a long discussion we had.

How did you guys get into this field?

Madeleine: Growing up in California, seeing solar panels all around, you start thinking solar panels are some be-all, end-all solution. Over time, I learned how without renewable energy storage the potential of solar cannot be realized. You know the infamous duck curve — the timing imbalance between peak demand and renewable energy production — leading to us literally throwing away solar energy. The sun shines the most when we don’t need it. I was working as a systems integration and testing engineer at Lockheed Martin, when Julie, who is my childhood friend, told me about this project, where she planned to put this excess solar energy to use, to breakdown waste into renewable fuels. I was in.

Julie: Yeah, I had been obsessed with renewable fuels for a long time. And obsessed with sustainability for even longer. My dad took me to see the movie, ‘Inconvenient truth’ when I was eight and that messed with my brain chemistry if I can put it that way. Sustainability was also a key theme for me throughout my education career. Reading a lot about space and going to school at the University of California San Diego, right in the neighborhood of pioneering companies such as Sapphire Energy, making algae-based biofuels by harnessing high energy, high pressure.

Fascinated by the idea I started reading a lot about these high-pressure, high-temperature methods in the field. I got very active in the cleantech community at UCSD when I got hooked to the concept of cavitation. There’s large amounts of energy stored in a cavitation bubble and a large amount is released when a bubble bursts. At its core, Khepra uses that energy to break long-chain organic polymers into shorter chain molecules, which are potentially higher value aromatic ingredients or precursors to fuels and/or fuel precursors. With the idea in mind, we started charting the concept more with waste as a feedstock.

Madeleine and I, staying true to our silicon valley origins, started tinkering in her garage. We played with cheap transducer units ordered from amazon and catalyst combinations, even accidentally burning stuff in Madeleine’s oven! The oven survived but we did have to brave some rank odours. Haha!

We were ultimately able to get access to a warehouse space in San Francisco, enabling us to prototype a bit more and hash out a solid blueprint of the tech-stack and file a provisional patent around the process. That’s around the time we spoke to you guys at IndieBio and started putting together a de-risking plan and budget against those blueprints. Going from theory to reactors in less than six months and that too during a pandemic!

Sustainability has become a buzz-word, rightly so in my opinion, yet this is not the first time cleantech startups are taking a shot at the problems the earth faces. As you must have seen with so many San Diego cleantech startups, they are no longer operational, unfortunately. What’s new; how is this time different?

Julie: There is an abundance of waste. Both waste in the traditional sense of the word — the mountains of trash out there — and that of renewables as Madeleine mentioned. Using renewable energy transforms our unit economics. Acting as a pontoon against the waves of commodity prices. Cost parity against commodities aside, failing to achieve margins was a big factor leading to the sad demise of the first wave of cleantech. By co-locating with refineries with installed CAPEX, collecting tipping fees on waste, monetizing offsets from progressive corporations, and finally selling the valorized waste gives us multiple revenue sources; We’ve created a two-sided marketplace. Which is what is new and exciting here.

Madeleine: I’ll also add that from a tech perspective, our use of high intensity focussed ultrasound for waste pyrolysis (breakdown) is completely new. This technology has a high energy efficiency from electrical to acoustic energy. Because our method is powered by renewable electricity, it has a positive EROI (ratio of energy returned on energy invested).

Now you may think there are many moving parts here, which there are. But the good news is that many of these parts have been de-risked by earlier cleantech or the refining industry. We specialize in orchestrating all of it together. That’s also where a good portion of our IP lies.

That’s super exciting. I like how renewable energy-powered ultrasound is helping you connect the waste and commodity markets. Respectfully, I do have to ask, how do two undergrads catalyze change in such entrenched industries?

Julie: IndieBio opened doors to a lot of corporates, we have been made full use of the network and been actively reaching out to incumbents. To our surprise, we learned how corporates and oil and gas companies, juggernauts of emissions, understand the impact they have on the world, and they also understand the tipping points climate change will hit and how that will come back to hit their businesses. They are also incredibly practical and have already begun adapting their models. For example, for oil & gas, extraction drives a lot of the emissions. So many oil & gas companies are adapting by transferring a lot of their extraction budgets to venture capital arms. This has just started happening and shows you how they need something new, not just what they have, and had no incentive to change all these years. And these venture arms are very results-driven, you have to show them a product, not just projections. That’s been motivating us to prototype and scale rapidly. The impact multiplier with their distribution channels is manifold. With renewable chemicals and fuels that come out of our reactors, we see our company as a means of facilitating change for industries looking to add circularity in their processes.

Madeleine: In this process, a big learning has been to leverage the wealth of expertise out there. I am no longer afraid to reach out to and ask experts for help.

I learned how our process is so novel and exciting for many experts in the field, who know so much more than us and want to help because they love what they do, and now see a chance to make an impact.

One example is our chemical process design consultant, Kieth Gazda. With 30 years of experience, Kieth can design a reactor in his sleep. He’s been interested in our company even before we had a prototype. Skeptical at first, till he saw more data points and preliminary data from the small experiments we did where we were breaking down organic polymers with ultrasound. He is in a unique position in his career and can work on a lot of projects, but chose to work with Khepra as he sees the environmental impact we can create.

Julie: That’s a very good point Madeleine makes. Valuing experience beyond just effort and skills. I don’t fall for the mythology of the genius visionary founder. Getting top talent and mentors excited and on-board early is important to us. Creating value and therefore disrupting trillion-dollar industries can only be done if we aggregate experience and bring on people who know more than us. Kieth is an excellent example of the role experience plays in accelerating impact. I am excited, as CEO, to make Khepra into a platform for talent, from many disciplines to create impact through renewable fuels and circular products.

Team-building as a means of disruption. I love it! Let’s talk about where you are now. Recently you revealed your prototype to the world during an interview with our MD, Po Bronson. Where do you fo from here?

Julie: Khepra plans to scale up to a 500-liter reactor by the end of our Series Seed and add catalytic refinement capability to enable higher-value fuels. Looking very far out we want to get to 70 tons/day which is the waste output of a small city.

Madeleine: And scale is one dimension, as a pre-seed company we have had to tradeoff some complexity for budget and speed. We have been learning by breaking. With our Series Seed, we are also excited to optimize our process flow and demonstrate proof of concept of processing varying feedstocks. Going into demo day we are also looking forward to gathering insight around techno-economic analysis that shows the economic performance as a function of the inputs and economic value of our outputs. Really exciting times!

IndieBio’s Demo Day is October 27–28, with the New York batch on Tuesday the 27th at 10 am, and the San Francisco batch on October 28th at 10 am. Please follow this link to Eventbrite to RSVP. A single registration will grant you access to both days’ events.

Spintex: Sustainable Materials Powered by 300 Million Years of R&D

Friends and labmates who trained together in the Oxford University silk group, Alex Greenhalgh and Dr. Martin Frydrych are tackling climate change one silk shirt at a time.  From their lab in Oxford, Alex answered some of my most pressing questions around the environmental damage fashion manufacturing is inflicting on our planet, Spintex’s unique take on a material that’s been used for millennia, and how a 300 million year-old technology can be new again.

[Interview has been edited for length, but not the British spellings.]

First things first, how do you pronounce Greenhalgh?  

Alex Greenhalgh: Green-hal-sh, very soft on the s. But everyone has their own idea on how to pronounce it!

Silk seems to be all the rage, but Spintex is coming at this in a totally different way than other venture-backed start-ups in the silk game.  What’s the key difference and what are the implications? 

AG: I think there are really three aspects to our approach which set us apart. Firstly, we produce a feedstock which has the key attribute of a natural silk, ‘shear-sensitivity’, which means it can transform from a liquid to a solid, just from a physical force, such as rubbing your hands together. . .if you pull it in the right way, the nanofibrils inside the solution start to orientate in one direction and form bonds between themselves, and you get a fibre. 

Crucially, we can produce this feedstock without bioreactors, which although it is an impressive technology, has seemingly struggled to replicate the size and complexity of the silk protein. This reduces our costs dramatically, whilst also allowing for a completely different form of spinning machine. 

Our spinning machines… instead rel[y] on the liquid to solid transition from force, meaning that the feedstock is actually self-assembling into the fibre. This is a direct mimicry of the spider’s approach, and is what gives us our impressive energy savings and material performance.

Energy savings – I like the sound of that.   

AG: Compared to the traditional silk process that relies on heating huge vats of water and caustic chemicals to boiling temperatures to reel the silk from the cocoons, we can expect to produce our fibres with at least 50% energy savings, by removing the need for any heat inputs, which represent the vast majority of silk’s impact. I’m expecting once we run the numbers further, the energy reduction will be even greater, due to removing several of the more environmentally damaging chemicals from the traditional process, and an expected decrease by 100x in water consumption.

Even compared to other alternative silks, we expect to see a good reduction in energy requirements, as bioreactors commonly have to run above room temperature for their microbes, and require protein purification and freeze drying steps that are very high energy input.

How will Spintex scale-up and disrupt the silk industry? 

AG: Our scaleup is somewhat easier to achieve than might be expected for a biotech company. We don’t need to invest heavily in large bioreactors, which are a serious drain in capital and very costly to run 24/7. Furthermore our consumables are all very cost-effective, and can be mostly sourced renewably. 

Our scaleup mostly comes from increasing the quantity of our feedstock [using] readily available machinery and automation, and increasing the throughput of our spinning process [by running] more [of our low-cost] spinning machines . . . in parallel.

Spintex spinning silk (say it fast 3 times)

You say this is backed by millions of years of R&D – how’s that?  

AG: Silk first evolved in spiders around 300 million years ago, and . . . the versatility that silk provides to the spider . . . orb web, cobweb, natural diving bell[s], parachute[s] for young spiders to travel immense distances, demonstrates [its] value and usefulness.  

Interestingly, the approach to producing fibres through a low-energy spinning, is so effective that . . . it has evolved independently multiple times, in multiple arthropods, including bees and glowworms, arachnids and even a mollusc species. 

However when we look specifically at material properties, particularly toughness which is the combination of the strength and stretch of a material, spider silk reigns supreme. Although the underlying feedstock between species share many characteristics and attributes, it is the process that a spider uses to spin that seems to be critical to the performance. This is why we looked to spiders as our template for our spinning machinery.  

Why is alternative silk such an appealing planetary health play?  

AG: The drive to reduce costs of clothing has seen many synthetic materials used, which we now know can have real impact, first in the energy or resources for their creation, to microplastics produced during washing, to problems with end-of-life. 

Earlier, you described the immense energy and environmental cost involved in traditional silk production, too. 

AG: That’s right, it doesn’t mean natural materials are inherently better.  Traditional silk . . . doesn’t suffer from microshedding and can biodegrade, [but] takes a huge amount of energy for its production. The huge vats of boiling water . . . represent 50% of the total energy in silk’s production, and is the primary source of its large CO2 emissions. 

So even when using a natural product, we can’t seem to avoid having a negative impact on the environment. I think this is why alternative options, and new, sustainable technologies are so desirable, and really tackle some strong pain points for the industry.

During IndieBio you’ve made some great progress with customers – what have been the highlights in customer development?  Any unexpected learnings? 

AG: For me, the real highlight has been the industry’s willingness to support innovation through a variety of means, including providing market and industry data, to supporting testing projects. I’ve been really impressed by the genuine commitment from them in seeing new developments that tackle sustainability issues in fashion, and even in other markets, where environmental issues are increasingly being taken very seriously. We’ve seen potential for collaborations and projects together, with real commitments for working together, beyond even LOIs.

An unexpected lesson for us, was not every value proposition is actually valuable for your customers. For example, we demonstrated some new dyeing possibilities using our fibres, that we thought would be exciting for reducing the environmental impact dyeing has. But most of our customers print directly onto the woven fabric, so they had no need for this!

Elephant in the room, can folks test Spintex’s fibers?  

AG: From the very start we knew that the performance of our fibres would be critical. You can’t easily supplant an existing material, if you have grossly inferior qualities. So much time was spent on perfecting the feedstock and spinning processes to produce a material that can at least match a traditional silk. And what we found is that through our process, we can actually improve some properties, particularly toughness, to levels not seen in traditional silks, but in spider silks. 

We have had quite some interest in testing the fibres, particularly from performance and advanced material companies, which we have been happy to supply. The results closely matched our own testing, clearly showed the potential for the technology, giving unique possibilities in natural fibre textile spinning. These discussions are ongoing, but so far the reactions have all been positive. 

What inspired you to start Spintex? 

AG: I’ve always loved science, but increasingly I found myself wanting to see research turn into an actual solution, that changes something, rather than just being an interesting footnote in an academic paper. With our work, we saw a real opportunity to provide a tangible benefit to the world. I’m especially excited about the possibility of reducing CO2 production in fashion, as the COVID pandemic has shown, even with personal changes to travel and working, we can only drop emissions by a fraction of what is needed to prevent devastating climate change. Manufacturing and the power generated for it are still by far some of the largest producers, so it’s crucial we start moving towards low energy methods for manufacture of the materials we need.

What’s your biggest lesson from spinning (ahem) up Spintex during a global pandemic? 

AG: You never have enough of everything, so stock up! But also that tough times can be stressful and unpredictable, but if you keep pushing ahead you can weather nearly any storm.

Finally, let’s play a little word association: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term “butt rope”? 

AG: For me it’s a birthday card that I have received many many times from friends and family.  

Check out Spintex at IndieBio’s (virtual) Demo Day on 28 October!  Register here for the two-day event (27-28 October 2020).   

BioFeyn: Making Eating Healthy Fish Sustainable

BioFeyn is a company that aims to make farmed fish a truly sustainable practice. We spoke with CEO Timothy Bouley to learn more about how nanotechnology can create better fish. 

Watch and read an abbreviated version of the conversation below.

What are the problems with current farmed fish practices?

There are many ingredients used in fish feed; the kind of fish that we eat most frequently are ocean predators, things like salmon. Salmon naturally eat other animals and so salmon feed often includes other fish; the fish in this feed is often caught from the open ocean, depleting wild populations and contributing to overfishing. The FIFO, which is the “fish in, fish out” ratio, for a species like salmon, that can be more than one. By putting more fish into the system than you’re producing, the system is not efficient.

There’s also an incredible amount of waste associated with this process due to the excess nutrients that are dumped into the fish pens, which then goes into the environment. Additionally, a lot of fish die, adding to environmental contamination.

BioFeyn is taking the latest science from human biomedicine and applying to the space of aquaculture, or farmed fish. Our team is unique in that each of us come from the world of human biomedicine—I’m a medical doctor, my cofounder Umberto is a nanotechnologist and our other cofounder Marie-Christine Imbert is a molecular biologist—and we are taking some of these latest technologies and simply applying them to the word of aquaculture, where there’s ample opportunity to scale up these biotechnological developments.

What can you tell us about your Feyn products?

Essentially it’s a capsule, on the nanoscale, that encapsulates existing ingredients, such as nutrients or medicines, that can be used in aquaculture to greatly increase their efficiency and improve overall sustainability in the field. Our Feyns are made of all natural ingredients, all already approved ingredients in this space.

We’re focussing on high-value ingredients that are already in fish food but are delivered very inefficiently. One example is omega-3 fatty acids; everyone knows that these are why we eat fish, to get the omega-3s and gain cardiovascular health and brain health. The problem is that salmon get omega-3 fatty acid by eating other fish. We can encapsulate it and include it in salmon feed, increasing feeding efficiency by an order of magnitude, tenfold. This increase in omega-3s is passed on to a customer that eats BioFeyn-treated fish feed.

We’re looking to encapsulate many different ingredients, part of how we determine what the characteristics of a successful Feyn. Number one, we look for things that are expensive. Number two, ingredients that are marine-derived that have a secondary, more sustainable means of production. 

For example, previously omega-3s have come from smaller fish to the salmon, but the natural environmental source of omega-3 fatty acids is in fact algae, and the smaller fish that eat algae pass that up the food chain, eventually reaching salmon. New ingredient companies are farming algae, and these omega-3s can be taken directly from algae and inserted into the fish feed, bypassing the need for wild-caught fish. The problem is that these omega-3s can be very expensive, and our method increases the efficiency tenfold. We can make it cost effective to use an ingredient that benefits fish, farmer, and consumer.

We can make it cost effective to use an ingredient that benefits fish, farmer, and consumer.

How will BioFeyn get its product to the fish?

There are many different ways to address this, one of which is going directly to feed producers; these folks have global reach to the farmers of the world. There are many, many tens of thousands of fish farmers, shrimp farmers, crustacean farmers around the world, and there are many, many fewer feed producers. Working directly with the feed producers is the most efficient way to reach as many farmers as possible.

That said, there is a path to working with farmers either individually or through trade organizations that represent a number of farmers and developing specialized products for farmers. 

What other products might BioFeyn use its technology to produce?

We have a roadmap for how our platform technology, where our nanocapsules can encapsulate a number of different ingredients. That includes probiotics, essential oils, that includes medicines that are approved in aquaculture. This is really key: there are a lot of medicines that work for some of the trickier fish diseases that are heavily regulated and can, of course, cause environmental pollution; with our technology, we can massively increase the efficiency and reduce the amount needed.

Down the horizon, in the future, we imagine encapsulating antigens as well, with some potential to developing vaccines. So you know, basically the spectrum of aquatic animal health that we think can be addressed with our encapsulation technology. We anticipate the technology will reach a point where it is fully modular and we have recipes for any challenge in this space, whether it be nutritional or infectious.

The ocean is the lifeblood of all life on Earth. All humans are three-quarters salt water. We came out of the ocean and there’s so much that can be done with understanding the marine environment and combining it with the latest biotechnologies that can be used for human and oceanic health.

Learn more about BioFeyn and all of IndieBio New York Class 1 companies at Demo Day.

Multus Media: Enabling the Food of the Future

Multus Media is a company producing the key ingredient to allow cultivated meat to become affordable and accessible to everyone. We spoke to CEO Cai Linton about his entrepreneurial journey.

Watch and read a lightly edited version of the conversation below.

What is cultivated meat?

Conventional meat and cultivated meat actually produce the same end product. They both produce burgers, sausages, steaks, and fillets. The difference between the two is the production system. Instead of producing these meats through an animal, all we do with cultivated meat is to take a cellular sample from an animal without having to kill the animal. It’s grown in bioreactors, similar to how we brew beer, but using these cells instead of yeast. The cells are then packaged into meats to create the same product.

Cultivated meat processes solve the environmental and ethical problems associated with meat consumption, to alleviate the environmental damage and greenhouse gas production associated with livestock and conventional agriculture, as well as the heavy antibiotic use, large areas of rainforest cut down to support livestock, and microplastic contamination, among other problems. Within bioreactors, you’re only producing the meat that will actually build and eat, by feeding them the exact nutrients and supporting their growth environment with very little waste.

Why isn’t cultivated meat available at the market?

My co-founders and I wondered what challenges stood in front of producing cultivated meat at high scale. We kept seeing again and again that the biggest bottleneck that is preventing this industry from commercializing is the cost of production—specifically, the cost of the growth media.

The cost of growth media takes up more than 80% of production costs right now, and current solutions are more tailored to pharmaceutical products. There isn’t a solution that not only uses animal-free components but is able to reach the performance scale and cost requirements of the cultivated meat industry.

What is different about how Multus Media creates growth nutrients?

Most media contain serum derived from animal blood, which is used in biomedical research or biopharmaceutical production to grow mammalian cells. Serum contains a concoction of proteins and salts and other nutrients that mimic the growth environment, and in that sense, it is very good.

The downside of serum is that it is an unethical byproduct of the livestock industry. It’s not very scalable and also offers batch-to-batch variability, which isn’t good when you’re trying to produce a consistent product at scale. 

What we’re doing is taking these components that exist within animal serum and producing them without animals.

What we’re doing is taking these components that exist within animal serum and producing them without animals. We use yeast as a production system, again similar to how beer is brewed, but our yeast produce specific proteins. We then combine the proteins and other factors into formulations that make it a similar growth-promoting substance, but in a way that can be scaled and doesn’t use animal components.

Conventional serum-free media that exists is designed for a very specific use case using highly purified individual ingredients. This makes existing media both not useful for looking at a number of cell types and also very expensive.

What is your first product and what does it do?

We’re initially creating a universal serum for mammalian cells, Proliferum M. Not only will this benefit bovine, but also sheep or porcine cells as well. We can take a step further and look specifically at either individual cell lines or a group of cell lines that a cultivated meat company may be using, and so tailor our media for this specific use case.

We’re optimizing formulation today to give high performance across a number of different variants within a million cells, as well as low cost. 

Our products after that will be expanded into products that support chicken and duck as well. Then, also different types of seafood. We’re looking toward developing products for those different types and seeing what we can do to innovate novel proteins.

What is novel about the Multus Media approach?

We’re working in an area that hasn’t been researched much in the biomedical sphere: the ability to identify the key components for cultured meat and to bring these components in a way that is a real solution.

What we’re doing with our protein engineering is taking these natural proteins and changing a few amino acids within a sequence to enhance their performance characteristics. This will benefit the industry by effectively increasing the performance of the growth media, which will reduce the amount (and expense!) of growth factor components that you need. We’re excited to showcase the performance of our medium at Demo Day!

What is your hope for the future of Multus Media and the cultivated meat industry?

In 5 years, I hope that cultivated meat has really started to make an impact on the traditional meat industry and is available to mass, mass amounts of people. By starting early, we hope Multus Media is in a position where we can service the whole industry and start increasing scale. We’ll be looking at our production of products across the line, replacing for different parts of the production process. The initial stem cells may need different serum than cells differentiated into muscles or connective tissue, but all products will need to allow the whole industry to commercialize at a profitable price point. 

Learn more about Multus Media and all of IndieBio New York Class 1 companies at Demo Day.

The Future of the Planet: Food Systems

Po Bronson, Managing Director at IndieBio hosted this panel featuring Special Guests:

Bruce Friedrich, Co-founder and Executive Director of The Good Food Institute (GFI), Christine Moseley, Founder & CEO of Full Harvest, Tom Tomich, Founder of the Food Systems Lab at UC Davis, &  James Joaquin, Co-Founder & Managing Director at Obvious Ventures.  Thank you all for joining us!

“Grocery stores once felt abundantly restocked, that was until COVID-19 hit our food systems. Restaurants closed, plant workers contracted the virus, milk was poured out, rice piled up at ports, hogs were asphyxiated.

In reaction, IndieBio asked today’s food pioneers and leaders – What will the future of our food systems look like and how will our food security be impacted?

The Current Food Situation

Christine Moseley, founder and CEO of Full Harvest, first saw the food waste problem at a lettuce farm.

“I watched as they were harvesting only 25 to 30% of the romaine head to perfectly bag it for grocery stores and let up to 75% fall to the ground, even before it reached the consumer,” Moseley said.

A study conducted by Santa Clara University in 2019 found that one-third of all edible produce in the US doesn’t leave the farm. “It’s purely just because of access, or it’s just not perfectly shaped for retailers.”

Tom Tomich, Founder of the Food Systems Lab at UC Davis and Professor at the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, extended on access to transparency. “The food system is about profits, and it’s also about power. You need to bring in ontologies that allow us to understand more about, well – Who’s pulling the levers? Who’s got the power here?”

Bruce Friedrich, Co-founder and Executive Director of The Good Food Institute explained, “the meat industry is a big part of the problem in terms of inefficiency and in terms the range of environmental harms.”

He explained the inherent contradictions in our eating behaviors to environmental needs. Basically, most people know that slaughterhouses are not sustainable.

“Yet per capita, meat consumption just goes up and up and up… 2019 was the highest it has been in recorded history,” explained Friedrich.

“There’s something about human physiology. We like meat, we want to eat meat, we want the sensory experience of meat,” continued Friedrich. “So rather than continuing to beat our head against this wall… let’s change the meat.”

“We need products that taste the same or better, and that costs the same or less. That’s the Holy grail,” said Friedrich.

Launching our Minds and Stomaches into the Future

One solution has been cellular meat, which allows meat cells to grow without complications of animal welfare.

“That’s going to take a long time to scale,” mentioned James Joaquin, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Obvious Ventures. “But there’s some of our greatest minds working on it.”

 “The excitement around regenerative agriculture is getting us past this monoculture, of how efficiently can we grow corn and soybeans?”

Joaquin mentioned lupini beans from Europe and duckweeds from water.

Then there’s the world of mushrooms. “There’s a startup called Meati, growing mycelium root systems to create this really textured fibrous kind of substrate,” explained Joaquin. “You can then season and flavor to create a whole cut meat alternative.”

Moseley, who’s business seeks to solve farm food waste with technology, mentioned experimental methods of fermentation and preservation including, IQF freezing, pureeing, and powdering.

“I think a lot that can, will, and needs to be done not only for nutrition purposes and extracting things out of it as much as possible, but making it last as long as possible,” Moseley explained.

With emerging technologies at our fingertips, collaborations will widen our culinary experience – that is as long as it tastes good.”

Summary by Emily Quiles

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.

IndieBio Call for Applications

SOSV Announces Launch of IndieBio New York

— World’s leading life sciences accelerator expands to New York City —
— Call for Applications Open Now —

(NEW YORK, January 7th, 10:30am EST) — SOSV, the world’s most active investor in both life sciences and hardware, announced that the inaugural cohort of IndieBio New York will start in Manhattan in May 2020, with applications being accepted beginning today.  

“We’re doubling down on life sciences,” said Sean O’Sullivan, founder and Managing General Partner of SOSV. “We are looking to bring what IndieBio has created for the California life science industry to the East Coast. New York is a great hub for life sciences research and financing, and will be a natural center for life science startups.”

SOSV created the world’s first life sciences accelerator in 2014, and in the past five years has backed nearly 200 life science startups with a combined valuation of over $3 billion, raising more than $700 million, and employing over 2,000 people. This number includes pioneering deep-tech startups like Memphis Meats (cellular agriculture), Prellis Biologics (human tissue engineering), Synthex (cancer therapeutics), NotCo (plant-based animal-free food products), and Perfect Day (milk without the cow).

Sweetening an already attractive deal – Up to $2 million per therapeutics startup

SOSV’s IndieBio already has the most competitive terms in the industry, funding 20 to 30 life science startups each year in their program with $250,000 in exchange for a small equity position in the teams. With IndieBio now in New York and San Francisco, SOSV will double the number of startups funded and will also trial a therapeutics track that will fund up to $2,000,000 per startup accepted into the program. This will be the first time an accelerator anywhere has offered such a cash-rich package of benefits.

“We’ve seen a lot of success with our therapeutics startups already,” said Arvind Gupta, SOSV General Partner and founder of IndieBio in San Francisco. “Yet therapeutics companies often require more animal and safety studies in order to de-risk the startups for later-stage capital and unlock huge value creation. We want to see what will happen to our deal flow by offering up to 8 times the capital for an initial group of startups.”

Upon success, IndieBio will expand the therapeutics funding track to as many as 12 therapeutic startups per year across both San Francisco and New York. Therapeutic startups in the program will receive up to two years of wet lab facility, coworking space, and mentoring access to on-staff PhD scientists. SOSV will be building out a 24,000 square foot lab and co-working space for their NY-based startups, more than doubling their space in New York City as part of this expansion.

Solving Global Challenges With Hands-On Support

SOSV invests over $10 million annually in infrastructure — building out and running wet labs, electronic labs, and mechanical facilities, in addition to  offering on-site support teams of dozens of experts, engineers and PhD scientists. The benefits of these programs help startups with accelerated product development and increased access to an ecosystem of corporations, investors and over 1,000 specialized mentors.

“This year nearly $1 billion will go into SOSV-backed companies from VCs and corporate investors,” said O’Sullivan. “On top of the $65 million SOSV invests directly into our startups every year, SOSV’s deep-tech startups are getting huge funding leverage from our syndicate of VCs, angels and corporates.”

SOSV closed the $277 million SOSV IV fund in December 2019. From this fund, SOSV both provides accelerator funding as well as provides post-accelerator follow-on funding of $200k to $2 million per startup, per round, for all startups which go through SOSV programs. 

Call for Applications Solving for Human and Planetary Health

Startups can apply for IndieBio New York’s first cohort until March 1st, 2020 at http://indiebio.co/apply. The program kicks off in April 2020.

Additional Portfolio Highlights

In the life sciences arena, SOSV invests in human and planetary health, as an early investor in plant-based foods, cellular agriculture, computational biology and regenerative medicine.

SOSV is a pioneer in ‘clean food’ and cellular agriculture with investments in Geltor (animal-free collagen), Clara Foods (egg proteins), and Abbot’s Butcher (plant-based meat). SOSV was the initial investor in Jungla (A.I.-driven genomics), acquired in July 2019 by Invitae (Nasdaq: NVTA).  

Therapeutics has always been the core application of biotech, and SOSV has remained one of the industry’s most active funds, investing in cancer therapeutics (Filtricine, A2A Pharma), new modalities for autoimmune diseases (Diadem, DNA Lite), regenerative medicine (Membio, BioAesthetics), and gene delivery (Serenity).

About the IndieBio New York program

IndieBio New York has been created with the support of New York State’s Life Science Initiative, administered by Empire State Development. New York State will invest up to $25 million over five and a half years in support of IndieBio’s work connecting life science entrepreneurs with the tools and resources needed to move their discoveries out of the lab and into the marketplace. The Partnership Fund for New York City will invest $10 million into the startups coming through the program. SOSV also plans to invest an additional $60 million or more into the IndieBio New York startups. 

The program will work alongside New York’s leading academic institutions to commercialize both local and global inventions. Startups funded by IndieBio New York must relocate to New York for the duration of the program, and can leverage the extensive resources of the east coast life sciences industry.

About SOSV

SOSV manages over $700 million with a portfolio of over 900 startups. Managing Partner Sean O’Sullivan created the firm in 1995 after the IPO of MapInfo, the startup he co-founded that pioneered street mapping on computers. In 2010, SOSV opened Chinaccelerator, the first accelerator program in China, and was the first to create accelerators in hardware (HAX) and life sciences (IndieBio). Today, the firm has eight general partners amongst a 110-person staff across nine locations in the US, Europe and Asia.

In both 2018 and 2019, three of SOSV’s startups were selected each year as creators of the Top Inventions of the Year by TIME Magazine, a feat unparalleled by any Fortune 500 company or any other VC. 

For further information: Kayla.Liederbach@sosv.com

“The $100 Trillion Opportunity”

Arvind Gupta, Managing Director & Founder of IndieBio:

Meeting the challenge of climate change is commonly characterized as a tradeoff with industrial economic growth. In order to save the planet, we have to reduce consumption, and we have to stop production, and we have to give up behaviors we’ve long been accustomed to. The party’s over. In the conventional framing, both planetary health and declining human health are inevitable suppressors of economic activity.

In a three-part series of articles, hosted on Medium, IndieBio founder Arvind Gupta argues the opposite. He believes that the technological shift that will be forced on the economy by the twin catastrophes of planetary and human health comprises the greatest economic opportunity ever. Biotech is the technology that will drive this change, and those with the better biology will win this growth.

IndieBio modeled the global economy 25 years from now, in 2043, by industry. Just as the economy doubled between 1971 and 1994, and then doubled again from 1994 to 2018, it will double once more by 2043, adding $100 trillion to global GDP. But to achieve that, we will have to reinvent manufacturing and production to lower our demand of the planet’s natural resources.

Many have long declared there’s an economic opportunity in sustainable technologies. But nobody has ever put such a large figure on that opportunity — orders of magnitude bigger.

Read the series on Medium:

The $100 Trillion Opportunity
https://medium.com/indiebio-sf/the-100-trillion-opportunity-3d827f18c56a

Designing Science
https://medium.com/indiebio-sf/designing-science-24f2a4b5767f

Accelerating Planetary Health
https://medium.com/indiebio-sf/accelerating-planetary-health-f8ee3e70c603

The Most Incredible Technology You’ve Never Seen

Guest post By Bryan Johnson, founder of Kernel, OS Fund, and Braintree

Saving the world (or some subset of people in it) is in vogue among the world’s wealthiest.

Jeff Bezos has a rocket company, Blue Origin. Bezos believes our future is extraterrestrial, and his rocket company exists because he thinks the price for getting anything off this rock is too damn high.

Bezos is not alone. Elon Musk is also building huge, reusable rockets. He wants to see humans fly to Mars, initially on a lark but eventually for forever.

This type of long-term thinking about the future of our species coupled with serious investment is important. But Bezos and Musk (and most other investors) are missing the most significant — and smallest — technological opportunity to save humanity.

No one has captured this tech blindspot better than my friend and Ginkgo Bioworks Co-Founder Jason Kelly. He did it by showing an image like this:

“What’s the most advanced piece of technology you see on this desk?,” Kelly asked his audience. The correct answer is in green.

A $4 houseplant is one of the most astonishing objects ever assembled. It’s a biodegradable, carbon-capturing, self-replicating, solar-powered work of art. Have you ever bought an electronic gadget that even comes close?

The mind-bending fact that a common shrub is more advanced than the latest MacBook Pro is overlooked by almost everyone. We fail to see it for a simple reason: the coolest parts of a plant can’t be seen. Not with the naked eye, at least.

It’s at the molecular level that plants fix CO2, soak up sunlight and churn out nutrients that we can eat. Way down at the level of atoms and molecules, the most mundane living objects are doing things that our best engineers can only dream of.

Small solutions to big problems

Humanity faces enormous, imminent challenges. The way we use energy is poisoning the planet, we are on track to use up many of our most important non-renewable resources, and we are ill prepared for the next inevitable global pandemic. And that’s just a small sampling of the challenges we see coming; there are dozens more around corners we can’t see around.

Major advances in deep tech – the marriage of hard sciences and emerging technology –  is going to be critical if humanity is to survive these challenges and thrive, but most of the money in the world is maintained or managed by people who do not have formal scientific training. For example, just 5% of the Forbes richest 400 people have formal scientific training. Most therefore invest in things they’re familiar with, like real estate, software and finance.

I founded OS Fund to support the scientists entrepreneurs bringing deep tech to market; leveraging hard sciences and technology to rewrite the basic operating systems of our world. Atoms, molecules, genes and proteins can be designed like never before. The biological world has already demonstrated what’s possible on this scale — if we’re going to aim big as a species, it’s time we think small.

At OS Fund, we don’t invest in particular problems. Instead of trying to solve energy or climate change or the spread of disease, we invest in the foundational technology that could be applied to solve all problems. In the same way that early computer companies like Intel, Apple and Microsoft helped spawn the modern era of computing, we aim to do the same thing with atoms, molecules, organisms and complex systems.

The scientists at Ginkgo Bioworks, one of the first companies in the OS Fund ecosystem, are charting their way by designing bacteria that puff out perfume, crops that fertilize themselves, gut microbes to make medicine, and much more. With three highly automated foundries up and running, the company is poised to upset almost every industry you can think of.

Arzeda, another OS Fund company, is using computers to design new genetically-encoded nanomachines, otherwise known as proteins. Although most of us know proteins only as food, these intricate biological objects actually do almost all the work needed to keep cells alive. Designing new proteins from scratch will let humanity play by biology’s rules, meaning we can design our way to better food, fuels and chemicals in the greenest way possible.

Another OS Fund company rewriting our world is NuMat, where they’re  arranging atoms in MOFs (metal organic frameworks) to create the most powerful sponges you’ve never heard of. NuMat works at the intersection of high-performance computing, chemistry, and hardware systems to design and manufacture materials that can filter non-renewable material like xenon out of thin air.

But wait, I can hear you thinking, isn’t AI going to eliminate the need for this kind of innovation?

That may be the grandest challenge of them all. How are we as a species going to thrive in a world where artificial intelligence can do more even than our best minds? The answer again requires innovation at the molecular level.

I started Kernel, a neuroenhancement company, personally investing $100M, to help ensure that humans and AI evolve together. We are working at the bleeding edge of neuroscience, solid-state quantum devices, materials science, and photonics to develop the science and brain interface products to allow people to bring their brains “online,” and use that data to radically improve themselves. Radical human cognitive improvement is a requirement if humanity is going to thrive in the future we are barrelling toward. We are a few tools away from an evolutionary leap; what’s on the other side of it is beyond what we can possibly imagine.

Investing in huge rockets, brain interfaces and tiny molecules isn’t actually that different. Developing a green global economy and exploring beyond our pale blue dot are complementary — not competing — visions of the future. It’s time investments in our future here on Earth get the attention and scale afforded those focused on our future in the cosmos.

New Age Meats: Leading a Cultural Shift in Protein Production

Cell-based meats, or clean meats, can alleviate pressures on the environment, end animal suffering, and produce sustainable protein for the growing world population. Yet, we are still far away from making cell-based meats a reality due to technological challenges. New Age Meats is tackling these challenges with automation and data to accelerate product development and bring pork sausages to market sooner. We chatted with Brian Spears, CEO of New Age Meats.

How did you become interested in the cell-based meat field?

I left my last company because — although it was extremely interesting, with great customers and cool technology — it wasn’t having a tremendous social impact. I’ve always believed in having a social impact mission. During my time at that company, I started other nonprofits, but they typically got the dregs of my time and energy. So, my conviction has been that your company should be a vehicle for how you see the world. I sold my ownership of that company, I’m still on great terms with my former co-founder, but I needed a technology or industry that was benefiting from this three-way collision of what I’m really good at, what I really care about, and what the world needs. I looked at industries that were making transformations to make the world a better place, and the more I learned about cell-based meat, the more it excited me.

Cell-based meat simultaneously solves big problems around the environment, human health, animal welfare, and food security. It’s also just really cool. It’s what we’re eating for the next century, what we’re eating in space stations, and on Mars. The more I researched it, the more I just thought it was amazing. I became involved with the Good Food Institute (GFI) and New Harvest in early 2017 and learned a lot about the space. GFI has an entrepreneur forum to meet potential co-founders. I started to look for co-founders, and that’s how I met Andra.

What are you building, what’s exciting about it, what’s your company focused on, and what’s special about it?

We make meat from animal cells instead of animal slaughter. We work on pork, which we chose because of the massive amount of research that’s been done on pork cell lines. There’s no animal that we consume in mass that has had more research done on it than pork.

Our big differentiator benefits from our team’s background: automation and data science. I have 12 years of industry experience automating deep research labs like NASA, US national labs, the Canadian Research Council, and the University of Texas. In those cases we put in hardware acquisition points to acquire more data and then assemble the data to make data-based decisions. Essentially that’s how you make research faster, and how you uncover connections that you didn’t know existed previously. So that’s on the deep research side. On the product side — with customers like Cisco, 3M, and GE — we ask, how do you then take that research and make products better and faster? How do you accelerate the pipeline from R&D to production?

We actually started our life as a company together in November — as a horizontal company. We looked at the industry and evaluated where we could provide value. We talked to probably 150 people in existing cell-based meat companies, as well as academic researchers and nonprofit advocates. We found that people liked our vision of how to engineer biology using data science and automation, but as an incremental improvement, they didn’t see that it was pivotal to their success.

Andra’s degree from the University of Oxford is in interdisciplinary biosciences, so she took a lot of courses in engineering, statistics, math, and hardware acquisition in order to understand all the tools that she could use as a biologist to do better research.

Despite our backgrounds, when we approached companies, they just didn’t catch our vision. We were also looking at all the other companies that were providing technology and tools for human tissue engineering — like cell lines, the scaffolding, and the bioreactors. We were evaluating their capacity to re-engineer their technology to come into our market, because if they were well poised to do that, then that’s probably not a place we would provide unique value. We took a full view of the R&D to product pipeline. With this understanding and with our unique differentiators, we saw that we worked best as a vertically integrated company. So in April, we decided to deliver pork to people using our technology.

If you succeed, how do you think you will change the food industry landscape?

We can make tastier, healthier, and more sustainable meat. The way that meat is made now is kind of a race to the bottom. There is an appetite for really cheap meat. You have industrial animal agriculture that is creating more and more negative externalities for the world: climate change, deforestation, species lost, human health concerns like antibiotic-resistant infections, concentrated animal feedlots or feed sheds, which means poor animal welfare. We can change all that.

There’s only so much you can engineer an animal to give you different tastes, textures and food experiences. With cell-based meat, we control the entire environment in which we grow our cells. This means we can start with the perception of how humans enjoy meat, and then craft our meat to deliver new, interesting, better experiences. We can also take away a lot of the negative human health aspects I mentioned before. This world of cell-based meat is obviously much better for animals. They will be able to live their own natural lives.

What are the lessons learned coming from your old company to New Age Meats as CEO?

My last company was a bootstrapped company, and we took no outside investment. So from the very beginning, we had customers and we grew in accordance with their demands. If we had a big customer pulling us in a certain direction, it made sense for us as a business to go in that direction. We were constantly changing in order to adapt to our big customers, because we were so driven by these short-term returns on investment. This meant that sometimes we traded a clear vision for the future of our company with short term gains. And then when those customers suddenly canceled a contract because they had cutbacks, we were stuck with a product so tailored to their use case that we couldn’t use it with other customers without extensive rework.

I have a friend outside of Silicon Valley, in Chicago. We were recently chatting and he started to poke fun at Silicon Valley companies, saying that we don’t actually care about money or return on investment. We just care about these crazy ideas.

I’ve learned so much in the past two years moving into investor backed startups. In Silicon Valley, investors want me to come in and say, “Hey, the world currently looks a certain way, but it doesn’t have to. I see the way the world can be, and I see a pathway for my company to come in and be the catalyst to make it that way. So, after the existing ecosystem is disrupted, we’ll be the one standing there in the new future.” They want to give me the money so that I can follow that vision and not be pulled in different directions, and in so doing, make a product that changes the world.

In the short term, what are the important milestones and achievements you’re looking to hit as a company?

We’re raising 3 million dollars for a seed round. We have five scientific milestones that we’re going to hit, and we have seven business and product milestones. The science milestones include making progress on the cell lines and the infrastructure with the bioreactors. Then on the business/product side, we ask, What do our customers want? What is it that we’re delivering to them? And how do we make tastes and experiences that speak to them?

That leads to product definition. What is in the product that we’re going to make? When we make our bioreactors or cultivators, what will the production facility look like? And then, what is the experience the consumers are going to be having? We’ll design all of that, so that when we go to Series A, will be able to execute on that plan.

We are leading a cultural shift. People have been increasingly eating animals from factory farms. We’re going to change that. We’re going to shift consumption to meat that’s tastier, healthier, and more sustainable. To do that, we’re having that conversation with the public early and often.

Watch New Age Meats pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday Nov. 6th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

NovoNutrients: making food from CO2

As the world’s population continues to balloon, demand for seafood is going with it. Aquaculture is the primary method to meet demand, but relies on feeding billions of small fish to larger fish. A process that is inherently unsustainable and is only getting worse as ocean fish supply dwindles. NovoNutrients is looking to solve this problem with a radically different approach, growing high-quality bacterial protein from waste Carbon Dioxide.

I chatted with David Tze, Co-Founder and CEO of NovoNutrients about his origins, problems in the aquaculture industry, and how they plan on disrupting the feed market.

How did you first become interested in aquaculture?

I first became interested in aquaculture by reading an article in Wired magazine. It was the May 2004 issue and there was a story about the blue revolution, which was the first time I saw the pioneering work being done in offshore aquaculture. More importantly, it was the first time I really saw the supply and demand trends in global seafood. An exploding middle class was demanding a huge increase in seafood supply and aquaculture was the only way to meet it.

So you got interested in aquaculture, but how did you transition to NovoNutrients?

It was a quite a long journey for me in that the introduction to aquaculture was in 2004 and I didn’t meet NovoNutrients’ inventor until 2017. So, during those thirteen years, the first company I started in aquaculture was actually an investment management company. I had been working in the early days of the commercial internet and it wasn’t clear how I was going to get into the aquaculture business. It wasn’t until a colleague came to talk to me about another entrepreneurial opportunity and we unexpectedly realized we had independently developed an identical interest in aquaculture. He’s a very successful serial entrepreneur named Jared Polis, now the Democratic nominee for governor of Colorado.

I started as the aquaculture investing arm of his family office. About a year later we formalized it into a venture fund, brought in outside limited partners, and rolled some of the investments we’d already made into the fund. For about twelve years, I built up this small portfolio in the aquaculture value chain that included feed ingredients. This put me on the path that led me to encounter NovoNutrients in January of 2017.

When you met NovoNutrients, what really stood out and what was the hook for this company?

There are really three important things about the company, two of which were things that I was looking for and the third which really surprised me in in a positive way. It was a company that was focused on producing protein for aquaculture and also taking the microbial approach. Knowing that the smaller simpler organisms are generally better at growth and at using inexpensive feedstocks, that was clearly the right approach. The pleasant surprise, which I later discovered, was that NovNutrients was making their protein for aquafeed largely from untreated industrial emissions of CO2.

CO2? That blew my mind. Partially because of the sustainability angle and the part it could play in creating carbon negative feeds to help address climate change, but also because, in my previous experience with a portfolio company doing a feed ingredient, one of the main challenges is inconsistency in the supply of feedstocks. That previous company used beer brewing wastewater as feedstock. It was surprisingly variable in quantity, quality, and contaminants. On the flip side, these carbon dioxide streams were going to be much more voluminous, consistent, and cheaper. It very compelling, and I got on the phone immediately, launching into the first real conversation in what would be a long series of calls and visits leading up to me coming on board as CEO. We announced my role in early October of 2017, at the SynBioBeta conference.

You touched on bacteria and untreated carbon dioxide. Could you give us a quick walkthrough of what is it that NovoNutrients does on the technology side?

The big picture is that what we do is a lot like making wine. In winemaking, it’s yeast taking up the sugar in grape juice, as the source of carbon and chemical energy, and using that to reproduce and grow. In our case, it’s a little bit different, in that we use bacteria. Our carbon source is untreated industrial emissions of CO2. Our energy source is hydrogen.

For NovoNutrients, the product is not a waste stream of the microbe, which is the case for alcohol from yeast, but rather the bacteria themselves are the product. These are bacteria that are naturally high in protein and other nutrients, so if you dry them out, they become a protein meal with ideal characteristics for feeding to fish and other animals. Our technology encompasses this entire chain of activity, but the part we’re especially proud of, and that we think is ultimately going to be the most valuable, is the consortium intellectual property that we have developed. This design sits at the middle of our process and is the interface between these inexpensive feedstocks and this valuable mix of microbial protein.

What’s the efficiency of this process? Can you really produce the huge amount of protein needed at scale for aquaculture to feed so many people?

The first thing to know about scale is that to make one ton of protein meal, we need two tons of carbon dioxide.

The second thing to know is the scale of carbon dioxide availability. A large cement plant can produce 4 million tons a year of carbon dioxide, potentially to be used by us to produce 2 million tons of protein meal. This would be just more than a third of the current global supply of high-quality protein meal that we’re looking to replace, called fishmeal. Fish meal is made when you catch small bony, oily fish and grind them up then press them out into a protein component and a fat component. That’s your fishmeal and fish oil. Fishmeal is an extremely valuable ingredient that goes in not just fish feeds, but also feeds for pigs and chickens. It is currently valued at more than $1,500 a ton.

Our technology is extremely scalable, not just within the needs of aquaculture, but in a world where several billion tons of meat are raised every year, there’s a huge opportunity for high-quality proteins.

You’re talking about meat, not just fish, is this a protein that can expand beyond aquaculture?

Absolutely. Fish are the pickiest eaters because they’ve evolved for hundreds of millions of years in the ocean to eat other things that are in the ocean. The big fish that people like to eat are eating small fish, so they require this very high protein diet with a dramatic range of amino acids. So their nutritional needs are really a superset of the nutritional needs of terrestrial agricultural animals, like chickens and pigs, or for that matter, a person.

We think there will be a significant customer base among today’s food tech companies who are currently buying proteins from the pea or lentil industry but are really interested in having the highest quality proteins at the most reasonable cost. Once we’ve started satisfying the animal nutrition market, we’ll talk to some of the movers and shakers in the world of human food.

How was your transition from aquaculture investor to CEO of a biotech aquaculture feed company?

Even as a hyper-focused investor one is still ultimately something of a dilettante, in that you have to be familiar with the full gamut of companies and technologies. It’s quite different to wake up in the morning with all my focus on one company. As a non-scientist, I had to learn a significant amount of science to keep up, even fractionally, with my fantastic technical co-founders who are in the lab every day. Besides the difference in focus, it is very different to be involved in the management of a company instead of being on a board. At the board level, you’re essentially coaching executives and advising them on strategic decisions. When you’re an executive, it’s a whole different slate of activities and I found it extremely rewarding to actually be in the mix instead of just commenting from afar.

There’s a much greater sense of teamwork and inter-reliance on your team. It’s also nice to be in a position to go out and communicate the opportunity and our progress, as well as get advice on challenges, as opposed to always being in the position of evaluator and advisor, which is not fundamentally how I see myself. I think that my new life as an entrepreneur is a better match for who I’ve always been.

How do you think NovoNutrients can transform the agriculture industry or at a greater scale the, the food production industry?

I close our investor pitch with the line “make a billion tons of food from 2 billion tons of CO2.” That’s really the kind of scale this technology has the potential to develop into. It can be a gigaton solution for our oceans, climate, and food production systems. That’s because we’ve intentionally chosen to work with some of the largest resources on the planet in terms of gaseous carbon waste. That’s billions of tons every year. As for hydrogen, that can be made from renewable power.

We’re talking about building a new pillar of the food system that’s decoupled from both agriculture and fossil fuels. If the industry is producing CO2 and there is a source of clean power, then producing electricity for the electrolysis of water to make hydrogen allows us to scale up to an extremely large facility while we replicate that facility many times on each continent.

We’d aim to be in a position where we can fundamentally bring down the cost of food and increase its availability worldwide.

What big milestones are you and you and the company aiming to hit in the near future?

Our next big milestone is to scale to 500-liter bioreactors, to address early adopter specialty markets. Our other milestone is developing our synthetic biology platform. One of the incredible things about our workhorse bacteria is that they’re genetically tractable and culturable. And so these bacterial models have tremendous potential to produce biochemicals with between five and 100 carbon atoms in the molecule. The first place to go with that will be that same aquaculture feed market that we’re working on with our NovoMeal protein. This allows us to go beyond protein and address many of the other needs in the animal nutrition space.

Watch NovoNutrients pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday Nov. 6th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

Terramino Foods: Fungi as an Alternative Protein

Killing an animal and eating its flesh is not the only way to gain protein. Now more than ever, we need alternatives to conventional animal farming and fishing—not just because of animal welfare, but for human and environmental health. What’s happening now is not sustainable.

Terramino Foods uses fungi as a complete protein source which acts as a seafood alternative. Described as healthful, protein-rich, sustainable, ethical, and delicious, the company is working to help people reimagine meat and seafood with fungi, that has the proper taste, texture, and nutrition. We asked the company’s founders, Kimberlie Le and Joshua Nixon, more about their mission:

How did you become interested in science?

I don’t think either of us can remember not being interested in science. We think that science can be boiled down to just being curious and seeking answers about things around us.

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

We started Terramino about a year ago upon completion of the alternative meat lab program at UC Berkeley which supports and helps scientists and engineers build a better food system through fixing the problems with animal agriculture/meat.  

How does your technology work?

We use fungi as our alternative protein source that creates well textured, nutritionally similar, amazing tasting seafood and meat products. We are starting with salmon and seafood products which have increased human and environmental health concerns.

What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?

We had already been quite immersed in entrepreneurship through UC Berkeley at the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship, however starting a company has been a learning experience in that there are always a million tasks to juggle and only a limited amount of time and resources. The biggest lesson we learned is that execution is the name of the game (thanks, Arvind) and our goal is build a transformative company that truly disrupts that way people consume meat and seafood.

How do you think your success as a company would change the seafood industry, and our environment?

We aren’t just going after seafood – we want to make a large impact on animal agriculture as a whole since it has detrimental impacts on human, animal, and environmental health. Our goal in the long run is to be able to provide a sustainable, nutritious, tasty, and most importantly accessible source of protein for every person on the planet.

What milestones are you aiming to hit in the near future?

We are going to be scaling up production in a few phases and making our processes more efficient to be competitive on price with seafood and meat products. We also want to work on formulation of a range of products that are delicious for plant and meat eaters alike, and all the picky eaters in between. Developing our product line and marketing/branding are also very important since there is a crucial education component to our products.

Watch Terramino Foods pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday April 17th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

Finless Foods: Pollution-Free Fish, Thanks to Biotech

It’s an exciting time for the future of food, as technology has finally enabled us to grow meat without slaughtering animals. Finless Foods has applied a similar technology to produce fish from cells, creating a sustainable source of seafood. The company’s timing is crucial as our oceans are not only being decimated by overfishing, but also being heavily polluted with plastic and other toxic chemicals that move up the food chain to consumers. Supporting healthy, lab-grown fish that tastes like conventionally caught fish seems like a no-brainer, and the company has already been generating buzz from the media. The company’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Selden, shared more of their story:

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

Brian and I first met at UMass Amherst where we both studied Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. We started our company in Brooklyn, during the summer of 2016, when we put some real serious thought into how inefficient and environmentally devastating the current food system is. We then brought on Dr. Robert Hughes and Dr. Jihyun Kim once at IndieBio.

How does your technology work? What will your product look like to a consumer?

Our technology takes a small sample of fish cells and grows them out quickly and cheaply to be eaten as a replacement for conventionally caught fish. To the consumer it will look like the fish they know and love to eat, but on the inside it will be very different. Our fish is a return to the traditional fish that people used to eat before we polluted the oceans. Our fish tastes the same but won’t have the mercury and plastic that people are eating through currently industrial fishing.

How did you become interested in biotech?

I became interested in biotech because I took a chemistry class in college as part of my neuroscience major and realized I loved chemistry. I switched to biochemistry and from there fell in love with all of the crazy applications. We’re currently going through a biotech revolution. It’s like the early days of the invention of the computer, but it’s happening again for DNA and cellular biology.

What was it like transitioning from science to entrepreneurship?

It was a very natural fit for me. I’ve always been more of a people person and big on talking about big ideas. A history of political activism has trained me how to work with others and explain my ideas effectively. This has proven invaluable as an entrepreneur in a million ways, and I’m finding new ways every day.

How do you think your success as a company would change the food industry, and the world?

We will create a healthier, cheaper product with a steadier supply chain. A lack of affordable delicious healthy protein is a food justice issue, and we will solve it. We will remove the need for trawlers to destroy ocean ecosystems, and for giant fish farms to pollute waters used for centuries by local fishing populations. This will not only remove cruelty from the process, it will create something better for everybody and the planet.

What are the milestones you’re looking to hit in the near future?

We’ll very soon have our own custom cell culture media. Current media is extremely expensive, uses animal components, and is very variable batch to batch, making it unsuitable for industrial production. Ours will be cheap and animal-free as well as consistent, making our process easier and also viable as a commercial product.

See Finless Foods pitch at IndieBio Demo Day on September 14th in San Francisco or via Livestream! Register here.

Pictured above: The Finless Foods team.

Building Food Molecule by Molecule

Post By Ron Shigeta

Lessons learned in Biotech Food Innovation

Over our first four classes and 55 startups funded, IndieBio has built up a new class of food companies. We are so honored that AgFunder’s annual survey voted IndieBio one of the Top 3 most valuable’ accelerators in AgTech.

It’s been a lesson for us that biology can have such an impact on food. About a quarter of our portfolio are food and Ag companies. which have many approaches to food but are each highly innovative. Together they have created a new philosophy of how to improve food quality, reduce waste, transparency and achieve eco-sustainability; Molecular Foods.

The impact on life sciences for food up to now has been quiet but pervasive. Nearly everything we eat is checked for quality and nutritional content. The protein content of seafood (which breaks down as it gets old), the gluten and protein content of grain (which varies depending on how its grown and stored), the melting point of fats and dozens of other tests are run on food coming in from producers and wholesalers worldwide. Now verification is becoming an issue — DNA sequencing is showing that the species of one in three fish sold is not as advertised.

Over nearly 60 years of intensive development in making pharmaceuticals, assisting cutting edge R&D, the tried and tested staples of life siences can impact a market like food (and others). Life sciences is allowing for high end quality while scaling to feed us affordably. Producing food while understanding each molecule in it, Molecular Food writes food quality instead of just reading it.

“Molecular Food doesn’t just read food quality, it writes it.”

We’ve funded several approaches to Molecular Food. Also surprising has been that all of the food solutions we’ve funded heretofore are non-GMO and most can be organic/biologique. Here I describe five types of food innovation we have participated in as Molecular Foods to try to

Next-gen plant-based foods

These companies make foods we know and love using ingredients only from plants. Following ambitious companies like Hampton Creek and Impossible Foods that thoroughly produce the foods we want to eat but without expensive animals.

By combining proteins, fats, carbohydrates etc from different sources, foods with the same texture, mouth feel — the same experience — are created. New experiences that cannot be gotten any other way are also emerging.

Plant ingredients are less resource-intensive and have much fewer issues with bio-contaminants like Salmonella and E. coli. Eating plant based foods is healthier overall and that’s why the demand is outpacing the overall market for these foods.

Clean meat

The trillion dollar North American meat product is another target for better transparency and quality. Memphis Meats produces muscle cells directly for meat products, producing the cellular structures that give meat its full satisfying texture. All with a fraction of the resources and cost.

Brewed foods

Geltor and Clara Foods use yeast strains to brew up protein based foods like gelatin and egg whites. Working with them was an amazing experience. Tasting these foods coming out of fermentation like you’d find in a brewery, not only were they the familiar experience you’d experience but the ability to control the quality was a clear advantage. The ingredients are made and ready to use in hours; all of the inputs and the purity coming out are documentable with consistency that you can see. This will cut down on opaque and sometimes global supply chains that make much of our food today.

Understanding of taste, memory, and experience

Later companies include Ava Labs, GEA Enzymes and MiraculeX, which take a fresh look at wine, fats, and non-sugar sweeteners respectively. Each can create the experience of foods. Ava Labs has been creating better and better wines from the molecules that make it up. Among other possibilities they may become a historical repository for vintages which Ava Winery can help recall and reproduce rare tastes that change over time and are eventually lost forever. Later this week GEA Enzymes will present the worlds first fully liquid dark chocolate — an espresso like experience that has the full range of tastes of an exclusive dark chocolate without the dry and crumbly mouth feel.

Along the supply chain from farm to table

We have also worked with AgTech companies that have a strong biotech foundation. EnduraBio has a natural plant extract spray that cut the water consumption of a crop plant in half in a test they did with us. AstronaBio produced a 20 minute test for food pathogens, replacing a 3 day testing cycle. Pure Cultures and Animal Biome are unravelling tangle of the microbiome and producing products that work; a feed supplement that replaces antibiotics and a treatment for severe diarrhea in companion animals respectively.

“Molecular Food” is certainly an idea in progress, but the potential to fix security, waste and consistency in the global supply change has been an exciting realization that will mature in the near future.

Join me for the Future Food-Tech summit in San Francisco March 29-30.

Use the code INDIE300 and get $300 off registration.

Disrupting Seafood, Not Oceans: an Interview with Dominique Barnes of New Wave Foods

Disrupting Seafood, Not Oceans: an Interview with Dominique Barnes of New Wave Foods

As the population keeps growing, we are increasingly turning to our oceans to feed a hungry world. This pressure is leading to unsustainable practices that damage ecosystems and our health.

New Wave Foods is creating healthy and sustainable plant and algae-based seafood to meet this growing demand. I talked to the company’s CEO, Dominique Barnes, to learn more about this issue, her team’s expertise, and how New Wave Foods can change how we eat. Check out her pitch live on February 4th on IndieBio’s Demo Day Livestream!

A: Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in the biotech space?

My background is in Marine Conservation and hospitality. I saw biotech as a way to solve overfishing pressures on our oceans.

A: What problem are you working to solve with your company, New Wave Foods?

We’re working to solve the global issue of feeding over 10 billion people by 2050. The current seafood supply chains are riddled with unsustainable practices. The growing demand for fish, which has surpassed beef, is putting pressures on suppliers to find ways to produce more. There’s also a big lack of transparency in the seafood industry. As a result, consumers don’t really know what they’re buying, and that it is not as healthy as they’re led to believe. It’s also creating massive social injustices where slave labor is being used to meet demand. We saw all these problems and wanted to find a way to supply the world with sustainable, ethical, healthy, and delicious seafood.

A: If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

D: Sales. Seeing people buying this new sustainable product would be huge validation. I’m from Las Vegas so it would be great to see a shrimp cocktail made from our products. Eventually, I’d love to see an all you can eat seafood buffet that’s all made by NWF.

A: How do you think success can change your industry?

D: Increasing awareness of all the issues with our current food supply. We can create a product that’s better than what’s being offered in a manner that’s good for consumers and the planet. We want to make it easy for people to make the healthy choice for themselves and the planet.

A: How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

D: I have extensive knowledge, background, and a passion for marine life and conservation. It’s always been my life’s goal to do something that benefits our oceans. After earning a master’s in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, I saw that entrepreneurialism was a way to solve this problem and make a positive impact. Michelle, my co-founder and CTO, has a master’s in material engineering from Carnegie Mellon, which is vital since this is really an engineering problem of texture. How do yo use materials like plants and algae to build seafood? She uses her expertise and knowledge to make great products. We have really complementary skill sets that balance each other out.

A: Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

D: Flexibility is the word that comes to mind. You can’t be rigid in your thought process or path. It’s important to be open and listen to a lot of different opinions and advice. Though ultimately it’s your decision, so be true to what you set out to do.

A: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

D: There are so many when creating a startup. The biggest challenge here is getting people to accept algae as a food since it has a negative connotation in the food world. We have to educate people that algae is actually a big reason why our seafood is healthy, sustainable, and delicious.

A: What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

D: Short-term we’re moving into collaborative kitchens and getting our product to local catering companies that we’re working with. In the long term, we want to be in grocery stores nationally and internationally. So scaling our product to get to that level in the next 5 years.