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

Catalog Technologies raises $35 million series B

TechCrunch reported the DNA-based data storage platform Catalog Technologies (SOSV IBSF04 2016) has raised $35 million in series B funding. Led by Hanwha Impact with additional support from Horizons Ventures, this round brings Catalog’s total raise to approximately $60 million. The article reports that the company’s “energy-efficient, cost-competitive, and more secure data storage and computation platform,” uses synthetic DNA to solve the problems of conventional electronic media. With the goal of commercialized use in 2025, the platform is expected to be used for “fraud detection in financial services, image processing for defect discovery in manufacturing, and digital signal processing in the energy sector.”

Speaking about the future of the platform, Nick Ha, vice president of Hanwha Impact Partners said, “Catalog’s technology represents a viable pathway to solve the issue of not only mass data accumulation and preservation but more importantly, the effective usage of data.”

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.

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.

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

By Christine Hall

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

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

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

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

Kraken Sense: Pathogens Have Nowhere Else to Hide

A considerable amount of effort is taken to make sure that the water that is used to process and rinse your produce is clean and clear of pathogens like salmonella and legionella. Even with all the regulations that are imposed on our food supply chain to prevent such outbreaks, we are still not impervious to these bacterial threats. The affects not only public health, but also environmental, as millions of pounds of food are thrown away because of the scare. The primary reason is that the current methods for testing are too slow and too cumbersome to alert us fast enough. We sit down with Nisha Sarveswaran to talk about her innovative platform to disrupt the water testing market.

How did you first become interested in water safety? What life experiences led you to this?

Water quality has always been a passion of mine. I was born in Sri Lanka and I knew many people who didn’t have access to clean water, so I have always been conscious of the importance of safe water access. Our continuous progress is only ensured if we can properly manage our basic resources, and having safe water is critical to everyone.

I learned about the importance of water testing while doing research on pathogen-related illnesses and food recalls. It became clear to me that the present testing methods, developed more than fifty years ago, cannot meet the water and food supply challenges of 21st century.

Why not?

The current best practice is to take a sample of water, culture it in the lab for three days and have a trained technician examine the results to determine the presence and the extend of the contamination in the original sample. With our just-in-time logistics network, the produce collected and tested today may already be in the grocery store three days from now, so the current testing methodology takes too long and too limiting in scope.

With our real-time detection methodology, we can identify the contamination issue at the source and prevent the costly recalls that we are always hearing about on the news.

What’s special about your technology?

Ours uses a system based on antibodies on a carbon nanotube, which are tiny materials with very interesting properties. With our specific treatment and manufacturing methods we are able to create thin, narrow, electrically conductive strips with embedded antibodies specific to certain bacteria and even strains. When exposed to water samples that contain the target bacteria, the electrical signal changes in a very unique way, and that allows us to detect the presence and concentration of the bacteria that we want to detect.

Because we are measuring the signals immediately as water is passed through, we can essentially detect pathogens in real time. The only limit is how fast we can concentrate the water, and how fast the antibodies bind to the pathogens to get a noticeable change in our signal. This real time signal means that you can catch pathogens before the food even leaves the door of your facility. Compare that to having to get a water sample, and literally shipping it to a testing facility.

Incredible, that must really save a lot of time and money!

Yes! People need to understand that it’s not just about how many people get food poisoning. Just think about how much perfectly good produce out there gets thrown out because of a bad apple in the market (pun intended).

How do you mean?

For example, once a bad batch of romaine lettuce leaves a facility, it’s hard to track where all of it goes after, and once a few people get sick from it, the entire industry panics and avoids romaine lettuce, which kills the prices and puts the entire romaine market in shock (for good reason). This scare translates to hundreds of millions of dollars of food wasted, which is not only an environmental waste, but also a waste considering how many people are currently food insecure.

Interesting! So this isn’t just about people getting food poisoning, you’re saying this is a much bigger supply chain efficiency problem?

Food consumption is growing rapidly with our rising population and increasing prosperity. Our resources and supply chain will become more strain and will require modern solutions to identify the potential contaminations in real-time. The sensors that are able to detect harmful bacteria, in as little time as possible, are becoming more and more important to ensure food safety.

Moreover, by detecting contamination early, we are not only able to prevent costly recalls and associated health implications, but can also significantly reduce the food waste by providing alternative utilization for food that is no longer fit for human consumption. Currently the food waste from the supply chain accounts for 6% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Our solution will ensure that the food that is distributed is safe and thus will also reduce the food waste that happens in the supply chain due to recalls.

You’re not a one-trick pony are you? I assume you can test for multiple pathogens?

We are building a multi-pathogen lab-on-a-chip system that can detect multiple pathogens simultaneously in real time. The remarkable advantage of our approach, other than the real-time capability, is that if there are antibodies available for a certain pathogen, we can build a sensor that can detect it and add it to our list of capabilities.

This work however goes beyond simply creating new sensors. In order to ensure that the results can get to the right hands in as little time as possible we have also developed automated water sampling systems and AI based machine learning algorithms running on our cloud platform that can interpret the sensor data and send the results in seconds.

Looks like you can cover a really broad spectrum of pathogens, but how fast can you make a test for other pathogens?

We can develop a new sensor in under 2 months, for example having developed the E. coli sensor we have spent some of the time at IndieBio developing Legionella sensor. This process will only accelerate as our first sensors enter the market and the process of creating new sensors becomes more established.

So is the speed at which KrakenSense is testing going to be the new standard for water testing? Are we going to see you guys across the entire supply chain?

We are working on developing protocols to help increase food safety testing and establish our methodology as the new standard for water testing. We really think that the water testing market won’t be the same after a few facilities can test in real time.

It’s like Amazon’s 2-day shipping: Once people start to get used to the speed, they just can’t imagine going to a much slower system… likewise, we think once we have a few pilots and customers, the rest of the market will start to find their conventional way of testing really outdated, and will want to come to us. In the near future, we see our solutions being present across the supply chain from early detection on the farms, to critical supply chain points that are highly susceptible to contamination.

So what’s on your roadmap now?

We are raising the seed round to further develop the lab on the chip system, expand our detectable bacteria capabilities, and pilot our solution with several key customers that will demonstrate the concept to the industry in general. At the same time, we are developing a suite of tools that will be used in tying it all together with blockchain technology so that every supplier has constant traceability in their food supply chain in real time.

Diptera.ai: Fighting Mosquitoes with Mosquitoes

Diptera.ai combines computer vision and deep biological knowledge to fight mosquitoes and their diseases. We spoke with CEO Vic Levitin about Diptera.ai’s solution to the mosquito problem.

Watch and read an abbreviated version of the conversation below.

What is the mosquito problem?

Mosquitoes are the most dangerous animal alive: they kill nearly a million humans every year and infect 700 million more with diseases like Zika virus, malaria, and yellow fever.

The mosquito problem is a spreading one. Thanks to climate change, the mosquito-friendly habitat is expanding. By the year 2050, half the world’s population will be living among mosquito infected areas. 

There are no vaccines or treatments to most of the mosquito-borne diseases, and the solutions to control mosquito populations depend mostly on pesticides; this uses chemicals that are toxic to both humans and the environment. These are quickly losing their productivity because the mosquitoes are becoming resistant to these insecticides.

Why has Sterile Insect Technique failed to address the mosquito problem?

Sterile Insect Technique, or SIT, relies on one beautiful fact: male mosquitoes mate repeatedly while females mate only once. Based on this concept, when you release large quantities of sterile male mosquitoes, they mate with wild females and there are no progeny, diluting and depleting the population.

This is the core of the technique, but it isn’t new; SIT has been around since the mid-1940s. It’s been widely used for other types of insects, but there’s been a major bottle neck with implementing this technique for mosquitoes: you want to be very precise to release only sterilized male mosquitoes. Only the female mosquitoes take bloodmeals; if you release any females, they can still bite and transmit disease. You want to be as close to 100% accuracy in releasing only males.

Another problem is the sex sorting of mosquitoes at the adult stage, which is what is currently done. Adults are fragile and have a short lifespan, so they are difficult to ship. You need a facility to grow, set, and ship, which is why this technique, although very promising, is not being widely implemented. It’s just super expensive at the moment.

What has Diptera.ai innovated in mosquito sex-sorting technologies?

We developed a technology to sex sort mosquitoes much earlier, in the larval stage. At this stage, the mosquitoes are much more robust, and they have about 2 weeks prior to becoming adults. That’s 2 weeks that we could ship all over the world.

Sorting at the larval stage allows us to introduce a new business model to the industry, where instead of having to build your own facility, we can ship sterile mosquitoes to you and use sterile insect technique as a service.

How does your team have the unique ability to build this technology?

I’m fortunate to be joined by 2 co-founders that are exponentially smarter than I am. Each of them brings along more than 15 years of experience in their own fields. 

Elly Ordan has been working with insects for his entire adult life, so he really knows his stuff when it comes to insects. He brings a unique knowledge of how to recognize differences between males and females at the larval stage. Ariel Livne is an expert in automation and optics, and he translates Elly’s mind into an artificial intelligence and an automated machine. 

Who will Diptera.ai’s customers be?

The current annual spending on mosquito control in the US is $2.5 billion dollars. The private market spends $2 billion, and half a billion is spent by mosquito control districts. Because existing solutions are toxic and inefficient, we estimate a $15 billion untapped market in the US alone.

This estimate is based on the fact that out of 80 million households with private lawns, half of them already have a mosquito problem, and only about 2 million households are buying mosquito control. The rest have basically given up on their outdoors during the mosquito season.

We offer an effective and sustainable solution at a comparable price. Our strategy is to start from the mosquito control districts, as they have both successful experience with SIT for agricultural pests and immediately available budgets. To that end, we have an LOI from a major US mosquito control district. We’ll then expand to the residential market, where we have signed an LOI with one of the largest mosquito control companies in the US.

How do you imagine Diptera.ai will grow as the SIT technologies matures?

At this point, we’ve spoken to dozens of experts from all around the world: from the U.S., from Asia, South America, South Africa and the Gulf Coast. For us, it’s clear that SIT will be implemented widely and will be a default mosquito control solution. It’s important to say it won’t be a silver bullet: you still need other methods as well, practices like eliminating still water, and educate the community not to leave open water containers, and so on. But it’s really not a question of if SIT will be implemented, it’s a matter of when and who will do it. We believe we hold the key to unlock scale for the sterile insect technique and essentially create this industry.

See Diptera.AI pitch at IndieBio New York’s Demo Day here.

Biomage: Making Single-Cell Sequencing Data Accessible to Research Biologists

Biomage is a computational biology company with a unique software that allows scientists to explore the multiverse of human cells through single-cell sequencing. We spoke with CEO Adam Kurkiewicz about the ability to turn every biologist into a bioinformatician.

Watch and read an abbreviated version of the conversation below.

How is single-cell transcriptomics changing biomedicine?

Single-cell transcriptomics, or single-cell sequencing, is a relatively recently discovered method, and is used to really understand what’s happening inside living organisms at the level of individual cells. This is something I like to compare to the invention of the light microscope when scientists were for the first time able to look at individual cells. Single-cell sequencing gives us the ability to look at individual cells, from the inside. It’s a unique capability that has only emerged in the past couple of years.

This technology is not specific to just one type of biomedical researcher, but is used throughout many fields of biology, including prominently cancer research, cardiovascular research, and developmental biology.

What problem in bioinformatics is Biomage solving for researchers?

One of the biggest challenges in applying single-cell transcriptomics is that it will be difficult to scale the technology to every biologist who wants to use it. At Biomage, we make it possible for every biologist to analyze a single-cell dataset without having to develop the really, really elite expertise that has been required so far to carry out such analysis. 

We do this by effectively removing a step: the process where the files created from analysis of a sample of tissue are normally first worked on by a research bioinformatician. We remove that step entirely by automating the research bioinformatician and making it possible for biologists to become the bioinformatician themselves. This benefits not just the cost efficiency, but it’s also quicker: quicker to iterate, quicker to test the hypothesis directly. It also removes the potential issues with miscommunication and knowledge transfer between 2 different fields, biology and bioinformatics. 

What are the benefits of empowering biologists to analyze single-cell transcriptomics?

We are significantly cutting down the amount of time required to carry out such analysis. Typical single-cell analysis using a bioinformatician working part-time takes between 3-6 months to deliver the level of insight that is required for a publication in a high-profile journal. Our aim as a company is to bring that process down to a week or two of hand-on analysis by the biologist directly with the software. 

The bulk of the cost savings is specifically eliminating reliance on a consulting service or partnership with a qualified bioinformatician. There is some additional cost reduction in how we handle the data and how we can process the data by a close integration with the core facilities where the sequencing actually happens to make it more cost effective to process the data and carry out the computational aspects of the analysis as well.

Scientists need excellent software. It’s often treated as an afterthought or something that is only a small part of research grants.

Who will your initial customers be, and will this change as you iterate the product?

We’ll work first with core facilities. Those at core facilities are happy to partner with us because working together, we can actually deliver the biggest value to their customers: the researchers. We can free the core facilities staff for work on the truly creative and difficult aspects of the field. In a core facility, there are typically bioinformaticians who are taking care of as many as 50 projects; they really need the ability to cope with the analytical needs of that many projects efficiently. By bringing the time down to 1-2 weeks, we make it possible for bioinformaticians to effectively do their job, so they’re very happy to partner with us. 

On both sides of the Atlantic, both in the U.K. and in the U.S., the core facilities have been overwhelmingly positive and we expect these partnerships to further expand into other core facilities and to grow stronger by closely integrating together.

The bulk of the users and the real impact of the software that we’re building is going to most likely come from other sectors, including pharmaceutical research and biotechs. Our plan is to initially target the academic customers as a way to validate our technology and get an initial beachhead and enter into this space. For the next stage, we’re going to target biotech and pharmaceutical companies—they’re the next customer.

What provided you with unique insight into this problem?

My journey started on the other side of programming, computer programming and mathematics. I worked a short time in Skyscanner, a software company where I understood what social engineering is like and understood how software can be used to solve real-life issues and help people to accomplish major tasks.

The biological side came a bit later. To have a really impactful professional life, I wanted to come at it closer to human health and so I enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of Glasgow, where I ended up doing bioinformatics. I managed to find a way to merge my scientific interests with my software engineering interests! While a Ph.D. student, I realized that there was a really big need for bioinformaticians among biologists I worked with, so I started offering such analysis as a consulting service. 

With my co-founders Marcel and Iva, we quickly realized that it would be impossible for us to cope with the demands. The most impactful way to allocate our efforts would actually be to build a software solution to solve the difficult problem of the alignment biologists to understand single-cell data. 

Scientists need excellent software. It’s often treated as an afterthought or something that is only a small part of research grants. Through conversations with senior colleagues and in academia, I realized the best way to realize the mission of building really great software that can help was by creating a company.

What does the future hold in store for Biomage?

We would like everybody to be able to use Biomage as their solution of choice for single-cell data analytics and expand into other technologies such as spatial transcriptomics. We hope to dominate the landscape for single-cell data analytics.

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

Gavilán Biodesign: Overcoming Drug Resistance

Gavilán Biodesign emerged out of the Donald Lab at Duke University, one of the world leaders in computational drug design. During their time at Duke, they redesigned many compounds, including a new Anti-HIV antibody that is now in 9 clinical trials. Their software was also used to predict tumor resistance mutations to 17 leading precision cancer therapeutics and multiple antibiotics. Their work led to 45 papers published in leading journals.

We chatted with three of the company’s founders, Marcel Frenkel, Mark Hallen, and Jonathan Jou.

What has been the limitation of computational drug design?

Using computers to design better drugs has been quite effective when there’s already a lot of knowledge about the compounds and the protein targets they’re hitting. When there’s a lot of data to train on, artificial intelligence can learn and interpolate alternatives, then estimate how well each one works to find a better one.

But those approaches to in silico drug design haven’t worked well for new areas, where there isn’t a lot of knowledge. It’s the difference between interpolation and extrapolation.

To go after biological pathways where there hasn’t been much success in the past — and design entirely novel classes of drugs — a different approach was needed.

How does Gavilán Biodesign do it differently?

Even in a new molecular space, the laws of physics still rule. Our hybrid system uses the best of A.I. and the best physics-based molecular dynamics models. All natural phenomena has to answer to physics; they’re the forces that drive the universe.

We are the only company to use thermodynamic ensembles to model continuous movement.

Then we have a parts library of thousands of molecular parts. Most of these parts have a dozen atoms or so. We don’t bring a drug in from a preset library to evaluate it; we generate every possible combination of those parts, inside the target pocket, simultaneously measuring the impact of every part on the affinity, stability, and specificity of the compound. Every building block of the design is ideal for the target.

While our competitors search through a few million compound variations for the best fit — and the biggest molecular library in the world has 230 million compounds — we can easily and efficiently search through billions of possibilities.

The slightest differences can have huge effects when dealing with van der Waals forces, which repel at one distance, then attract at another. A 0.5 angstrom difference in position can go from a bad clash to a favorable interaction.

Before you came to IndieBio, none of you had experience pitching business partnerships and negotiating deals. But in four months here you already have signed and delivered on a deal with a pharma company and are negotiating four more.

Everybody whose become an entrepreneur has had to learn to do so, whether they were a lawyer, or an accountant, or a banker, or a scientist. And I actually think scientists make the transition better than other people do.

Being an entrepreneur is remarkably similar to science. We’re used to operating in absolute uncertainty. We don’t pretend we know how to sell, or know how to cut a deal. Instead, we experiment rapidly and learn. We form a hypothesis, test it, and gain the most amount of data as fast as possible to improve. Our scientific inclinations apply surprisingly well to entrepreneurship.

So we didn’t go to companies and sell ourselves. We went into meetings to learn what problems and stress points they were having. Then we explained how our technology could help them with their problem. It was more about problem solving than pitching.

How did your time at IndieBio change your business model?

When we first interviewed with IndieBio, we were thinking of just selling our software. We wanted everyone to have it and use it.

During IndieBio, we’ve really learned to shape Gavilán’s strategy to create new value. Not just to replace the software chemists were using. And so that meant moving from a high-volume service business model to using our design tools for what they’re uniquely great at, creating new therapeutics in the highest-value problem spaces facing medicine.

As we’ve done a better job of explaining how we can do that, the most exciting thing is now seeing pharma companies come to us, wanting to design drugs for targets that have long been considered undruggable.

How might your company change the therapeutics industry?

Consider cancer. Right now, precision medicine is pretty good at designing drugs for certain well-known biological pathways. But there’s two major problems with that. The first is that the most powerful biological pathways are not well-known, or else we haven’t had enough success targeting them to even learn how to do it better.

The second problem is that a cancer tumor is highly mutating. The genome changes, and so the protein shape changes, and drugs that worked for maybe a year in patients, now fail. Almost everyone has a loved one who got cancer treatment, recovered for awhile, and eventually succumbed.

Our software has made it possible — for the first time — to discover how a tumor will mutate, years before it actually happens in a patient. We can “discover” it while we are designing the drug itself in the computer. And so we can design drugs that work not just against the tumor before it mutates, but the drug will still work after it mutates. And not just one mutation — all likely mutations.

We see a new age in medicine coming, where massive killers like cancer could be under control. The way polio is a thing of the past, today.

What’s the next year look like for Gavilan Biodesign?

While some of our partnerships with pharma companies are confidential, I can characterize them broadly.

There are undruggable targets that nobody has been able to hit with sub-micromolar affinities to date. You really have to get a 1000x better than that — down to nanomolar range — for a drug’s potency to make a difference in patients.

We are designing several of these in silico. We’ve already delivered one set, and will be delivering more in the coming months to other partners. Then it will take our partners a few months in the lab to confirm the accuracy of what we’ve designed. Even just from these in vitro lab tests, they’ll be able to tell if we are hitting the targets with nanomolar affinity.

When the industry sees the results, we hope it will blow people away. They’ll realize whole sections of biology are now targetable.

Watch Gavilán Biodesign pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday June 25th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

CASPR Biotech: Revolutionizing Molecular Diagnostics

The CRISPR Cas complex has been a game-changing technology for gene editing. CASPR Biotech is using the incredible accuracy of CRISPR for something different — to revolutionize medical diagnostics.

We spoke with company founders Franco Goytia and Carla Giménez.

There are a couple other prominent companies also using CRISPR-Cas systems for diagnostics. What’s different about your focus?

We are rapidly developing a device for hospitals to quickly detect if a patient has an antimicrobial resistant infection. This is a huge problem for hospitals. It’s not just that 2 million people in the US every year get infected with superbugs, or that the infection rates are even higher internationally. When a patient walks into the hospital with a fever of unknown origin, it takes between 24 hours and three days to amplify the DNA of the bacteria to determine if the patient has AMR. During that time, the patient has to be isolated, making it very stressful and expensive. For every one patient found to have AMR, nine more have to go through this isolation. And during that time, they’re started on wide-spectrum antibiotics, which makes the global problem worse.

How does your solution change that?

We can diagnose AMR infections in under an hour. Most superbugs have one of three sequences of DNA that make them resistant. We code our Guide RNA to detect those, and if they do, our Cas enzymes trigger a signal. Not only does it do so in under an hour, but does so more accurately, and cheaper.

You already have this working?

Yes, in the lab. As well, at a hospital in Argentina we have tested our system to detect infectious diseases like Dengue virus. These aren’t yet automated into a device, but our device development is going incredibly well and we are on track to begin a 510K study with the FDA in one year.

You discovered two novel Cas enzymes, one in the Cas 9 family, one in the Cas 12 family. How did you do that, and how they are different?

Existing IP portfolios held by the primary CRISPR institutions were discovered by searching through the public databases of sequenced bacteria. We went through unpublished data, collected by our partners in the extreme environments of Argentina — regions as diverse as volcanos, high deserts, hot springs, and Antarctica. In these environments, bacteria evolved unique ways of defending themselves against viruses.

We are looking at ways our Cas 12 gives us a competitive advantage. It appears to be more stable at higher temperatures, likely due to the environment where it evolved. Using it at higher temperatures may facilitate other reactions in our system, turning what’s a two-step process into a one-step process.

You’ve been able to make incredibly fast progress during your time at IndieBio. What’s been your secret?

Before IndieBio, we were running on a very thin budget. To order reagents, we might be waiting a few months until we could get the money together. At IndieBio, we got them in a day — and shouted in celebration when they arrived. We showed up at IndieBio really hungry to do science at a much faster pace, to make quick decisions. It’s been an opportunity that we’ve been thankful for, and haven’t taken a single moment for granted.

We’ve also been very inspired by the scientists who created the foundational technologies of CRISPR. The way bacteria has defended itself against viruses has existed for hundreds of millions of years. But it took great imagination to reconfigure it for gene editing. This precedent reminds us, daily, that if we work hard, at any moment we too could make more discoveries.

How big could CRISPR-based diagnostics get?

Certainly, from AMR and infectious diseases we will move into flu detection, respiratory infections, sepsis, and urinary tract infections. But the application go beyond healthcare and the hospital. Just like Google allows us to search the entire internet, CRISPR allows us to search the entire genome for any genetic code. Rapid DNA detection has applications beyond humans into pets, livestock, and plant life. Farming, biosecurity, and new domains of agriculture are all possible.

Watch CASPR Biotech pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday June 25th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

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.

Clinicai: Detecting Colorectal Cancer in Your Toilet

The successful treatment of cancer lies in early detection. If we can detect it as early as Phase 1 and 2, the outcomes for therapy are significantly better. Unfortunately, symptoms oftentimes will not present until Phase 3 and 4 which limits effectivity of therapeutic interventions. Clinicai is making a noninvasive monitor for colorectal cancer with a device that hooks on the side of your toilet. We asked Chun-Hao Huang, co-founder and CEO of Clinicai, about his journey as an entrepreneur.

How did you become interested in the early detection of colorectal cancer?

Chun-Hao: During my Ph.D. I built animal models mimicking human colon disease to find biomarkers and therapeutics. I was passionate about gastrointestinal biology and learned how to monitor mice’s poop every day, dissect the intestine and colon for pathology examination, and realized that, wow, the stool is actually very closely related to our gut system. I also realized that for colorectal cancer, if we can detect early, we can even use current treatments to cure this disease and every single patient would have the chance to survive.

I have now been working in cancer treatment for more than 10 years and have seen that the field puts a lot of effort into trying to develop new therapeutics. However, a lot of diseases, especially colorectal cancer, can be solved even right now if you detect it in time. But the early detection or preventative angles are not so appreciated by the field. So that’s why I started to focus on early detection because I believe the way to actually make cancer manageable today is by monitoring your body to capture the signals at the very outset so we can apply current therapies when they would be most effective.

How did you decide to start the company and how did your team come together?

Chun-Hao: I almost was a scientist for life, and I really wanted to make a big science discovery creating a way to solve cancers. When I was at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, I heard a lot of top scientists and Nobel laureates talking about the future of medicine and how to manage diseases like cancer. The meeting inspired me but I realized it is actually a very long process from research to benefiting humanity, and I started to wonder if there is a way we can speed up this process and bring biotechnology into our daily lives.

So I asked what is the best way we can accelerate scientific discovery and also bring biotech to our daily life? It’s very interesting to me that the device we use daily is a cell phone when biotech should be the technology we are using every day. I found the answer is to start a company because you can put a lot of resources into building a product actually related to daily life. I met my co-founders Medina Baitemirova, Juan Carlos Guáqueta, and Mr. Toilet Jack Sim at Singularity in NASA Ames, and later on our CTO Dr. Ya-Ju Lin. We all have different expertise, but we share the same vision that we want to detect disease like cancer early. We wanted to make the most comfortable diagnostic platform, which in the end ended up being a toilet. We want to make people actually enjoy health monitoring.

How does your technology work? What is that key insight?

Chun-Hao: It’s pretty interesting, when we started developing this technology we hoped to achieve three things. First thing, if we want to do the most comfortable monitoring and diagnostic at home, then the technology needs to be non-invasive where the user puts in the minimum effort to maximize regular monitoring. Second is digital information; we need to have a technology which can digitalize the substance we detected. Third, it needs to continuously gather the data. The most current methodology, like biomarkers or chemical methods, are not able to do that, so we started testing a bunch of different sensors. We started with a narrow range optical sensor and in the end, we find out that there is a large wavelength hyperspectral imaging originated from space technology that can help us to gather all the information from the stool.

That’s how we started using that technology to check stool samples and that’s how our technology derived. This is not just technology we can use in the lab, or in the hospital, we actually integrated that into a prototype device that will snap on a toilet. Everyone can attach that device at home, I even tried it myself. Then it can turn on when you sit on the toilet and then gather the data. I think these will be pretty powerful in the future, not only for cancer detection but also can help detect other preventable diseases.

What lessons did you learn transitioning from scientist to entrepreneur at IndieBio?

Chun-Hao: As a scientist, every day you go to a lab, you have the experiment you want to do, but some experiments could take a couple weeks or even longer. But when you are designing your experimental plans in a startup environment, like IndieBio, you need to think about how we can leverage different resources to make this process faster. That’s actually what I really like about this environment because you’re still doing the very cool science, but you have a way to speed it up. The other thing which is quite important is that here we’re thinking of how we can actually turn our technology into a real product and then benefit people’s lives. As a scientist in the lab, you try to solve problems, but you don’t usually think that this can actually work in our daily life.Since we joined IndieBio, we have started to talk to the FDA, we talked to insurance companies, we talked to doctors, and especially to the users. We are building things they really want and also doing cool science. This is what makes being a scientist-entrepreneur great.

How do you think your success as a company will change the diagnostics industry?

Chun-Hao: I used a proteomics approach when I was in college to identify biomarkers and in the past 10 years I didn’t see that many biomarkers come into the diagnostic field. I think it’s time that we need something new to disrupt this field. Before we always relied on one or two biomarkers, but at Clinicai we believe the key is to detect signatures or patterns of the disease.

That’s why at Clinicai we are trying to get signatures and patterns from your stool or urine samples and then we use the machine learning to understand those features. I think that that will change the way we think about diagnosing. The other strong advantage we have is to actually bring the diagnostic into our home. Before it’s been pretty difficult and we find our best niche at home where our bathroom and toilet have a lot of information every day. We hope in the future everyone can really enjoy health monitoring and can live longer and healthier.

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

Chun-Hao: I want to thank IndieBio because we actually met our milestones here. We’ve built our first prototype, which we never thought about that before. The milestone for next year is to improve our prototype and then work with hospitals to install the device in hospital toilets or in patients’ toilets at home to monitor their stool signals for colorectal cancer detection. After that, we plan to go through the FDA path and we are pretty positive about that. After that, we hope our device will be in everyone’s home for future health monitoring and diagnosis.

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

BioROSA: Early Blood Test for Autism

BioROSA is building a blood-based test for diagnosing autism. Autism currently is diagnosed at age four, on average, with behavioral testing. Children are missing critical windows of opportunity where early diagnosis and access to treatment could improve prognosis. At BioROSA, we are mission-driven to enable earlier detection, potentially even before the child is born, in order to achieve better outcomes for children.

What got you into autism research?

John: It started way back in high school as one of my best friend’s brother has a severe form of autism. Seeing such an impaired person at an early point in my life made me wonder what could make the brain function that way, and this led me to do a lot of different neuroscience work in college. I was working on clinical studies in neurology and rehabilitation medicine for stroke and traumatic brain injury patients at UPenn for a while after college, doing some really cool brain imagining research. At Arkansas Children’s Hospital, where I worked from 2010 to 2017, I got involved in cutting-edge autism research and clinical operations while working on clinical studies involving biomarkers for detection and studies aimed at developing treatments to address core symptoms of autism. While at Arkansas Children’s, our team created one of the leading clinical and research operations in this country. It was an amazing group of scientists committed to improving patients’ lives, and the mission and values of that team live on in BioROSA. We highly value these collaborations and relationships with excellent clinicians and researchers.

What prompted you to start the company and how did you meet your co-founders?

John: Working in academia, I was frustrated with how slowly research and development progressed, and I was introduced to entrepreneurship and startup culture at a time when I was losing my passion for academic research. While we were doing amazing, cutting-edge research and changing lives for patients in the clinic, the pace of the work and the inability to treat or see patients from around the world who couldn’t afford to come to see us clinically was really heartbreaking. Though we were seeing amazing outcomes and were publishing a lot, we were too boxed in from an administrative perspective and I started to feel that we weren’t doing enough for patients in need. I feared we would never be able to truly address the autism problem from inside the walls of academia, something needed to change in order for advancements to occur. Thus, BioROSA was born. We have licensed intellectual property to commercialize a novel diagnostic test that can transform autism clinical care and diagnosis. What’s amazing is that our technology is based on what I worked on in Arkansas with a scientist I truly admire and adore, Dr. Jill James.

In working to find a co-founder for BioROSA, I had researched companies who had previously tried to do something similar. One of the most noteworthy was a company called SynapDx, in which Dr. Marie Causey was a co-founder, and when I contacted her she luckily happened to be available. It was serendipitous that she was interested in becoming co-founder and CSO at BioROSA, Marie’s experience in the startup world, in establishing diagnostic labs, and in developing clinical tests is a great fit. We make probably an unorthodox but great co-founding team. We bring different perspectives and she holds me accountable and practical for my big picture dreams!

Let’s talk about your technology. What is the key insight and how did you come up with this diagnostic?

John: We have a body of research based on over 15 years of data in which metabolic systems have been consistently shown to be abnormal in patients either diagnosed with or at risk for autism. Dr. Jill James, another co-founder in BioROSA, made the key biomarker discoveries, but the breakthrough came when our SAB member and collaborator Dr. Juergen Hahn applied machine learning to come up with a robust classification algorithm. We have obtained a global exclusive licensed to Dr. Hahn’s IP from RPI. Juergen is our number one champion and a constant contributor that is extremely hands on.

During the IndieBio program, what are some lessons you’ve learned transitioning from scientists to entrepreneur?

John: First off, I don’t consider myself to actually be a scientist but more an entrepreneur with a passion for science and improving healthcare for patients. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by amazing scientists on our team. As far as lessons learned? You must really get out there, hustle, and be a constant driving force in order to ensure your company has a chance of success. As Arvind said from day one, “nobody cares”. It is your job as a founder to make them care and show why you will change the world and why your team is the capable group that can get things done. You must have extreme perseverance, resilience, structure, organization, meticulous thinking, and as much as I hate it, patience, in order to get things going and for you to position your company into the best chance to take flight. I think that really getting outside of the office, really trying to promote your business, knowing what your customers really want, and trying to promote your cause can go a long way in getting that initial traction. Once you start figuring these things out and getting those first bits of traction can be a pivotal inflection point for your ultimate ability to scale, grow, and succeed.

How do you think the success of your company will change the way autism is currently being diagnosed?

John: We will provide clinicians with a much-needed tool that is missing in the current process for determining who’s at risk for autism and to get at-risk children into services faster than is possible today. In a way, this allows the system to be more proactive instead of reactive in diagnosis and treatment. The ultimate goal is to create opportunities that can lead to prevention, or at least more optimal outcomes, for children.

What are the milestones you’re hitting in the near future?

John: Our first milestones is to conduct a prospective clinical trial of 800 patients in a multicenter study within the next 18 months to bring our first product, an ASD screening tool, to market. The success of this opens the way for the development of our flagship product, a pediatric ASD diagnostic test that will detect autism before children ever develop behavioral symptoms. We plan to secure contracts with pharmaceutical partners to conduct studies to demonstrate the clinical utility of our test as a companion diagnostic for ASD therapeutics as well and to create a new standard of care based on biology (instead of behavior) for this challenging disorder.

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

Call for Applications

Biology is the next big technology and we are looking for scientists that will usher the new wave of iconic life science companies.

“Nothing is normal in the new biotech; it’s inherently cross-disciplinary and purposefully attacks preconceptions of what can’t be done.”- Po Bronson

Why Scientists?

Scientists make amazing entrepreneurs due to their technical expertise, problem solving skills, resourcefulness and persistence. Over the years, the number of life science PhDs has been rising exponentially and at the same time running biological experiments is becoming faster and cheaper. Our ability to read, write, cut, copy and paste DNA more efficiently is significantly decreasing costs and increasing speed and accessibility of experiments. Tying these trends together, IndieBio enables scientists to build radically transformative companies through our unique program.

Our Program

We take a design-driven approach to integrate product and business development in continuous feedback loops. Startups can rapidly prototype and get early customer traction at a pace that is closer to an IT startup rather than traditional biotech.

During our 4-month program in downtown San Francisco, scientists leverage $250,000 in funding with our fully-equipped labs, 300+ mentors and a galvanized ecosystem of industry, academia and investors that enables life science businesses to thrive. Our interdisciplinary team works with the companies every day to enable scientists to de-risk their science and business. Together we build the foundations of a viable and scalable business that can impact billions of people.

 

What types of companies do we look for?

We are here to fund scientists that can translate scientific insights into commercializable products that solve large scale human and planetary problems.

The biggest advantage a startup has is the precise focus on solving a problem from first principles. Our most successful founders build on deep technical knowledge with market insights that come from approaching the problem from all angles. As a result, startups create new business models, reimagine antiquated systems, or build industries from the ground up.

We welcome applications of biology for any industry. Thus far, our companies have represented the eight categories below, but we are most excited about companies that bridge multiple categories or invent new categories.

 

Therapeutics

Despite the billions spent in R&D, we continue to treat symptoms and not the causes of disease. New modalities such as immunomodulation and functional metabolomics are setting a new paradigm in drug discovery and delivery. With gene therapy we will have the ability to directly edit our own genomes to fix inherited diseases and transcend our parents’ genetic material. Across all these modalities there has been a rise in platform technologies enabling repeated target and therapeutic discovery.

Regenerative Medicine

Regenerative medicine and tissue engineering will give us control of how we treat damage to our bodies, from losing limbs to restoring loss of function from paralysis to growing whole replacement organs. Furthermore, we can intervene and reverse the processes of aging.

Neurotechnology

We are only beginning to understand the brain. New biological and digital tools are needed to understand and treat neurodegeneration and mental health. Brain computer interfaces open up new possibilities for human consciousness.

Medical Devices, Tools & Diagnostics

Early detection of diseases that can seamlessly integrate in to healthcare workflows not only enhances decision making through precise real-time biomarkers, but also, eliminates centralized labs and administrative bottlenecks that are burdening the healthcare system. The advancement of research tools is critical for unlocking new knowledge that can lead to life-saving solutions.

Future of Food & Agriculture

Food supply cannot catch up with food demand at the same time supply remains inefficient and unethical. New biotechnologies are changing the unit economics of how we produce protein. Vertical integration of food and agtech can enable us to unbundle the food supply system and increase efficiencies of production.

Consumer Biology

Driven by faster and cheaper science, companies will bring biology direct to consumers in an increasingly personalized manner. The first human genome cost $2.7B. Today people can order an at-home sequencing kit for $100. Products are increasingly putting the power in the hands of the consumer to manage their own health.

Computational Biology, BioData, & AI

Biology is rich with data and complexity and companies are increasingly leveraging bio-processes with machine learning and automation, creating bio-feedback-loops to optimize each stage of a life science company: from discovery to manufacturing.

Industrial Biology, Biomaterials, & Clean Biotech

Not only is our demand for commodities unsustainable, the industrial processes for converting commodities into everyday products remains inefficient. Biology is inherently versatile and scalable. Cells, the building blocks of life, live to divide, and under the right conditions they can be engineered to create bio-materials and novel commodities that can then be scaled exponentially using fermentation without harming the planet.

 

Our Application Process

Online Application. Our application process begins with an online submission at http://indiebio.co/apply.

Technical due diligence. Selected companies are invited to a 30-minute video interview that focuses on technical due diligence. We encourage applicants to ask questions about the IndieBio program throughout the process.

De-risking milestones. If the first call is favorable, our team will set up additional calls to discuss the product, the business plan, and discuss the derisking milestones that the company aims to achieve by the end of the 4-month program. Often, homework is assigned to address certain questions. Once discussions are mutually favorable, an offer is made.

Deeper look into how do we evaluate companies. We evaluate companies based on five key questions.

  1. What is the technical insight that gives you an unfair advantage? This is often the core technology that can be patent-protected, whether it is licensed from an academic institution or developed in-house. What advantages does your technology have over competing technologies? How does your technology address the core problems you are trying to solve?
  2. How is the insight made into a product? Science itself is not a product. Product development starts with understanding the end user. What problem are you solving for the end user? What is the form factor? What is the workflow? What are the parameters for a successful drug? What product do you focus on first when you have a platform technology?
  3. How does the product form a sustainable business? What is the go-to-market strategy for roll-out when the startup is cash limited? How to gain adoption? How to navigate regulatory pathways?
  4. Can this business make $1 billion or touch the lives of 1 billion people? Venture capital investment seeks the potential for big returns and big impact.
  5. Is this the team to make it all happen? Arguably, the most important aspect of selecting teams at an early stage is the founders themselves. Do they have the experience and expertise to turn their technical insight into a viable business and propel the company into a flourishing venture? We look for founders who are coachable, able to make decisions rapidly, take responsibility, are resilient, and are passionate about their work. We look for founders who are self-aware and possess a growth mindset.

The interview style is informal conversations and we often instill a mini preview of the IndieBio program during the interviews. Our application timeline is rolling, with set deadlines that batch the interviews. We encourage applying early and sending periodic updates of progress even if you don’t hear back immediately. Updates are also encourage between interviews as it could take time for both sides to come up with good strategies. We also encourage re-applications if you were not selected for one class. Some of our most successful companies reapplied 6 months later with significant momentum. Most ideas and teams will take a while to mature. (Read “I have an idea. What’s next?” for the starter checklist.)

Lastly, we encourage you to due diligence on us. Learn more about our story and our program featured in Neo.Life. Attend or livestream our next Demo Day on Nov. 6th at the Herbst Theatre or watch the previous ones on Youtube. Talk to founders of any of our alumni companies or attend an event at our space.

 

Apply Now!

We look forward to hearing your world-changing idea! Apply now at http://indiebio.co/apply!

Antibiotic Adjuvant: Transforming Antibiotic Use from Chaos into a Coordinated Campaign

Although doctors mean well by prescribing antibiotics, we can’t ignore the fact that antibiotic resistance as an effect of overuse has become an overwhelming problem in the healthcare industry and elsewhere. The situation can appear hopeless to some, but the team at Antibiotic Adjuvant sees it as a challenge they are willing to accept. They have developed software that works with the doctor at point-of-decision, along with the patient’s specific information and information about the facility itself, transforming antibiotic use from chaos into a coordinated, conscious campaign. Using the correct methods, antibiotic resistance therefore becomes preventable. We asked David Flores, the co-founder and CEO of Antibiotic Adjuvant, and Dr. Robert Yancey Jr, the company’s co-founder and Medical Director, to tell us more about their motivation and how it all works:

How did you become interested in healthcare?

DF: When I was a little boy, I wanted to be just like my father, a doctor. However, after being in the O.R. couple of times, I decided to study something else. The bug never seemed to fade on me though. While having another business, I found myself talking to doctors and doing apps in the healthcare space. After learning about this problem from Bob, our Medical Director, I just couldn’t believe how crazy it is that antibiotic resistance is growing so rampantly, and that no one seems able to control it—even though it is preventable!

RY: I have wanted to be a doctor since I was eight years old. It is a gift and a privilege to practice medicine. Infectious Diseases is by far the most interesting sub-specialty in medicine.  It is a little like being Sherlock Holmes. Seeing patients in the hospital getting substandard antibiotics so frequently made me think that there has to be a better way, and as a consequence, I have been working in the field of Antibiotic Stewardship for over 20 years.

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

DF: Preventing the increase in antibiotic resistance is a very compelling problem that can be prevented by applying new technologies to existing systems. After doing couple of prototypes and getting good feedback from doctors and nurses, we decided it was time to tackle this problem. We started working in Gainesville, FL and relocated to San Francisco to improve our chances of making this idea a reality while doing IndieBio.

RY: I have been kicking this idea of how to codify algorithms for improved and coordinated antibiotic use for many years, after it became obvious that current methods of Antibiotic Stewardship were inadequate.

How does your technology work?

DF: We have created a software that reduces the time it takes a doctor to prescribe antibiotics, improves communications between pharmacists, doctors, and nurses; saves the hospital millions of dollars in unneeded procedures and loss of funding, and improves patient outcomes. We can do this by improving the way antibiotic stewardship programs are implemented in a health center. Our software uses input from the electronic medical records, lab reports, and other reports to provide personalized antibiotic recommendations for a particular patient and facility. We take into account the health center’s microbiome and create a coordinated antibiotic campaign to prevent antibiotic resistance from occurring in the first place. Since we are with the doctor at point-of-decision, we can affect virtually every patient in the facility and provide true comprehensive antibiotic stewardship.

RY: The basic premise is that given sufficient, easy to understand information, the busy physician will do the correct thing, especially if it is fast. In addition, modern analytics can help even the most knowledgeable physician make better decisions. The fields of Quality Assurance and Infection Prevention are enhanced by identifying and predicting all adverse events and infections in the facility, not just those with a positive culture, and their predisposing factors.  Administration can identify methods to reduce costs that were not visible before. Patients have better outcomes. Win-Win!

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

DF: The main difference I see between science and entrepreneurship is the market forces. In the market, you have to take into account the feasibility of the science but also the costs to create the product. The profit margins have to be healthy, and your customers must want to use your product. The market will reward companies that take these three pieces into account when commercializing a technology/idea.

RY: Saving lives and costs is a great product, but we have to demonstrate that we can execute. IndieBio has helped us execute in so many ways. They have pushed us to be the best we can be, not just an idea.

How do you think your success as a company would change the medical industry?

DF: We will fundamentally change the way antibiotic prescriptions are made in the world. In the future, people will be able to go to the hospital and not acquire an infection while receiving treatment because health centers will not have rampant antibiotic resistance as they do today.

RY: We will transform antibiotic use from chaos to a coordinated conscious campaign to minimize resistance and complications. More intelligent antibiotic use means a safer, more effective, less costly healthcare system.

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

DF: We are aiming to arm skilled nursing facilities with tools to improve their antibiotic stewardship programs and then start doing a pilot in hospitals.

RY: Out first installation into a skilled nursing facility is underway, and we will reach at least 100 more facilities within 10 months. CMS requirements for Antibiotic Stewardship and Infection Control will drive our sales. Testing in acute care hospitals will begin in early 2019 with demonstration of financial and patient safety benefits within months after that. At that point, AA will add physicians’ offices to the campaign to monitor and control resistance in entire communities. It’s a big goal, but doable according to the CDC.

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

Stelvio Oncology: Live Imaging For a Paradigm Shift in Drug Screening

Stelvio
Stelvio

It’s been clear for some time that a personalized approach to cancer treatment is key in overcoming the disease. Since certain types of cancer, like glioblastoma (brain tumors), have been found to be resistant to chemotherapy, new (and less toxic) approaches are desperately needed to combat the resistant cells. Stelvio is a company with a unique approach to identifying the resistance mechanisms of cancer cells, and overcoming them with targeted therapies for the individual patient. The company’s founder and CEO, Attila Hajdu, explains more:

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

AH: We decided to start Stelvio Oncology in May 2017. While we are a relatively new company, we have had a number of major accomplishments which include an invitation to join JLABS San Diego, which is Johnson & Johnson’s innovation centre, where we will be based starting on September 26, 2017. Being a JLABS company exposes us to the ecosystem of J&J’s innovation centre and potential collaborations with the incubator companies as well as J&J. We are also in the middle of an evaluation process with Sanofi to utilize our technology to identify novel targets and molecules in Huntington’s Disease, which opens the door to the formation of Stelvio Therapeutics. We’ll begin the evolution to this new name over the next few weeks.

What problem are you aiming to solve with Stelvio Oncology?

AH: The main problem in cancer remains resistance to chemotherapy based regimens which leads to loss of response to treatment and no viable options for patients afterwards. Not only is chemotherapy based treatment ineffective in cancers like glioblastoma, breast, and lung, but it is also highly toxic. So we are addressing the problem that there is no cure for cancer and ineffective/toxic treatments are still used which give incremental benefit.

The problem we are solving with our work in neurodegenerative diseases is current treatments are ineffective in Huntington’s Disease, which is a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that affects muscle coordination and leads to cognitive decline and dementia.

How does your technology work?

AH: Our technology works by labelling histones within the nucleus which gives each cell an epigenetic fingerprint akin to a bar code, and then we can visualize the changes small molecules or drugs have on the cells using live imaging. This is a paradigm shift in drug screening for disease because it represents a 100 fold improvement in the precision of high throughput screening of proprietary drug libraries.

How did you become interested in biotech?

AH: I became interested in biotech after spending 20 years in big pharma mainly with GSK. I had a strong drive to become a catalyst for change, to solve problems that have a positive impact on people, that could improve their lives for the better.

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

AH: There were many lessons learned at IndieBio. One main lesson is that clarity creates confidence which was Arvind’s saying over the course of the program. One of the biggest challenges for us has been to explain what we do in a simple manner so that investors could understand and more importantly, write us a check! We’ve learned to communicate more effectively with investors in a simple and meaningful way.

How do you think your success as a company would change the medical industry?

AH: Success for Stelvio would mean ripping cancer out of the pages of medical history books within our lifetime. The same applies to neurodegenerative diseases although this success may not happen within our lifetime!

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

AH: Key milestones are demonstrating that we are stopping tumor growth in vitro and in vivo, screening Johnson & Johnson’s proprietary libraries while housed within JLABS to discover hits which we could further develop into lead candidates, screening Sanofi’s proprietary drug libraries against Huntington’s Disease and potentially other targets such as Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s Disease, and importantly, closing a seed capital raise of $4 million to fund these milestones.

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

Pictured above: Stelvio CEO Attila Hajdu (left) and CSO Alexey V. Terskikh.

Quantumcyte: Cancer Just Got Personal

“I never intended on even giving a crap about cancer. It just happened,” said John Butler. “This isn’t a matter of me wanting to build a business, it’s a matter of wanting to help my wife.”

John quit his job to pursue a better cancer outcome and become co-founder and CEO of Quantumcyte. Together with Quantumcyte’s co-founder and CTO, Dr. Bidhan Chaudhuri, the company aims to look a patient’s cancer at a cellular level in order to match them with the best drugs for their recovery. The two founders explained more:

What’s your company’s background, and what do you do at Quantumcyte?

JB: Bidhan and I are developing a platform technology for doing cancer research. What makes us different from the rest of the world is we are really able to understand an individual’s cancer in order to find them the best drugs to cure it. Our platform is really designed around enabling researchers to better understand a patient’s cancer on an individual level.

So your platform figures out which cancer drugs are best for the individual, since cancer varies so much from person to person. How does it work?

JB: Yes, that’s the goal. To go into scientific detail about what we do that nobody else does…is we take a tumor, and we slice it up and take a microtome section. We put that section onto a slide, and look at it with a microscope and say, “Ok, that’s a T cell, that’s a cancer cell, that’s a stromal cell.” Then we can build a 3-dimensional model of the cells, and also extract the genetic information, the RNA, out of those cells and sequence them. With the 3-dimensional model, we can understand what cells are where in the tumor, and what cells they’re next to. If you can do that, you can really understand what’s going on inside that tumor. If you understand that on a patient level, now you can start looking at the right drugs to shrink that tumor and get rid of it. The way I describe it to people is, we’re really looking at cancer on a personalized level, and we’re trying to find best drugs for the individual.

And will these drugs be developed by someone else?

JB: Yes. So you know the situation with my wife, she was diagnosed with cancer, but now she’s actually doing quite well. The idea we came up with is, we’re going to grab her cancer cells alive, and throw some existing drugs at them and see which ones will work. When you look at the body of literature about cancer, I think there are enough drugs out there that can potentially help any cancer. We could easily partner with other companies who are doing drug discovery, including companies at IndieBio.

Where did you two get together to start working on this?

JB: Prior to Quantumcyte, I worked at a company called Pacific Bioscience, and that’s where we met. I was hired as the manager of manufacturing, and Bidhan was the manager of engineering. We were responsible for taking products from research and moving them through development into manufacturing.

I’m not an oncologist, and Bidhan’s not an oncologist, but we work with them. When we started working on this we said, “We’re not going to learn cancer biology, we’re going to go find the best in the world and work with them.” And that’s what we’re doing.

Since you started at IndieBio, was it challenging transitioning from science to entrepreneurship?

JB: Yeah, just a little. I think Bidhan and I have always been very aggressive in pursuing our efforts. Really understanding how to focus and defocus constantly is something that is required as an entrepreneur. I think something that I’m getting better at understanding is what it means to be in the C-suite: How to be a CEO, how to communicate less like a scientist and more like a non-scientist.

What’s the most challenging thing about building a business?

BC: It’s building a business, that’s the most challenging thing! I come from a big technology background. I can build machines. John is pretty good at the biology side of things. We put it together and say, this is technologically cool. That’s why we started this, because we thought we could solve a problem. But actually going out there and figuring out if there’s a market for it, and figuring out how to translate our vision to other people—people who will be using our tool or even investors—that’s challenging.

We have to tell people about what we believe is happening. We’re at the leading edge of a cancer technology that’s only now starting to come alive, and John has had the difficult task of gathering opinions of key people about it. John has done a fantastic job, but we did spend most of the past couple of years trying to convince people that this is worth something. And that was hard. For us, once we built the technology, we thought, “We’re there.” But really, we had to learn to convince people to believe in our technology as well.

JB: I think the most important thing is establishing relationships. It’s all about relationships, including relationships with investors. Understanding that you need to do that is something that was difficult for us. It took us a while to realize it’s more about building relationships and establishing trust than building a business.

Prior to this, Bidhan comes from the semiconductor industry, and there was an 18-month lead time to build a chip to get into manufacturing. It was pretty straightforward. When you’re talking about what we’re trying to do, at first we didn’t even know we were on the bleeding edge. We just said logically this makes sense. Later on we found out we were one of the very few people in the world thinking about this problem in this way. We let it sit and incubate for a while, and next thing you know we’re having discussions with Ryan Bethencourt about how to sell something we don’t even have, and then actually selling it. The hardest part is realizing it’s about relationships, and it takes a long freaking time.

How do you think your success as a company would change the cancer industry?

BC: As a person who’s outside of the cancer research field, here’s the way I look at it: Cancer started out as a disease that required a person to have surgeries. From there the treatment included chemotherapy. Now cancer therapy has reached a point where people are beginning to understand cancer at a patient level, a cellular level, but still they do not have the tools at hand to do much good about it. What our technology does is it brings all that capability to be very accessible to researchers. And I think this will allow for progress beyond what’s currently achievable today, at a level where it needs to be, a patient level.

JB: One way to think about it is drugs for all cancer patients.

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

JB: Scientifically, we need to demonstrate that we can use our tool for what it’s designed to do. We need to show that we can take patient cells and look at the cell type, the phenotype, extract the genetic information, and then correlate that genetic information to that phenotype. On the business side, the milestones are to engage with some more thought leaders in the space, and to fund our efforts so that we can really pursue what we want to do with the company. Once we demonstrate that our tool can do what it’s designed to do, everything will fall in line.

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

An Interview with Francia Navarrete Utreras of GEA Enzymes

GEA Enzymes

Liquid Dark Chocolate Is Now a Reality.

GEA Enzymes

Photo: Francia (center) and the GEA Enzymes team.

GEA Enzymes engineers designer enzymes. Their first application is in food, with enzymes which reduce saturated fat levels while maintaining consistent aroma, taste, and feel. This makes it possible for a substance like dark chocolate to obtain that rich, liquid consistency that so many food companies want for their products. We asked Francia Utreras a few questions about the GEA:

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

My background is in biotechnology engineering. Our team started the company in Chile about 18 months ago. We decided to start GEA Enzymes because the three of us are incredibly passionate about nature’s architecture, and how we could adopt the same strategy that has successfully created all living organisms to solve world class problems.

What problem are you working to solve with your company, GEA Enzymes?

The classical protein discovery process is based on trial and error, taking a long time and many resources. Big companies have automated the process with robots, but it’s still slow and expensive with no rationale behind it. Due to this, we created MADI™, an artificial intelligence that allows us to create proteins for any desired industrial application.

To prove MADI™’s skills, we decided to start with a very challenging market, the saturated fats industry. Saturated fats are very dangerous for human health, because they can induce obesity and heart stroke. Due to this, our first designer proteins have the ability to take saturated fats and turn them into unsaturated fats. By applying this technology, we can create healthier and better quality food products.

This has huge applications in the chocolate, dairy, and vegetable fats industries, so we are working with large multinational companies in these fields. We know that this is just the beginning, because by using MADI™ we are exploring solutions beyond the food industry.

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?

Keeping passion alive. That’s the reason why we decided to move far away from our homes, work day and night including Sundays and holidays, and accept everything that entails being entrepreneurs. We’ve learned you need to sacrifice many things, put your personal life after your company, and even not get paid sometimes. Keeping this rhythm for too long might be the main reason most startups fail. If people don’t believe in what they are doing, it is easy to get lost in the journey and all the sacrifices it requires.

How do you think success can change your industry?

Our first approach to manage unsolved problems of the industry is a set of enzymes able to turn saturated fats into unsaturated fats. This will allow an increase in the nutritional value of oils and butter. In other words we could achieve the same lipid profile of the most sophisticated plantation with more efficient grow cultures.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

Nobody else knows the potential of your business more than you. People can give you feedback, and you’ve got to be mature enough to realize if those opinions might work for you or drive your business to its death.

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

As a scientist, is it hard to understand why you are not able to close deals if the science you’re working with is so cool. As entrepreneurs we painfully learned the transition between science and business, improving the art of closing deals. To sell science to multinational companies was a real challenge.

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

In the short term we want to raise our seed round to establish ourselves in the US, grow the team, and run in parallel all the projects we are working on. I see for the future GEA diversified in fields including Food, Pharma, Healthcare, and Agriculture — all handled by the power of proteins.

Learn more about GEA Enzymes by watching them pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!

An Interview With Brendan Griffen of Scaled Biolabs

Scaled Biolabs

A Biomedical Lab the Size of Your Phone.

Scaled Biolabs

Photo: The Scaled Biolabs team – Brendan Griffen (left), Justin Cooper-White, and Drew Titmarsh.

Biological experiments are time-consuming, and space-consuming, while requiring repeated manual motions from lab technicians. But technology has allowed Scaled Biolabs to shrink down the entire system of experimentation down to the size of your phone. Using microfluidics, scientists can conduct thousands of individual tests in one fell swoop and accelerate the rate of discoveries. We talked to the company’s CTO, Brendan Griffen, a few questions about how this all came to be:

Tell me about your background, how did you become interested in biotech?

My academic background is in computational physics with an specialization in astrophysics, theoretical physics, and cosmology. I’ve spent the last ten years working on large projects trying to understand the origin of our universe, the evolution of stars, and galaxies.  From these experiences, I’ve seen first hand the power of a supercomputer in solving some of the most complex problems in the world. This is fundamentally because we’ve been able to control the flow of electrons through circuits at increasingly smaller scales. Biology is similar in many ways but instead of mixing and moving electrons from point A to point B, we’re moving fluids. This is the fundamental way biomedical research is currently done so it always perplexed me as to why we continue to use clunky equipment to interface the human scale with what we’re actually interested in (e.g. cells interacting). This is what excited me about the future of biotechnology, our ability to do biology at nature’s scale. The potential to miniaturize most of biological research means that in the next 50 years, we will likely transform our lives even more dramatically than what computers have done in the past 50 years.

I’ve always been interested in biotechnology but never had the opportunity to apply myself to developing these ideas. When I saw the technology my co-founders Drew Titmarsh and Justin Cooper-White had developed, I immediately understood that a microfluidic approach to experimental biology is exactly what’s needed to make the aforementioned future a reality. In order to be part of this exciting future, we formed our company Scaled Biolabs.

What problem are you working to solve with Scaled Biolabs?

We are accelerating discoveries in biology. We’ve taken the functionality of a modern biomedical R&D lab and shrunk it all down on a system the size of your phone. By shrinking things down we rely on less expensive materials, less highly trained manual labor, and most importantly we can execute numbers of experiments on an unprecedented scale. We can run nearly 10,000 experiments on a single system and additionally resolve every single cell in every one of those experiments. Why is this important? If a biologist can run down every single possible path in a maze of possibilities faster, then they can find the optimal solution which gets them to their desired outcome sooner rather than later.

Stem cells are one such maze and a very active area of research right now — how do we turn stem cells, the ‘blueprint cell’, into different parts of the human body? Our collaborators have already grown human kidney and beating heart tissue in our system because they found the optimal method for getting to those outcomes faster than traditional methods. At Scaled Biolabs, we enable these kinds of breakthroughs by allowing scientists to get more done, cheaper and sooner.

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?

All discussions of “what has value?” tend to link back to a basic notion of health and wellbeing. I personally believe that our team really does have the potential to deliver fundamental improvements to human health. Take just one example — in 2005, 65 million people died from kidney disease. Being able to regenerate a patient’s kidney from their own stem cells, which won’t be rejected by their immune system, will literally save lives. If we had to boil it down to a single reason for doing all of this then it’s that — accelerating the advent of regenerative medicine to meet the needs of millions of patients who can’t be helped by a pharmaceutical drug.

How do you think success can change your industry?

Apart from meeting patient’s needs, success to us is creating a new status quo in our industry. Biological research is in desperate need of an upgrade, and should our approach be successful, we would be enamored to see it more widely used. We don’t want to stop just there though. Unknown problems on the horizon will require solutions not yet invented, and so being successful will mean not just creating a new status quo, but also continually creating novel technological solutions.

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

We’ve got complementary talent trained around the world.

Our CEO, Drew Titmarsh, is a trained chemical and biological engineer and co-inventor of the microbioreactor technology which is the workhorse platform of Scaled Biolabs. He has coordinated multidisciplinary projects at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnogy (Brisbane, Australia), and the Institute for Medical Biology, A*STAR (Singapore) in the areas of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

Our CSO Professor Justin Cooper-White is a global leader in tissue engineering and microfluidics, and co-inventor of our microbioreactor technology. With 20 years of expertise in running and funding large research programs, he currently holds the positions of Professor of Bioengineering in the Australian Institute of Bioengineering & Nanotechnology and the School of Chemical Engineering at the University of Queensland, Director of the Australian National Fabrication Facility-Queensland Node, and Office of the Chief Executive Science Leader within CSIRO, Australia’s federal research institution.

I’m the CTO and have ten years in computational physics employing a wide variety of hardware and software tools to create solutions to big data problems. My previous four years research as a postdoctoral fellow at MIT has provided me with a wide range of interdisciplinary skills which are well suited to our challenges ahead.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

It’s been quite a dramatic transition. The following three areas are where we’ve found the biggest lessons:

  1. Being OK with moving more quickly than you’re comfortable with. Academia tends to have a perfection focused mindset because the operational timescales are much longer. In industry, things are measured in days. The closest analogy I’ve found is it’s like morphing from a mammal into an insect — your priorities certainly change!
  2. As the phrase goes, “it’s not what you know, it’s who who you know”. Academia tends to (in the ideal case) be more of a meritocracy where what you know really does give you the greatest return. In industry, having strong relationships with people you can lean on for help or to stage a warm introduction often converts into something of great value.
  3. Follow up. No one cares about your business more than you, so you really have to make that extra effort to follow up with people if an email or call thread goes cold. Even if there is not a quid pro quo to be had on the business side, it is always very useful to keep all learning opportunities available. There are large number of tools online now which allow you to maintain several hundred conversations at once and ensure that you don’t let potentially important relationships go cold.

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

Our biggest challenge has been our messaging and identity (i.e. “what are we?”). This is often the case for platform technologies — you can address multiple problems but the key is to find the underlying compelling narrative which brings it all together. Thinking more fundamentally about our technology and which direction we are heading has really helped us solve this problem. Traction also does wonders to identity woes because you get validation that what you’re building is something people want, so it’s much easier to speak to that than just a lofty garage band idea.

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

At the moment we are focused on providing value to customers who seek the advantages of our technology. We are in the early stages of our long term goal of placing our system in every research lab around the world. These are primarily companies either creating high quality stem cells or turning stem cells into different tissues of the human body. In the very long term we want to place our instrument in all doctor’s offices so that unfortunate folks who are diagnosed with cancer can get personalized treatment plans tailored to their own immune system and cancer type. With this two pronged approach we aim to become industry leaders in both regenerative medicine and personalized medicine. We’ve got a long journey but we’re making good strides.

Learn more about Scaled Biolabs by watching them pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!

Doctors Meet Data Science: An Interview with Karim Galil of Mendel Health

Mendel Health
Mendel Health

Photo: The Mendel Health team with Karim in the center.

Do you ever feel your medical records are an unorganized mess, making it impossible for doctors with their busy schedules to match you with the latest treatments that are most optimally matched to your needs? In comes Mendel Health, a way for your data to be “in the driver’s seat”. Thousands of treatments for cancer and other diseases are in trials, and few doctors know about them… which is something Mendel Health is working to solve. So people do not lose their chances of beating disease. We asked the company’s CEO, Karim Galil, a few questions:

Tell me about your background, how did you become interested in public health?

I went to med school and got to practice medicine for a couple of years. I was very frustrated with how the practice of medicine was immune to the rate of advancement in technology.

What problem are you working to solve with Mendel Health?

We are trying to stop needless deaths in medicine. Every day thousands of patients pass away. It’s all too common that after their death we learn about a clinical trial that would have saved them. This is due to the huge increase in the rate of research, and the inability for any human to stay up to date. To make the promise of precision medicine real we have to find ways for doctors to keep up with all this research and data.

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?

Our success metric: Number of  patients matched to a new trials or research which was never mentioned to them before AND it saves their life!

How do you think success can change your industry?

It will close the gap between research and the practice of medicine. This means faster drug development cycles and patients generating a wealth of data. All that will accelerate biomarker discoveries and curing terminal illnesses like cancer.

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

What is unique about our team is the multidisciplinary skills. You have a physician leading a team of doctors and a technical PhD leading a team of data scientists.

The intersection between medicine and data has sparked solutions to many problem other AI companies have been facing in healthcare.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

Move fast. The faster you fail, the faster you will succeed.

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

The biggest challenge has been getting the data team to understand medicine and getting the medical team to understand AI.

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

Our goal is matching 10,000 cancer patients to effective treatment options, which was not considered possible before using Mendel.ai.

Learn more about Mendel Health by watching Karim pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!

The Bad Boy of Biosensors: An Interview With Ray Chiu of BioInspira

Bioinspira
Bioinspira

Photo: Ray Chiu (far right) and the BioInspira team. 

Every year, more than 200 natural gas pipeline-related incidents happen on average in the United States, and $5B in economic opportunities are lost as a result of gas leaks. BioInspira is aiming to solve this problem by bringing air chemical detection to the next level.

At IndieBio, we call the founder and CEO of BioInspira, Ray Chiu, the “Bad Boy of Biosensors”. Not only has he helped the company raise over $1.3M, he’s also closed partnerships with a consortium of the largest northern and southern California gas and electricity companies. BioInspira uses biology to change the economics of how we monitor our infrastructures. We asked Ray a few questions:

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

My background is in chemical engineering. I’ve had a huge passion for science since I was little, and I was always very keen on learning about breakthroughs in new frontiers of scientific research. Because of this, I made the decision to participate in this task of expanding scientific knowledge. Biotechnology is a relatively unexplored area filled with unknown potentials. Whereas the microelectronic revolution has come and gone with the projected bottleneck from Moore’s Law, there are still many secrets we can still learn about biology, biochemistry, and how they can change our way of life. This wealth of potential for discovery and impact on our life is what propelled me into the biotech space.

What problem are you working to solve with your company, Bioinspira?

Billions of dollars worth of economic opportunities are lost because there are currently very ineffective ways of tracking our infrastructures. This is a huge problem. We envision that, by combining network connectivity with powerful sensors, we can eliminate waste that is generated by the use of Earth’s natural resources. Take natural gas leaks, for example. BioInspira can save as much as 40% of the gas that is leaked from our gas infrastructure while cutting the leak inspection time in half.

Such engineering marvel, if successful, will also provide unprecedented data and insight and lead to a safer smarter world. However, current sensing technologies can’t achieve this goal due to their power consumption, size, cost, and accuracy. BioInspira believes a new revolutionary sensing mechanism is required. And we aim to solve this problem with our technology.

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?

Passion. I firmly believe that the technology our team is working on will revolutionize people’s way of life and lead to a safer and smarter world. Seeing my technology become successful and actually influence society would be the single biggest indicator that I am doing the right thing.

“I firmly believe that the technology our team is working on will revolutionize people’s way of life and lead to a safer and smarter world.”

How do you think success can change your industry?

If we are successful, we will revolutionize the way in which the industry performs inspections for safety and emission control. Our customers will have constant and real time information on leaks in their systems, leading to efficient leak repair processes. This would help reduce waste and save lives.

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

We have more than 20 years of professional sensor research experience. We are experts in phage sensor engineering. Our sensor research goes back more than 10 years with more than $2M research funding invested to date. We also have industry experts, thought leaders, and the chief inventor of our technology forming a powerful advisory board. In addition, we have partners with OEM partners on device manufacturing that will ensure the quality of our solution.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

Do not take anything for granted. Besides changing our R&D plan to meet the customer’s schedule and needs, we invested most of our time to grow relationships with potential customers and end users. If we do not turn these into a potential sales channel or investment opportunity, or we ruin our relationships, all our time will be wasted.

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

As this is a completely new sensing mechanism, one of our biggest challenges was to explain the technology to potential end users as well as investors. Most of the end users are experts in sensors, but do not know much about biotechnology. On the other hand, most of the interested investors are very familiar in biotechnology, but do not understand much about the sensor industry.

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

Short term: successfully deliver our sensor development kit and complete field tests with customers. Long term: overhaul the sensor industry by providing a revolutionizing sensor platform with improved combined capabilities.

Learn more about BioInspira by watching Ray pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!

Designing Drugs In Silico: An Interview With Ed Painter of A2A Pharmaceuticals

What if people suffering from cancer, tuberculosis, and other life-threatening diseases didn’t have to wait as long for the right drugs to be developed to help them stay alive? A2A Pharmaceuticals is a biotechnology company committed to the advancement of innovative scientific research and new therapeutic agents. We asked the company’s founder, Ed Painter, a few questions:

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

From my initial exposure to biotech companies like Amgen and Genentech doing research on cancer and other life threatening diseases around 20 years ago, I have been fascinated with process of building businesses around critical therapeutics. My success with investments in public companies gave me a great understanding of what is needed to make a company succeed.

What problem are you working to solve with your company, A2A Pharmaceuticals?

With A2A Pharmaceuticals we are addressing the extremely high cost and long time needed to make new therapeutics available to patients. We use both proprietary and commercially available software to make the process dramatically less expensive, faster and more likely to result in success.

“With A2A Pharmaceuticals we are addressing the extremely high cost and long time needed to make new therapeutics available to patients.”

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?

Few people get a chance to save a person’s life. That is the greatest accomplishment to which A2A aspires.

How do you think success can change your industry?

By illustrating the effectiveness of using computational tools to develop new drug candidates, we hope to help drive more interest and investment in software tools that can help get new medications to patients.

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

The capabilities of A2A’s team range from founder Sridhar Vempati’s skills with selection of disease targets to Brendan Kelly’s skills with development and use of drug design tools.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

We are learning every day. The lessons most critical include making sure employees are happy and the power of networking to find the people who will make the company work.

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

One of the most important dynamics we face on a daily basis is the need to manage expectations as we strive to exceed.

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

A2A is currently doing proof of concept work on a Leukemia drug. We hope to have positive results before the end of January. We are also working on partnerships with other pharmaceutical companies to help advance our new drug programs for cancer and drug-resistant bacterial infections as well as programs conceived by third parties.

Learn more about A2A Pharmaceuticals by watching Ed pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here

Founder Stories: an Interview with Maria from SyntheX Labs

Founder Stories: an Interview with Maria from SyntheX Labs
Founder Stories: an Interview with Maria from SyntheX Labs

Maria Soloveychik is the CEO and co-founder of SyntheX Labs, a biotech company developing peptide therapeutics for cancer and other rare diseases.

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

M: So it started in 8th when I decided I wanted to do biology so I could clone endangered species and play with water bears. Later on, as an undergrad, I realized how much I loved experimental design and research so getting a PhD was a no-brainer. After getting exposed to many different fields, from biochemistry to cell biology to microscopy, I decided on Cellular Metabolism since it’s vital in so many life processes. Going to University of Toronto allowed me to be in a world class molecular genetics department and surrounded by cutting edge research, while also being able to push my own projects forward.

A: What problem are you working to solve with your company, SyntheX?

M: We’re designing a platform for drug discovery to target previously undruggable targets for cancer and other rare diseases. There are over 650,000 protein-protein interactions that we know of in human cells, and there is only one drug that has been approved that can break one of these interactions. If our platform works it opens up this enormous space of possibility to treat previously incurable diseases.

A: It sounds like you have really ambitious goals for SyntheX, what type of progress have you been able to make towards them so far?

M: We came into IndieBio with an idea for a drug discovery platform and a list of targets. In the three months since then we’ve built out the platform, created compounds, and tested them in clinical models. We started with a compound to target incurable liver cancer, Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma (ICC), and Castration Resistant Prostate Cancer (CRPC). By targeting a specific pathway they both rely on we have seen very selective and potent killing of the ICC and CRPC cells that we’re now working to test in animal models.

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

M: Charlie, our CSO, and I have different, but complementing skillsets that give us a unified view of drug design. Together we have decades of experience in cancer biology, structural biology, and genetic engineering that are all invaluable. Realizing how tough this industry is, we’ve worked really hard to get great advisors who have taken drugs through the FDA for indications we’re targeting. Their experience has been incredibly useful in guiding us.

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?

M: For the company, the ultimate validation by far is finding ways to cure previously incurable diseases. Personally, this feels very natural to me since it provides such a level of control of your own work and results. In academia, we make these type of discoveries frequently, but it’s so rare that they’re applied and brought to the world.

A: So speaking of academia, any big lessons learned transitioning from there to startup entrepreneurship?

M: So many actually. The biggest was transitioning to thinking about the economics behind science and funding from private sources instead of grants. Raising funds and planning milestone achievement has been a new challenge that we’re learning more about every day. Personally, I’ve gone from a purely scientific role into a business role where I have to communicate the science in a way that’s accessible to non-experts.

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

M: I think it opens the door to a lot more young startups with outside the box ideas to go out and make them a reality. Big pharma can seem like an intimidating black box from the outside and we want other grad students and postdocs to be able to go out and create new innovative companies.

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

M: In the short term, we’re looking to move our compounds into development and secure funding to hire more talent to round out our team. Long term, it’s about establishing strategic partnerships to move into the clinic quickly and see patients benefiting from the treatments we’re developing.

You can reach Maria at msoloveychik@synthexlabs.com or twitter — mso_nightingale

Are you a scientist looking to build the next generation of biotech companies? Apply to IndieBio San Francisco

Enabling Proactive Medicine with the Immune System: an Interview with Anitha Jayaprakash of Girihlet

Enabling Proactive Medicine with the Immune System: an Interview with Anitha Jayaprakash of Girihlet

The immune system is the cornerstone of our health and ability to fight disease, but there are no methods to truly monitor its status. As a result, medicine is forced into being reactive to illness, rather than fighting disease before it starts.

Girihlet is working towards a future where the immune system is monitored at every doctor’s visit and we can predict our resilience to disease before it happens. I talked with Anitha, one of the co-founders, about how her team is tackling this problem, the future of Girihlet, and how this technology can change public health. Check out her pitch live on February 4th on IndieBio’s Demo Day Livestream!

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

AJ: I’ve always been interested in the field of biology and all the processes going on inside the human body so it was natural for me to go to Mount Sinai School of Medicine and get a PhD in Genetics. That lifelong curiosity about the human body still exists. Given that, the goal is to be able to understand and monitor the immune system, which is an integral part of the human body.

AK: What problem are you working to solve with your company, Girihlet?

AJ: Medicine is currently reactive, and we want to make it proactive. There are so many components being measured today to monitor health, but they don’t give us a clear picture of what’s going on. We think measuring your immune system is a more complete window to your health because it’s highly dynamic, predictive, and retains memories of past events. We are currently building an immune database using proprietary technology that can give us infection profiles that show your ability to fight infections before you get them

AK: 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?

AJ: We want this technology to reach and help the general public. We were concerned that if this technology were sold it wouldn’t get to the public and reach its full potential. As the inventors, we‘re best positioned to bring this technology to the masses and have a big impact on public health.

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

AJ: We want monitoring the health of the immune system to become the norm. It’s also critical that everyone would have the right to access their own health profile and information.

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

AJ: Our expertise is in analyzing big data and finding patterns. We have a deep understanding of the genome, including its limitations. We’ve also built many novel sequencing technologies. There’s a lot of data being generated and analyzed in many industries. But the problem is most people aren’t generating accurate data. We have the biological expertise to be able to ask the right questions in order to get the right information. To complement that we have the ability to analyze this data to create useful applications.

AK: Any big lessons learned transitioning from academia to startup entrepreneurship?

AJ: As an entrepreneur it’s very important to always keep yourself connected to the science world so you don’t get lost in your work and fall behind relevant advancements. There’s no longer the scientific debate and rigor of the scientific world to keep you grounded and guided. So we’ve built a really strong scientific advisory board to make sure we don’t lose our scientific edge.

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

AJ: Getting researchers to believe in a startup and that we’re well positioned to build technologies. We need to convey to the scientific community that together we can solve significant scientific problems and have a tangible impact on public health.

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

AJ: Short term we want to validate the clinical application of our technology. We’ve started collaborating with clinicians at UCSF and Mount Sinai to further this goal. In the long term, we want to develop this valuable immune database that will help us identify patterns of health and bring it to the general public.

Get in touch with Anitha at anitha@girihlet.com

Creating a Functional Window to the Brain: an Interview with Henrik D. Kjeldsen of Truust Neuroimaging

Creating a Functional Window to the Brain: an Interview with Henrik D. Kjeldsen of Truust Neuroimaging
Creating a Functional Window to the Brain: an Interview with Henrik D. Kjeldsen of Truust Neuroimaging

Modern neuroscience is still relying on old methods that don’t allow us to truly understand what’s happening in the brain in real-time. As a result, we have a limited understanding of brain-related disease and ability to treat conditions early.

Truust’s neuroimaging technology is providing real-time data in order to visualize energy flow in the brain, and, as a result, be able to predict and treat brain-related diseases before they start. I spoke with the Henrik, the CEO, to learn how he discovered this problem, limitations of today’s technology, and how Truust can change the field. Check out his pitch from IndieBio’s Demo Day Livestream!

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

H: I met my co-founder, Lars, about 15 years ago, while working as an electrical engineer. As a result of the computational problems presented while working on the Semantic Web I got interested in artificial intelligence and did a Master’s of AI in the Netherlands. I realized current AI approaches are not able to handle such complex problems, and we need to study real intelligence to figure it out. So I went to the UK to do a PhD in Experimental Neuroscience, where I faced a new problem; current tools are only able to see very little of what is going on in the brain. This not only makes it very difficult to understand the brain, but also makes it impossible to diagnose brain-related problems early enough to catch disease before they present with behavioral symptoms or become actual structural changes in the brain. This made us realize that we need to improve our neuroimaging tools, and based on the idea of super-resolution we initially created a solution for specialized micro-electrode arrays that worked surprisingly well. Since then I spent some time at CERN, the global leader in experimental particle physics, where I really came to understand the potential of super-resolution signal processing techniques.

A: What problem are you working to solve with your company, Truust?

H: A major problem in neuroscience is that we are relying on statistical analysis to understand connections in the brain since we can’t actually see real-time energy flow. With our super-resolution method, we can see the actual flow of electromagnetic energy from point A to B which means we now have a window into the living dynamic brain for the first time. So using existing EEG hardware we will collect huge amounts of data that machine learning can be applied to and understand EEG biomarkers of a wide range of brain-related problems. We envision a future with an EEG terminal in every doctor’s office as part of every physical; and the doctor does not even have to be an expert, our biomarker system is all the assistance they need.

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?

H: Seeing all different kinds of people, from random kids to experts in the field, get really excited about our prototypes visualizing energy flow in the brain, tells us that we are really doing something new at the cutting edge of understanding the brain

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

We are going to revolutionize neuro-imaging to make it useful and relevant to the general population and their healthcare. It will become much lower cost than current MRI and PET techniques

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

H: We have a unique perspective on the brain being cross-disciplinary between electrical engineering, AI, physics, and neuroscience. This allows us to take a physical and computational approach to what has traditionally been a biological problem. We have worked on these problems in one form or another for a long time, and what we are doing now is a natural culmination of that path.

A: Any big lessons learned transitioning  to startup entrepreneurship?

H: We’ve had the expectation fulfilled that things move very fast. We can do things much quicker than in academia or in large companies. That’s actually one of the reasons we left those to form a  startup. Things were moving very slowly. In a startup we are learning much faster since we’re able to experiment and iterate so much faster.

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

H: Talking about what we do in a way that isn’t too academic. There’s a balance between being technically correct and not being overly technical. These are new ideas that people aren’t generally familiar with, so communicating the nuances while still letting them see the big picture can be tough.

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

H: In the short term we want to validate our technique with a number of different labs on hard, real world problems, like better seizure localization for epilepsy. Our long term goal is to truly understand the brain, which would open up many more general applications all across medicine and research.

Get in touch with Henrik at henrik.kjeldsen@truustneuroimaging.com

Reprogramming Cancer and the Future of Medicine: an Interview with Andrew Gray of Vali Nanomedical

Reprogramming Cancer and the Future of Medicine: an Interview with Andrew Gray of Vali Nanomedical
Reprogramming Cancer and the Future of Medicine: an Interview with Andrew Gray of Vali Nanomedical

Drug delivery is one of the greatest challenges in treating cancer today. There are a multitude of effective drugs that aren’t able to be delivered to tumor sites, or can not be delivered in combination.

Vali Nanomedical is now solving these drug delivery problems with a revolutionary programmable drug delivery system, and working towards a future where in vivo cellular reprogramming can cure disease without even using drugs. I talked with Andrew, Vali’s CEO, about his path to entrepreneurship, its challenges, and the future of Vali. Check out his pitch from IndieBio’s Demo Day Livestream!

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

AG: I have PhD in molecular biology, focusing on cancer and developing cancer vaccines as a grad student. I got involved in nanotech knowing that starting a company was the goal. Early on I took a class on entrepreneurship and knew right away that was the path for me, not traditional academia. Going into startups has been really exciting since it’s been a goal for some time.

AK: What problem are you working to solve with your company, Vali?

AG: The biggest issue in cancer is delivering drugs to where they need to be. There are a lot of great drugs out there that can’t reach the right place or are toxic. At Vali Nanomedical, we created a programmable nanoparticle that homes onto cancer cells and releases drugs there but doesn’t harm healthy cells. It’s like making a smart missile that knows when it has missed and refuses to detonate when it’s in the wrong place.

AK: 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?

AG: This is the first time in my entire career that I’ve felt like I’m at home. Every day flies by and is exciting.

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

AG: We envision a world where drugs aren’t used at all to treat disease. Instead, we’d use our technology to reprogram cells to either return to a healthy state or, if they’re too far gone like cancer cells, reprogrammed to kill themselves. Ultimately we want to make cancer a disease of the past.

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

AG: We have a fantastic team with very complementary skills. Prof. Mike Wong is a physician-scientist who has dedicated his career to finding better ways to treat cancer. As I mentioned, I’m an expert in the molecular biology of cancer. Prof. Pin Wang is an absurdly accomplished and productive biomedical engineer at USC. The founding team is backed up by industry veterans, including former director of BD at Amgen Holly Hartman and Prof. John Daniels, who literally launched an industry by inventing and commercialized collagen for injection. Between us, we have all the skills necessary to make our grand dream a reality.

AK: Any big lessons learned transitioning from academia to startup entrepreneurship?

AG: You have to reframe the way you talk about your work. Academics are trained to talk about the things they’re 99% sure they’ve figured out. As an entrepreneur, you talk about problems that you haven’t solved yet and demonstrate you have a plan to get there.

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

AG: Finding the right first addition to the team. It was only by good luck and timing that I found the perfect person to add to the team. He was an amazing materials scientists named Don Johnson, who’s also a PhD.

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

AG: Short term are building multiple partnerships with pharma to deliver drugs they can’t deliver now, either alone or in combination to treat cancer. We’re uniquely capable of doing combination therapies. Like I said, in the long term we want to make cancer a disease of the past.
Get in touch with Andrew at andrew.gray@valinano.com

Powering Discovery with Proteomics: an Interview with Jun Axup of MYi

Reprogramming Cancer and the Future of Medicine: an Interview with Andrew Gray of Vali Nanomedical
Reprogramming Cancer and the Future of Medicine: an Interview with Andrew Gray of Vali Nanomedical

Next-generation DNA sequencing technology has revolutionized biological research over the last decade, but very few advancements have been made in proteomics, the next great frontier of biological data.

MYi is developing these new methods to study proteins in order to better understand, manage, and cure disease. I spoke with Jun, the company’s COO, to learn about the team’s expertise, the potential of the field of proteomics, and the impact MYi hopes to have. 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?

J: Our team knew each other from our time at The Scripps Research Institute, where I obtained my Ph.D. in chemical biology. I’ve always wanted to apply my work to therapeutics, but after working in that industry, I realized the slow pace of biological discovery. Leaps in innovation only happen after technological breakthroughs that make research better, faster, cheaper, and more accessible. Hence at MYi, we are doing just that.

A: What problem are you working to solve at your company, MYi?

J: MYi is developing high-throughput assays to look at multiple proteins in a single sample by utilizing the advancements in next-generation sequencing. Proteomic analysis today is very low-throughput and expensive because it is difficult to amplify and manipulate the signal of proteins. However, if we can bridge protein technologies with DNA technologies, like PCR and sequencing, we open up a lot of opportunities. We do this by putting DNA tags on protein-binding molecules, like antibodies. With our technology, we will enable the next wave of biological data and facilitate precision medicine.

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?

J: There are too many diseases, both common and rare, that we can’t cure or even effectively manage.  Our inability to do so is due to a major knowledge gap in our understanding of the molecular basis of these diseases.  While DNA sequencing has begun to fill in these gaps, our genetics are only a part of the story.  MYi is further filling this knowledge gap by analyzing proteins in an unbiased way to find disease patterns that no one knew were even there. Our biggest validation would be to find the root cause of an individual’s disease in a manner that would lead to an intervention.

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

J: Like how next-generation sequencing technologies enabled and accelerated the field of genomics, MYi hopes to bring that growth to proteomics. Furthermore, this will create a flood of data that, in combination with genomic and exome data, will inform therapeutic development.

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

J: Our team consists of accomplished scientists in personalized medicine and bioinformatics, like Nicholas Schork (CEO) and Kristopher Nazor (CSO), who have shown that big data approaches can advance our understanding of complex diseases such as cancer or even autism. Additionally, we have experts in bioconjugation and nucleic acid chemistry, such as Devon Cayer (CTO) and myself. We are also joined by a seasoned business officer, Maria Forero. Together, we have the technical and business experience to realize the vision that we all share.

A: Any big lessons learned transitioning from academia to startup entrepreneurship?

J: Being in academia and in a startup are actually very similar: long hours, low pay, drive to innovate, and responsibilities to funding agencies (grants/journals vs investors/customers). The biggest difference is that in a startup you are a part of a team that is all running towards the same goal. The camaraderie and support is invaluable.

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

J: Running a biotech startup in a lean manner has been very challenging. Unlike software-based companies, biology has a lot of overhead in lab space, consumables, and operational logistics that are both expensive and time-consuming. It’s a huge challenge to juggle the science, business, customer acquisition, and funding all at once while under a time crunch. But that’s also why this stage of a startup is the most fun and exciting.

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

J: The first major milestone is to get our first assay kit on the market. From there we hope to scale, create follow-up products, and partner with other organizations to develop diagnostics and therapeutics.
Get in touch with Jun at jun@myidiagnostics.com

Putting Biological Supercomputers in the Palm of your Hand: an Interview with Oshiorenoya Agabi of Koniku

Putting Biological Supercomputers in the Palm of your Hand: an Interview with Oshiorenoya Agabi of Koniku
Putting Biological Supercomputers in the Palm of your Hand: an Interview with Oshiorenoya Agabi of Koniku

As ambitions to create newer and faster supercomputers grow, so do the challenges. Increasing computational power comes with demands of scale, stability, and accessibility.

Koniku is a startup working to solve this by harnessing the power of biological neurons to create the next generation of supercomputers. I talked with Koniku’s CEO, Oshiorenoya E. Agabi, about his story, goals for Koniku, and changing the science of computation. Check out his 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?

O: I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria where I also did my bachelors. While getting my master’s in physics I remember a Russian professor telling me that if I wanted to make an impact I needed to go to a field where not a lot has been done and there’s opportunity to quantify everything. Following his advice, I took a course in neuroscience and knew right away this was it. Since then I’ve been working in computational neuroscience – quantifying how neurons function, engineering how to talk to them, and building tech out of them. After writing my master’s thesis on using biological neurons to do computation, I went to Imperial College in London to do my PhD in Computational Neuroscience and Bioengineering. That’s where I founded Koniku.

A: What problem are you working to solve with your company, Koniku?

O: The question is how to build a truly cognitive system. To do larger applications, we currently have to build massive and unscalable server farms. If we ever want to get to the point of doing significant computations we have to move away from the silicon paradigm. Koniku eventually aims to build a device that is capable of thinking in the biological sense, like a human being. We think we can do this in the next two to five years. We’re currently engineering neurons such that they are sensitive to particles in parts per trillion. With our computational backend, we’ll have a device that can be used for particle detection and be used for industrial, military, and agricultural application.

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?

O: We want to prove  we can connect to neurons and structure biological systems, and have the ability to package that.

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

O: If we’re just 60% successful as a company, we’ll change computing as we know it. We’ll see a massive shift away from the silicon computing industry. Similar to what silicon did for the information age, we’ll do this for biotech.

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

O: We have a wealth of business and technical experience and expertise. This is a massive undertaking so we are still looking for more people with experience in computational neuroscience.

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

O: In the near term it has been delivering game-changing devices and generating early revenue. We don’t want to just move fast and break things, we want to deliver an amazing product at the same time. Since we’re building a device we can’t just update it as needed. It has to perform exceptionally well every time a customer or user buys a product. We want to deliver an exponential advantage.

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

O: In the short term we would like to start delivering our sensing controls and computing devices to customers in the aviation and pharma sectors that have signed with us. We want to deliver an amazing product.

Our long-term goal is building a strong user base that lets other people make money off our devices. In the next two to five years we want this base of people programming and building separate applications for our device. It will be a true platform technology that people can build secondary products out of.

Get in touch with Osh at agabi@koniku.uk

Creating a pick and place machine for DNA synthesis: an interview with Jeff Clayton of Genesis DNA

Creating a pick and place machine for DNA synthesis: an interview with Jeff Clayton of Genesis DNA
Creating a pick and place machine for DNA synthesis: an interview with Jeff Clayton of Genesis DNA

In recent years we’ve seen an exponential ability to sequence DNA. What in the recent past it cost billions of dollars is now available for under one thousand dollars. However, the cost of synthesizing new DNA is still prohibitive and causing bottlenecks in research and industry.

Genesis DNA is working to create new methods to standardize DNA synthesis and make it cheaper, faster, and more reliable. I talked to the company’s CEO, Jeff Clayton, about his background, lessons from creating a start up, and Genesis DNA’s goals. Check out his pitch live on February 4th on IndieBio’s Demo Day Livestream!

Tell me about your background—how did you get interested in the biotech space?

I started off in chemistry as an undergrad since I always had an interest in biochem and biology, but ultimately went in the engineering direction for grad school since I thought there were a lot of opportunity for devices. I saw merging silicon and biological systems as a way to get the best of both worlds. My co-founder, David, also has a chemistry background but went more towards bio-engineering. The idea of Genesis DNA was born from a combination of his expertise in biology and mine in engineering.

What problem are you working to solve with your company, Genesis DNA?

We are developing a next-gen platform for DNA synthesis to standardize the process of assembling genes. The current assembly process is unpredictable. Every time you want to build a gene you have to design and build all the building blocks. This makes it difficult to know how long it will take and how successful a particular build will be. By standardizing the process it becomes easier and more cost effective to build custom DNA sequences.

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?

Our customer testimonials. It’d be a lot more difficult to work on this problem if we didn’t have people telling us all the time that today’s tools are still inadequate. We’ve heard from almost every biotech company that we’ve talked to that the ability to write DNA has become a huge bottleneck for research.

How do you think success can change your industry?

A great tool for DNA synthesis can do for biology what great microfabrication tools did for electronics. They increase freedom of design and make ideas more accessible and affordable to explore.

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

Ultimately we’re building a tool that builds biology so the expertise needed is heavy on both the biology and engineering sides. Which our team has.

Any big lessons learned transitioning from academia to startup entrepreneurship?

At IndieBio we’ve parallelized our research much more than we ever did in grad school. In a startup you don’t have the luxury of trying one thing at a time and waiting like in academia. This has been a really gratifying experience because you can achieve a lot of key metrics and get key results much faster.

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

Besides the tech, learning how to effectively communicate science and its significance to the outside world. It’s not something you get a lot of practice at doing in academia.

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

In the short term we’re aiming to validate our chemistry for the synthesis of a short DNA sequence. Our ultimate goal is to greatly simplify the way researchers get DNA. We want it to be delivered in less than a week for simple or complex sequences and an order of magnitude cheaper than what is currently available.

Get in touch with Jeff at jeff@genesisdna.com

Blending Life and Computer Science – R. Machiraju

Blending Life and Computer Science – R. Machiraju
Blending Life and Computer Science – R. Machiraju

I believe that computing shall be even more pervasive and ubiquitous than it is today

and will evolve into a high-impact, use-inspired basic science1. Over the last seven decades,

we have seen the beginning of a major technological revolution, the Information Revolution.

Many of us who are middle-aged or part of the baby-boomer generation have been witness to

this growth. The last decade has especially seen computing emerge from its strongholds in

engineering and the mathematical sciences and has diffused not only into all corners of

academia (biology, social sciences, humanities, etc.) but also more impressively into quotidian

life. It is the latter aspect that will drive computer science and provide even more growth

opportunities. Witness the growth of companies like Google, which have made search and to

google an overloaded and essential verb. The social impact of computing is at its all time high

and its ubiquity and pervasiveness will only grow. In my opinion, growth will be in democratized

iComputing: computing for everybody and by everybody.

We are at the confluence of many perfect storms of opportunity. Processing and storage

hardware is cheap and is increasingly available in the cloud. Mobile and traditional

communication systems and the Internet connect us and our embedded devices, our vehicles,

our homes, and our offices into a global matrix. Yet, I believe we have seen only the tip of the

iceberg.

Therefore, computer science will be better served if it considers itself to be a broad

discipline with a myriad of interacting components and not just a slew of vertical silos wherein

practitioners design and build compilers, operating systems, architectures, and graphics

systems, while some propound algorithms and theory. It must also rely on disciplines other than

mathematics (e.g. physics, statistics) for intellectual succor. I increasingly believe that computer

science is a use-inspired science with a high-impact footprint where many sub-disciplines are

applied to solve problems. Use and value will drive the discipline of computer science. Further,

in the age of austerity and growth in the developing world, there will be an emphasis on use-

based research and development. Still, there will be a place for fundamental and basic work.

Consider this. Louis Pasteur, a founding father of modern microbiology, began his quest with

the more basic need of preserving food2. I believe that computer science will also head this

way, use-driven and use-inspired yet innate to the human experience.

In marked contrast to the early formative years of computer science, which overlapped

with the ebb and flow of cold war funding and patronages, the eco-system of today is

dramatically different. Computer science will not be just driven by the next new hammer that is

invented at the behest of high priests or driven by plain curiosity. However, there will be

incentives in finding nails everywhere around us, like geocachers, to construct new hammers or

adopt existing hammers. Consider Google’s PageRank algorithm. It should be noted that the

original and well-touted PageRank algorithm or hammer had a purported use. With the passage

of a decade, the venerable algorithm has to also act as an honest broker, thus bringing in

additional constraints to search and a rethinking of the mathematical and algorithmic

underpinnings.

I have followed this mantra in my own work. I embedded myself increasingly in the

physical and biological sciences by learning the subtleties and nuances of the other science and

realizing scalable, and robust methods and workflows. The interpretable and actionable end-

result – vortices in unsteady flow, distinction between dyscalculics from normal subjects, robust

subtypes of triple negative breast cancer – is paramount rather than the singular method. Often

new basic methods or foundational principles had to be discovered or re-invented within the

constraints of the user-science. Robust engineering practices already achieve this two-step

tango; computer science will increasingly adopt the same tango as it increasingly addresses the

needs of the larger population.

Computational modeling and data analysis will play an important role in defining salient

processes and associations that can be stored and processed in portable, scalable, and robust

prototypes and systems. These systems will be deployed in a multitude of human-centric

applications that in turn parlay human sensory perception and more usefully cognition. This is

my utopian albeit utilitarian view of computer science.

The role of mathematics and statistics especially in the age of Big Data cannot be

understated. Foundational work in theoretical regimes will continue; the increased emphasis on

high-dimensional and probabilistic learning algorithms offers one example. Similarly, 3D printing

and novel manufacturing processes could not have become a reality without the pioneering

work of geometer Prof. Herbert Edelsbrunner and many others. New systems and programming

languages will also be required. The growth of graphical processing units and probability

processors (Lyric Labs) will only usher expedited growth in hitherto unexplored application

areas. There will always be a need for compilers for all these specialized solutions; the

demands of a probabilistic language where a variable carries the semantics of a distribution will

require some deliberation. Human-computer interaction will be even more stressed and

text/speech/image/video/ processing will be eventually woven into a single tapestry of a user

interface.

Applications will form the inter-disciplinary bridges to others in social sciences,

engineering, and medicine and it is through applications that the user plays an important role.

Personalized medicine and all the associated advancements in the physical and biological

sciences will require a bigger role from computing software and infrastructure, while traditional

consumers in enterprise computing, finance, weather prediction, etc. will continue to place even

more demands on real-time services and storage.

In academia, there will be more branches and rivulets. Cybersecurity, systems biology,

finance, fluid dynamics, medical imaging, neuroscience, etc. already vie for attention from

academics in various departments of computer science. E-governance, social media, social

innovation, and smart cities will follow, especially spurred by the availability of Big Data3. Each

of these inter-disciplinary growth opportunities will lead to a reexamination of cross-disciplinary

fault lines and new flurry of research will ensue. The exact shape and form of these changes will

depend on the local academic, business and cultural environment.

The delivery of curriculum will also experience a sea change. There is certainly an

interest in all things computing; we have seen this in burgeoning enrollments at both university

and K-12 levels. Some of the new improvements will be of vocational nature. It is therefore not

surprising that one speaks of imparting the three Rs and C to the uninitiated4. Similarly, there

will be an increased emphasis on active learning in flipped classroom settings where students

actually engage in problem solving while being part of collaborative teams. This pedagogical

approach is increasingly shown to be effective in more general settings5. In many settings,

computer science is already taught in this manner and is likely to become the norm.

In closing, it is my opinion that computer science will adopt a utilitarian face and will

make even greater forays into interdisciplinary ventures while strengthening all components in a

cross-disciplinary fashion. By placing computer science squarely in Pasteur’s quadrant2,

practitioners can engage in a rigorous albeit a very relevant science and in essence enable

computer science to play an even more important role in modern life and human civilization.

This is a guest post by Raghu Machiraju, CEO, Abiobot (IndieBio Alumni). Raghu also serves on the faculty at Ohio State University in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.  He also has an appointment in the College of Medicine at OSU.  His interests include image analysis and visualization especially as they apply to topics in biology, medicine and engineering. Over the years he also been increasingly working on problems of computationally biology and bioinformatics.

1 Marc Snir, Communications of the ACM, ViewPoints, Vol. 54, No. 3, March 2011.

2 Stuart Cantrill, Speaking Frankly: The allure of Pasteur’s quadrant, The Sceptical Chymist, July 7, 2013.

3 Data Science for Social Good, 20th ACM SIGKDD Conference, http://www.kdd.org/kdd2014.

4 Leah Hoffman, Computer Science and the Three Rs, Communications of the ACM, Vol. 55, No. 12, October 2012.

5 Freeman et al. Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics, PNAS,

doi: 10.1073/pnas.1319030111

Reimagining the Future with Biology

Reimagining the Future with Biology
Reimagining the Future with Biology

Today, Bolt Threads, previously Refactored Materials announced that they’d raised $40M in their latest round of financing and expect to have their yeast derived spiders silk (10x stronger than steel per weight) available for sale by 2016.

The new Bolt Threads biomaterial will have applications we can only now dream of and likely many, we have yet to dream and this is only the beginning of the new bioeconomy that’s being built around us, in university, commercial and biohacker labs around the world.

Over the last four months, our first IndieBio class in San Francisco (IB1), we’ve seen what’s possible when scientists, innovators and pioneers join together to accelerate how we build our world with biology.Amazing companies, products and services have been built in a spirit of camaraderie and collaboration (both within the first cohort and with the broader community) which is stark contrast to many of the innovation silos we’ve all experienced in academia and industry.

Our first time founders have worked side by side with each other and veteran entrepreneurs and scientists (across all industries) to reimagine a world in which previously intractable problems might now be solved with applied biology.

  • Pembient has shaken up the world of Rhino conservation by challenging the status quo, sometimes education isn’t enough, if you have an approach which is failing, change it.
  • Clara Foods is helping us to reimagine food with beautiful and delicious Meringues, to start with, which have excited Chef’s globally as a new way to innovating in the kitchen humanely!
  • Extem are powering regenerative medicine with the first and most extensive global stem cell bank, supplying researchers globally with the cells they need to deliver on the promise of regenerative medicine, helping patients in dire need.
  • Arcturus Biocloud have launched the first consumer biotech cloud service, enabling applied biology and science from anywhere with a simple user interface with users signed up on the platform from over 100+ cities globally (and growing).

These are only a few of the companies who you’ll see presenting on our first Demo day, June 11th, in San Francisco, in which we invite you to attend, our general admissions are now sold out due to massive interest but this event is also for the broader global community and will be live streamed, so whether you’re in SF, Mumbai, London or further afield we invite you to join us! We’ll be sharing our livestream calendar invite on @indbio soon!

If you’re a scientist, entrepreneur or biohacker and have a re-imagined vision of the future, built with applied biology that you’re currently working on or would like to build, we’d also love to invite you to apply for our $250k funding package, we’ll be funding our next class of 15 new companies in SF in September and our first early applications deadline is June 30th 2015, get your application in ASAP, don’t wait for the deadline, as we’re currently interviewing teams for consideration into the next class!

IndieBio secures partnership with Transcriptic to Accelerate Biology

IndieBio secures partnership with Transcriptic to Accelerate Biology
IndieBio secures partnership with Transcriptic to Accelerate Biology

Media Contact: Dorothy Lou Bailey, dorothylou@transcriptic.com

San Francisco, CA – IndieBio, the leading global biotech accelerator, today announced an exclusive partnership with the robotic cloud laboratory platform Transcriptic for up to $60,000 per year in free services for the companies they fund and accelerate.

The Transcriptic credits will be divided evenly among the companies in each new class at IndieBio. IndieBio currently has 12 companies in their inaugural San Francisco based class and plans on admitting approximately 30 per year (15 per cycle). This partnership is the first in a series of announcements by IndieBio as they prepare to open applications for their next application cycle.

“We are incredibly excited to be announcing this partnership with Transcriptic and working to accelerate biology together. From the beginning, our aim in founding IndieBio has been to give scientists and entrepreneurs a new, lower cost path to innovation in Independent Biology. We evolve, like the companies we fund, so expect to hear some very big, additional news from us this week on this continued acceleration.”

Ryan Bethencourt, Program Director, IndieBio

“We believe cloud science will enable a better future and we’re excited to partner Transcriptic to help enable that future.”

Arvind Gupta, Partner SOSventures and Founder IndieBio

Transcriptic, a venture-backed on-demand science company that enables researchers to run their experiments remotely through a web based interface, has democratized access to biotech automation. Transcriptic can execute a wide range of common molecular biology workflows with high repeatability and low cost. From their 10,000 sq. ft. Menlo Park facility, Transcriptic services clients spanning the globe with always-on infrastructure. “The platform enables scientists to remove the intense manual labor that encompasses 70% of research and development time. While useful for all, this is especially valuable for small companies who need reliable data and longer capital runways.”

IndieBio views biology as technology and invites applicants from across the life sciences from food, biomaterials to new therapeutics, melding biology, software and robotics to apply for the spring and winter batches. IndieBio funds and accelerates company’s developing solutions with biology to some of the world’s most intractable problems with the broad vision of moving our world from one of scarcity to one of abundance.

“Transcriptic is pivotal to accelerating our R&D program. They allow us to conduct meaningful and reproducible experiments without having to incur the expensive capital cost of buying additional scientific equipment or hiring additional staff to conduct these crucial experiments.”

Leo Wan, CSO & Co-Founder, Ranomics (IB1)

#Sciencehack : Transforming Science through Collaboration

Transforming Science through Collaboration
Thanks to Connor Dickie of Synbiota for this guest post.  I can’t wait to get my hands on a kit!
hands
It’s often said that collaboration is key. Why then, has collaboration in the life-sciences been so limited, when the products (medicine, materials, food, & fuel) are so important? The problem can’t be technical, It’s almost 2015! We’ve got more free and excellent collaboration tools at our fingertips than ever. Why then, is collaboration in life-science not the standard?
A lot of it has to do with an old mentality, one that was born when bringing a biotech product to market would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take a decade to complete. Just think, if you had a company that spent what amounts to a mountain of cash, and a significant part of a team of highly-paid researchers lives on a single product, you too would want keep your trade secrets pretty safe.
What happens then when bringing a biotech product to market costs less than $50k and takes only a year or two of development, or even less? This dream has not exactly happened yet in biotech, but it regularly happens in the IT sector, particularly with software, so let’s look there for insight as to how things might play out for biotech in the near future if collaboration and the Open Science model becomes as widely adopted as Open Source.
Remember (if you can) what computing was like in the 60’s and 70’s. Back then, a computer took up and entire room, and cost millions of dollars. Chances were that if you had access to a computer you had a PhD in computer science or math, and you were employed by the military, a research institute, or a large bank. Software was expensive, scarce, and cryptic.
Open Source Movement
By the mid 90’s all this had changed. Computers were ubiquitous, and the internet was connecting PCs and people from around the globe. Armed with the right tools and the idea of free and open software, cadres of computer scientists and developers were joined by students, hackers, designers and artists. This ragtag group started to coalesce into a community known as the Open Source Movement, which was built on the idea that by working together, a network of independent people could challenge the status quo. And boy did they ever!
Linux is often referenced as the poster-child of the Open Source movement, and for good reason. Since it’s early days, the dream of Linux was to replace Unix (the standard computer operating system used in mission-critical environments, easily costing over $10,000 per license) with a free and open alternative. Naysayers felt that this dream seemed insurmountable at best, and likely just a crazy pipe dream. But the power of a dedicated community, linked by the internet, wielding accessible tools, and each contributing a small part of the solution, changed the computing world forever.
What would it look like if a similar story played out in biotech? What would the benefits be to society be? Could we realize the dream of free, open, and trustworthy medicines? What if we could do the same for sustainable materials, food, and fuels? What would the world be like then?
While exciting to think about, there is a lot of work that needs to be done before these questions can be fully answered. There are some fundamental issues in biotech that make distributed collaboration difficult, and this is primarily the problem that we’ve addressed at Synbiota. We’ve taken lessons from the Open Source software movement and have applied them to biotech, and already we’re seeing exciting productivity gains for our users.
Open Science Movement
One of the biggest innovations we’ve brought to the Synbiota community is vastly increased project reproducibility when both our tools and integrated wetware are used together. By combining a common suite of free web-based, tools and an inexpensive, easy to use biological wetware standard, researchers and developers are able to hit the ground running, often producing results in weeks for just a few hundred dollars.
With this reduced cost and timeline to create working Synthetic Biology projects, we’re seeing an increasing amount of projects on Synbiota that are released to the public under a creative commons license – effectively Open Sourcing the science, which feeds back into the system making it easier to reproduce and extend existing projects, or even develop new projects based on previous work.
An example of Open Science in motion is the #ScienceHack initiative that we launched at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival. #ScienceHack demonstrates that using a common Synthetic Biology wetware kit, and Synbiota in a collaborative manner, it’s now possible to create real medicine at a cost a few orders of magnitude cheaper than Big Pharma.
Violacein
Each #ScienceHack event uses the “Violacein Factory” wetware kit and a shared set of protocols that are freely available under a Creative Commons license. While the first #ScienceHack participants had only their hypothesis to inform their work, each subsequent #ScienceHack was able to leverage the Open Science results of previous #ScienceHacks – resulting in the first ever Synthetic Biology medicine created by a loosely affiliated group of scientists, artists, hackers, and students.
While the efforts of the Synbiota community have yet to change the status quo in biotech, #ScienceHack has successfully demonstrated that it is possible for motivated independent researchers to collaborate, and have a positive effect on the world using Synthetic Biology technology.
We hope this is just the start of something big. We continue to provide the tools, but it’s up to the community to turn this into a global movement that can offer an effective and open alternative to the status quo.