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

New Wave Foods’ shrimpless shrimp ready for prime time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join IndieBio at the SOSV Climate Tech Summit

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

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

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

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

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

This could be the milkiest vegan ice cream ever

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

Built with Biology: Aja Labs and Microterra

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

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

Allozymes looks to upend chemical manufacturing with rapid enzyme engineering and $5M seed

Part of the complex process that turns raw materials into finished products like detergents, cosmetics and flavors relies on enzymes, which facilitate chemical transformations. But finding the right enzyme for a new or proposed drug or additive is a drawn out and almost random process — which Allozymes aims to change with a remarkable new system that could set a new standard in the industry, and has raised a $5 million seed round to commercialize.

Enzymes are chains of amino acids, the “building blocks of life” among the many things encoded in DNA. These large, complex molecules bind to other substances in a way that facilitates a chemical reaction, say turning sugars in a cell into a more usable form of energy.

Bucha Bio: Next Generation Biomaterial for Green Fashion

Bucha Bio grows their biomaterial with bacteria, free from animals or any plastic additives. Their biomaterial can be personalized in every different way: colors, textures, and other new traits. Their expected production cost at scale is lower and production speed is faster than any leather companies that are in the market. And they are providing samples to experiment with famous shoe and automobile companies. 

See Bucha Bio at IndieBio New York Class Two Demo Day

We spoke with Bucha Bio Founder & CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw to gain insight into his technology and motivation in building his startup.

What inspired you to build Bucha Bio?

I’m a vegan as well as a fashion lover. I understand that there is a big sustainability market. As soon as I had a fun experience experimenting with Bucha online, I realized it’s not just an experiment but this could be built into an industry. I saw the potential there, so I started pitching it to everyone who would listen to me. 

What products can we expect to see made with Bucha Bio materials?

Our first product was a pillow, and it was an easy one for our first choice. It’s an interior design product. It doesn’t have to stand up against too much rough and tumble. That was using our first iteration of material.

Now, with our current product, we can stand up to a lot of rough and tumble. The durability of our product has increased exponentially with the application of 100% plant-based polymers that we developed during the IndieBio program. We are now looking for a contract to use this material to create a line of small items such as watch bands, jewelry, and footwear. 

One aspect I want to highlight is the versatility of our material. Because of its durability, flexibility, and ability to take on natural dyes, we can use it for all sorts of applications. Wissam Al-Madhon from Frecustoms requested biomaterials to refit an Air Jordan sneaker (not affiliated with Nike). We also made a commercial with a designer top made from our biomaterial as a concept that biomaterial can be super trendy, super cool. That’s definitely where we want to keep on being, on trend with our genZ target market. As we know, genZ loves sneakers, so that’s where we want to go next.

As for the business model, generally, we don’t sell products directly but work with partners. We work with brands to prototype our products and then bring our products to the market and co-brand those together. We want that brand parallelism, that we are on the same level. We are incorporating this really edgy, really crazy material. That gets everyone’s attention. It’s good for both brands. That’s the goal. 

As we scale up, in the long term, we will go to the automobile industry and other items you’d like to see with larger contracts. After that, we bring the price down to compete with animal, or even plastic, leather at scale. That will be the end game. 

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

I always want to be at the cutting-edge of technology. I want to do things that are really exciting—and I’m doing that today. It’s really awesome. This week, I’m in the garment district, downtown; I’m directing a fashion show at SOHO; I’m doing wet lab research. It doesn’t get better than this! This is a lot of fun, and I’m living in the dream everyday.

What advantages do you have against your competitors?

We have many competitive advantages. Firstly, Bucha Bio is able to grow sheets of biomaterials anywhere and without bioreactors; this is a huge advantage. 

Secondly, using industrial waste as a feedstock for our bacteria also creates an opportunity. This enables us to compete our price with not only animal leather but also plastic leather at scale. 

Lastly, using plant-based biopolymers with cellulosic chemistry delivers performance way beyond what’s currently available on the market, while remaining green. We have the performance and the sustainability, without compromising on either.

What does the future of your industry look like?

It’s our belief that industries like fashion, interior design, and automotive will evolve beyond leather-based products in the next 25 years. We want businesses to understand and embrace this more sustainable model.

Nyoka Design Labs: Bioluminescence Lights the World

Nyoka Design Labs produces biodegradable light wands with bioluminescence to replace toxic chemical glow sticks. Their cell-free, enzyme-based light wands are shelf stable and meet industry standards for brightness and duration. They are now selling these light wands for commercial uses, such as events and festivals, with plans to expand into industrial uses such as marine fishing and search-and-rescue operations.  Nyoka’s mission is to replace the one billion toxic, single-use glow sticks thrown away every year.

Watch Nyoka Design Labs at IndieBio New York Class Two Demo Day

We spoke with Nyoka Design Labs Co-founder & CEO Paige Whitehead to gain insight into her technology and motivation in building her startup.

What’s wrong with current glow sticks?

Current glow sticks are made of dangerous chemicals: these chemicals cause mutations or cell death if they are exposed to living organisms. To keep the chemicals from being exposed to people, manufacturers use the strongest petrochemical-derived plastics as the glow stick casing—this means these glow sticks will be with us for hundreds of years.

What inspired you to start your company?

There are two parts of the story. In the first part, I went to see bioluminescence in the wild. It’s incredible when I saw it for the first time. It has always captured my imagination ever since. Bioluminescence is the reason why I went into microbiology. 

The second part of my inspiration came after my first music festival. I had the best time in my entire life, but when I was walking out of the festival grounds, I saw all this garbage. The contrast was too jarring to comprehend. I saw all these glow sticks on the ground. At that moment, I thought I should really do something with bioluminescence and glow sticks. 

I didn’t think that idea would change my life, but it was something that kept coming back into my mind. I started working on it by emailing companies and professors that are experts in the field to get help. Eventually, it turned into a company. 

It was a long process but it started from keeping my eye open for things that I would be passionate to work on. 

How did you decide which market to focus on first? 

Based on our technology development, we can sell right now to the event and festival industry to provide people the most benefits out of using the light wand.

A number of things made the events industry an easy choice. There are tons of people in this industry that really care about sustainability and are looking for interesting new technologies to try. And there are already festivals that have started to ban glow sticks. Plus, it’s also a faster turnaround compared to selling to the government. 

It also happens to be super fun; people get excited about festivals! Since I’m young enough to enjoy festivals myself, it’s super fun to work on festivals. And our team also gets excited. 

As we make sales and work with current clients, we are also increasing our internal capacity to be able to work with really huge clients. Instead of a pack of 10 or 100, we want to fulfill orders for  a pack of 100,000. As we scale up, we are looking at how we can manage expectations and relationships at the early stage. It’s not an easy choice but we need to develop something that follows every stage of our growth.

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

Every now and then, I get an email from either a student or someone who found out about our work. And they tell me that they are going into microbiology or environmental studies because they have been inspired by the work I have done. That fills me with hope. It makes me realize that what we are doing has effects far beyond ourselves. We are showing people that sustainability can go somewhere. 

I remember all the companies I looked up to as role models. Now it’s amazing to see we are becoming that for people who are following behind us. It’s amazing to see that the world never stops—it passes on to people who are coming up.

What is your major differentiating factor from your competitors?

We focus on cell-free bioluminescent systems, the “bioluminescence without the fluff.” Our product is based entirely on non-toxic light-generating systems and biodegradable polymers.

Every product decision is made by asking ourselves: “is this a meaningful sustainable leap forwards?” That differentiates us from other bioluminescence companies developing living systems which require life-sustaining infrastructure to maintain light output. 

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

Single-use plastics will be banned and replaced with biodegradable, regenerative materials. And, of course, all glow sticks will be non-toxic and compostable. It’s just a matter of time until sustainability and circularity become everyone’s top priorities. 

Although many governments are supporting industry shifts with decisive bans, it’s still going to be a fight. Here in Canada, the government just designated plastic as a toxic item, but large plastics companies are already getting ready to sue! 

The industry has a lot to answer for, but can also make the most impactful changes, from the top of the supply chain all the way through to waste management. Imagine if every single throwaway item was built to be biodegraded, or even healing for our environment! It’s a change worth fighting for.

Sequential Skin: the First Truly Personalized Skin Care

Sequential Skin uses their unique at-home test to provide the world’s first truly personalized skin care. Their test considers both the human genetics and the skin microbiome to generate a report tailored to the individual. Years of research have indicated that the skin microbiome, and specifically the diversity (how many different types of microorganisms), are correlated with skin health, and further that microbiome diversity is influenced by a number of genetic and environmental factors

After using the Sequential Skin test, customers receive a personalized skin care regimen, including a face mask containing all the ingredients necessary for personalized optimal skin health.

Watch Sequential Skin at IndieBio New York Class Two Demo Day

We spoke with Sequential Skin CEO Oliver Worsley to gain insight into his technology and motivation in building his startup.

How did you recognize a need for Sequential Skin’s technology?

One of our key insights was recognizing that most skin tests are clinical, so they require a swab or saliva test. We want to revolutionize that. We bring a patch that is simple to use and isn’t associated with a hospital or clinic to customers, to enable that information in a really simple way.  

Our other insight was due to being based in Singapore, the heart of Asia which is very multicultural, and seeing there is a hugely underrepresented group of people around the world that don’t have the important health information about their genetics and skin microbiome. Because of the decreasing costs of sequencing, we are finally at a point where we can collect this information in a cost-effective way, using technology to improve skin health for anyone.

How did you develop your go-to-market strategy?

Sequential Skin has so far used a B2B model, where we help companies validate their new skincare products, improving skin microbiome claims. Speaking at conferences has initiated connections with many companies in this space and showcased what we are doing. They then approached us to ask us to test the effects of their products on the skin microbiome. 

Though B2B isn’t the entire vision of sequential skin, it’s been really useful for us to use the kit with the individuals working with the companies to test their products. It’s been a good way to both bring revenue and refine the technology. We are lucky to have that.

What do you think is the key differentiator comparing to others that are in that space

There is no other company looking at both human genetics and the skin microbiome for the purposes of skin care or skin health. That alone makes Sequential Skin standout from others in this space. The expertise of our team, having 3 Ph.D. scientists in genetics and the microbiome, has been really key for us as well. 

We have also been very lucky in terms of timing: the skincare industry is shifting to more personalized care, and we are hoping to ride that wave to help these customers in that space. 

What have you found most rewarding about entrepreneurship?

During the pandemic, we had a lot of time. We couldn’t go into the lab—that forced us to be at home, sharing these reports with friends and family and ensuring the science we are communicating is useful for consumers. We put a lot of attention on customer experience, and it’s been really rewarding.

Above all though, it’s most rewarding when customers come back and say, “I have been using this product. It’s really amazing and I really feel the difference in the quality of my skin. This really changes things.” I had a customer reach out the other day saying, “the products you gave me, I am still using them.” This is a year later! What’s most rewarding is to see the science being used for the intended translation and the whole process working really nicely. 

How do you predict that skin health will change in the next 10 years? How will this affect the broader medical field?

We talk about this a lot within the Sequential Skin team. Did you know 70% of consultation can be done in a telemedicine way? And it’s estimated that after this pandemic, 30% of these consultations will take place in some sort of tele-arena. We see that being accelerated in 10 years, to the point where everything can be done at home. 

Imagine: you have a kit that arrived. You perform the test and then your doctor is on the call with you. Everything is prescribed and treated through that tele-system. In this future, you wouldn’t have to go and wait in long waiting queues to see a doctor, and you don’t have the risk of being exposed to something else in the clinic or the hospital. I think everything will be completely remote. So, we are building this at-home test and refining the process to make it as simple as possible. I think that is here to stay. 

Microbiomes are generally the forgotten organ. But in the future, everything is going to be targeted around the microbiome, whether it’s to treat neurological or skin conditions; instead of using generic and often systemic drugs, the microbiome will be the focus of targeted therapeutics.

Unexpected Biotech

New York biotechnology is building the world of tomorrow and improving human and planetary health. IndieBio NY hosted “Unexpected Biotech: Innovative Technologies Emerging from New York Life Sciences,” to showcase the many sectors in which biology can be turned into technology.

Summaries and recordings from the event are linked below.

See the future of biotech at IndieBio Demo Days!

Innovation Success Stories: Building Big Biotech in New York

Review the session here

Hear how one New York biotech company leveraged previously undiscovered connections between the brain and the gut, in this fireside chat with the CEO of Kallyope.

Speakers
  • Michael Aberman, SOSV
  • Nancy Thornberry, Kallyope

Manufacturing in the New Bioeconomy

Review the session here

The manufacturing industry is undergoing a radical shift. Hear how New York is leading the change in bioproduction.

Speakers
  • Stephen Chambers, SOSV
  • Stuart Wilkinson, BioBrew
  • Will Canine, Opentrons

Building Greener with Biology

Review the session here

Biotech creates the opportunity to build a more sustainable infrastructure and eliminate our dependence on petrochemicals. Learn which industries are shifting, which are ripe for disruption, and how partnering for growth can lead to success.

Speakers
  • Gwen Cheni, SOSV
  • Suzanne Lee, Biofabricate
  • Eben Bayer, Ecovative Design and Atlast Foods

The Future of New York Biotechnology

Review the session here

New York offers biotechnology companies unmatched access to top talent, financing, and technical capabilities. Join this discussion as two biotechnology companies discuss what the city has to offer and what they need out of a tech base.

Speakers
  • Po Bronson, SOSV
  • Matias Muchnick, NotCo
  • Alex Lorestani, Geltor

Climate Tech Investing

Review the session here

New York Venture Capital is committed to creating a healthier planet. Listen to the investor perspective on the most promising life science technologies in this space.

Speakers
  • Sean O’Sullivan, SOSV
  • Dan Altschuler Malek, Unovis Asset Management
  • Lauren Rodriguez, ZX Ventures

Sustaining Biomaterials Growth in New York

New York is a global center of cultural and economic affairs, such as theatre, food, fashion, and international business. At Unexpected Biotech, IndieBio featured 2 founders who envision a future where biomaterials becomes yet another area for which New York is famous.

What advantages does a biomaterials startup have on the east coast? And how does one build a company that is as sustainable, successful, and long-lasting as the biomaterials they produce? Watch the recording or read our summary to find out.

See the future of biotech at IndieBio Demo Days!

Biomaterials in New York: Location, Location, Location

“The future of bio is design and consumer products… New York is leading design around the world, so [biomaterials innovation] should be located here as a conversation,” said Suzanne Lee, founder and CEO of Biofabricate. Biofabricate is a biomaterials-based consulting group, founded in New York in 2014, that works with startups, consumer brands, and investors to strengthen the global community of biomaterials innovators.

Lee elaborated on the New York location: “It made a huge amount of sense to start Biofabricate in New York because it’s that midway point between a lot of the [biotechnological] development that’s happening on the West Coast and the design focus as we look towards Europe.” New York’s location enhances the company’s ability to bridge the gap between biomaterials innovators and the consumer brand space. 

At the forefront of these biomaterials innovators is Ecovative Design. Ecovative grows mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, into objects such as leather-like textiles, compostable packaging, and food products. The company was founded in 2007 and is based out of upstate New York. 

“The region we’re in has a lot of great talent options. There’s a lot of pharmaceutical, global foundries, university systems, and–for most roles–we’ve actually found that the local talent pool is pretty amazing and undertapped,” said Ecovative Design CEO Eben Bayer. Thus, New York provides not only the geographic location for uniting design and biotechnology, but the critical mass of diverse talent required for sustained innovation.

Biomaterials Offers Cross-Disciplinary Collaborations

Despite the wide variety of talent that New York has to offer, recruiting still remains a challenging task because of the interdisciplinarity of the biomaterials space. Bayer advised that companies “see every person as a person and know that some of the best innovations in this field will be at the intersection of disciplines.” 

Mycelium-based products already lie at the intersection between biotechnology, food science, fashion design, and materials packaging. Collaboration between previously siloed disciplines encourages new innovations, creating sustainable growth both within the company and within the biomaterials community.

Lee, who entered the biomaterials space with a formal education in design, provides a perfect example of the innovation that can come from fusing a design-based background with a biotechnology focus. Up-and-coming biomaterials innovators are embracing this strategy by promoting intellectual exchange between research and design departments.  

As the lines between design and science continue to break down, Lee asserted that “design from both sides, that creative thinking with biology, is just going to be unfolding decades of exciting products that we can only begin to imagine.” 

Partnerships Make or Break Biomaterials Startups

While both the right place and the right people can strengthen the foundation of a biomaterials startup, there is no future for a company without a customer. This is where brand partnerships come in. Some companies’ technologies, such as Ecovative’s leather products, lend themselves to mass market partnerships. Other companies’ technologies are better suited for a top down entry and partnerships with luxury brands. 

As sustainably sourced materials become more and more important to the consumer, startups must carefully assess the motivation behind partnership offers from brands. Startups should be wary of brands looking to partner with sustainable materials companies only as a marketing strategy rather than a long term investment. 

To create successful partnerships, Bayer suggested that startups “understand where you’re at [as a company], find the one [brand] where you actually get a champion fit, and then really partner strongly.” At Ecovative, Bayer found this champion fit with a packaging plant manager looking to shift to more sustainable materials. Having a person of seniority who cared about the problem Ecovative was fixing allowed the partnership to persevere during the growing pains of the scaling up product development.

Recently, brands such as Hermes, Adidas, and Stella McCartney have all adopted mycelium-based leather alternatives. “When they [Hermes] embrace a new material it’s not just for one season­– they are actually investing in it for the long term. So that is a significant statement in the luxury industry: they view a technology like mycelium as a long term alternative to their existing portfolio of materials,” said Lee. Not only does this feed back into the market and encourage other brands to adopt sustainable materials, but it provides investors’ confidence in the materials as a long term investment and burgeoning marketplace.

And what does the future look like for the biomaterials space? The seeds planted by biomaterials startups are sprouting into a new generation of consumer products. Said Bayer, “the most satisfying part of this next cycle will be seeing products showing up on shelves.”

Find more insights from IndieBio’s Unexpected Biotech event

Biomaterials Startup Showcase: Algiknit

Liberum: Automating Protein Production

When we think of synthetic biology, we often think of synthetic DNA. However, the purpose of the DNA is often to make protein. Today we can order DNA overnight for cheap, but producing protein takes at least two weeks of lab work with various instruments and techniques. Liberum aims to free researchers from the tedious task of turning DNA into protein and make experiments faster and cheaper. I chatted with Liberum’s CEO, Aidan Tinafar.

How important is protein for biological research and production?

When most people hear the word protein, they immediately think of food. Proteins are far more than food. They are used as therapeutics, industrial catalysts, biomedical research tools, materials for manufacturing and additives in consumer goods just to name a few. Insulin is a protein. Chymosin, the enzyme that enables cheesemaking is a protein. Silk is two proteins combined.

Imagine if you could come up with a type of material that you could design with vastly diverse physical and chemical properties for a whole host of applications. Ideally, you would want this material to have three properties. First, you would want to be able to make the material from a small set of inputs that are readily available. Second, you would want to be able to control the properties of the material in a tunable or programmable fashion. And third, you would want the production process to be sustainable and capable of being integrated into pre-existing environmentally-friendly modes of production. Protein is that type of material.

Proteins are strings of building blocks called amino acids that are folded and held together such that they enable certain functions. Combinatorial combinations of 20 amino acids give rise to all the breathtaking diversity we see in nature. The type and order of amino acids are generally encoded within the DNA of an organism. A single cell such as an E. coli bacterium requires a couple thousand different proteins to carry out its biological activity. These proteins can act individually or in concert as networks.

One way to take advantage of proteins is to piggyback on an existing living organism. For example, we can use yeast to make beer without having to deal with its proteins on a granular level. We can also benefit from extracts, secretions or purified proteins from organisms found in nature.

In the 70s, we began gaining a grasp on being able to mix and match these wild-type proteins between organisms through somatic fusions and recombinant technologies. During the same decade, chemical synthesis of a complete gene was demonstrated for the first time. Shortly after, in the 80s, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was invented allowing us to make billions of identical copies of these chemically derived sequences. Together, these technologies enable us to go from a digital DNA sequence stored on a computer to a designer protein within weeks. At Liberum, we significantly speed up this process, so that we can create better products faster.

These breakthroughs have already brought about the synthetic biology revolution with a total market size worth hundreds of billions of dollars and rapidly growing. For example, the size of the recombinant therapeutics market alone is now over 100 billion dollars. There are two factors that have hidden this revolution in plain sight. Firstly, cultural taboos surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have incentivized many to categorize these products as natural rather than engineered ones. More importantly, the wide range of applications of these technologies make the market appear highly fragmented. End products include anything from extracts and purified proteins to small molecules, cell lines and other goods and services that use these as intermediates. While apps of the internet revolution came to most through their screens, proteins that lead the synthetic biology revolution touch people’s lives in so many ways that make them hard to categorize as a single class. Massive shifts are often harder to observe.

What are the bottlenecks in creating protein today and how is your technology solving those bottlenecks?

Making protein using biology is hard. For every idea, for every iteration, you have to re-engineer the genetics of living cells, grow them, break them open and purify. This process is very hands-on. You need to keep coming back to it over a week or two. The process also requires expertise and expensive equipment that take up a lot of space. Even if you outsource the work to a contract research organization, you are still bound by similar timelines, plus the duration of shipping. Liberum speeds up and automates the protein manufacturing process in a miniaturized device without having the need to re-engineer any living cells. We do it all in a cell-free system that contains the same powerful enzymatic machinery used by cells.

Now you may wonder, why can we not chemically synthesize these proteins; what is so special about using biology to accomplish protein manufacturing? The problem with chemical synthesis of proteins is really two-fold. First, the error rate for state-of-the-art chemical amino acid incorporation hovers around 1%. This means that for an average bacterial protein of 320 amino acids in length, only about 4% of the final mixture would contain the correct sequence. More importantly, proper folding of amino acid chains into functioning proteins tends to be trickier in chemical systems. A system that more closely resembles biological conditions, such as a cell-free protein expression system, can avoid these problems.

Technical challenges of making proteins aside, there is a deeper conceptual issue at play. We can certainly make a protein of a specific function starting from a working DNA blueprint, but designing that blueprint is far from trivial. While rational and modular protein designs can be highly informative, they are rarely strictly prescriptive. One often needs to screen sizable libraries of designs to optimize for a specific function. Even if we take wild-type sequences from organisms in nature, there is still room for validation and screening of homologues. Unless and until we have computational means that can predictably design for functionality in silico, protein prototyping remains an indispensable tool for protein engineering.

How might your company change the way we produce protein?

We want to enable protein manufacturing at small scale with minimal time and capital investment on the part of our customers. The key insight for our business model is that we have separated the fermentation process from the act of protein production. This allows us to operate as a utility company that delivers protein production capacity to our clients on-demand. Our device and cartridges are merely the last mile. The infrastructure we build to enable this capacity is where much of the value we provide will be generated.

Once our customers have ordered and amplified their template DNA, they can simply place it inside one of our cartridges and produce their desired protein with a push of a button. Having the capacity in their own labs will allow them to optimize the desired conditions. It also provides control and rapid turnaround to enable more bright ideas to see the light of day.

What lessons have you learned transitioning from scientist to entrepreneur during the IndieBio program?

Put the customer first. Science is just the tool we use to serve our customers and the community at large. The value of our company is a function of the value we create for our customers and other stakeholders in the community.

What does the next year look like for Liberum?

Rapid iteration cycles to loop in customer feedback has been in our company’s DNA from the very early days. Our goal over the next year is to build our infrastructure such that we can bring the power of cell-free protein expression to thousands of labs around the world at very affordable prices. We will continue to build upon enhancing user experience through further iterations of the device and cartridges. Our goal is to wrap up alpha and beta testing as soon as possible so that we can launch our product within the next year.

Cybele Microbiome: Skincare Through Precision Prebiotics

Nearly half of society has some sort of skin sensitivity. Cybele Microbiome is the company behind a new direct-to-consumer skincare brand. Cybele’s unique products trigger the natural skin biome to secrete skin restoration compounds. Today I sat down with Cybele’s CEO and Founder, Nicole Scott PhD. Nicole is a geneticist who became fascinated with the interaction of skincare products and the skin biome. Cybele was born when Nicole discovered how to gain precision control of microbes through the use of functionalized prebiotics. She thinks of cosmetic ingredients as first and foremost “food for the microbiome.”

Q. During IndieBio, you ran a small pilot study with your skin serum formulation and got some exciting early results. Tell us about what was seen?

Just two weeks into the study, I got a bunch of excited phone calls, because many of our volunteers were noticing the results right away. We provided the photos to a dermatologist who is highly experienced in reading skin conditions on photos, and he confirmed there’s notable decreases in scaliness, flakiness, hyperpigmentation, papular eczema, eczema, psoriasis, and even a decrease in a precancerous lesion. We knew that one of our long-chain ceramides is a known anti-melanoma compound– but these early results after just 2 weeks have us floored.

Q. Your prebiotic ingredients trigger the skin biome to create only long chain ceramides and no short chain ceramides. Why is that so important?

There are huge differences in the bioactive function of short chain and long chain ceramides. The long chains are the good ones. The short chains actually harm your skin, competing with, and fighting against, the good ceramides. Your typical skin care products that advertise ceramides don’t make this distinction, and can be doing as much bad as good.

Q. As a direct-to-consumer company, how does your hero product evolve over time into additional products and SKUs?

From skin serum we can round out that product line with moisturizers, toners, and eye creams.

But we aren’t a one trick pony. What is also really exciting is that we can get your skin biome to make hyaluronic acid — the most common ingredient in anti-aging cosmetics. These advances come from our platform to identify and formulate new prebiotics for other uses. This allows us to create a suite of related and complementary products. We also will customer’s skin biome assessments and input to help craft the additional products.

Q. How do you manufacture the prebiotic ingredients, and how does this affect Cybele’s margins in the early years of the company?

Our prebiotics are the output of fermentation. At small scale, we can purchase our prebiotics. They are not expensive. As we scale up, we can use any standard contract manufacturing organization to produce them for us — so no capex needs to go into ingredient manufacturing.

Ceramides are normally expensive to add to skincare products — and every bit added to a formulation hurts margins. In our case, not only is our product more effective, but we aren’t paying for ceramides. The skin biome makes them. So we have a much higher margin — estimated at 88% for our serum product.

Q. Tell us about your team.

Our team includes James Lamoureux — a microbiologist that received his PhD with Dr. David Low at UC Santa Barbara — and Hui-Ling Seow, who helped develop and carry out the marketing strategy for a HR platform Epic Quest Games, and Liz De Ruyter, who lead the Amazon On-Campus Store, launching products like PuraVida, Red Bull and Aveeno at UC San Diego. We are currently expanding the team by actively recruiting a Chief Marketing Officer right now.

 

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

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

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

First things first, how do you pronounce Greenhalgh?  

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

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

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

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

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

Energy savings – I like the sound of that.   

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

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

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

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

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

Spintex spinning silk (say it fast 3 times)

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

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

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

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

Why is alternative silk such an appealing planetary health play?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What inspired you to start Spintex? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Lingrove: Wood Without Trees

As humans, we love the aesthetically pleasing look of wood. It’s a beautiful material, but our planet is being harmed by the massive rates of deforestation as a result of supplying wood to various industries.

What if we could have a wood-like material without cutting down trees? That’s where Lingrove comes in. Using plant-based fibers and resins, they have created a more eco-friendly solution to fill the demand for wood. The material has a familiar natural grain look, and it’s already been successfully used to make guitars and ukuleles which have professional sound quality. We asked Joe Luttwak, the founder of Blackbird Guitars composite string instruments, a few questions about the history of Lingrove:

How did you become interested in science?

JL: I became interested in science through biology. The majesty and strength of trees was an early interest that extended to understanding the greater context of eco-systems as I got older. I remember being obsessed with smaller creatures like beetles and dragonflies whose exoskeleton are strong and light and later became an inspiration for the structural composite materials we make today.

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

JL: Blackbird Guitars spent several years developing biobased composites for musical instrument applications. Working closely with Entropy resins, our efforts resulted in the first line of Ekoa instruments. After achieving exceptional performance and aesthetics, it was clear that many other potential applications existed, so Lingrove was founded in 2014 to help other products benefit from our R&D effort. And as Lingrove expands our product offerings and expertise in sustainable design, we added a PHD candidate from UC Berkeley with an expertise in biomaterials.

How does your technology work?

JL: We combine natural flax fibers with bio-based resins to create a material that looks, feels and sounds like wood—but without any wood. The natural flax fibers are the strongest of all natural fibers, and with our technology they can be made to replicate the contours of many wood grains.

The bio-based resins mean our products are not derived from crude-oil, and are instead made from natural sources. We make a strong, water and mold resistant material that can be molded into any shape while still keeping the beautiful wood grain aesthetics.

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

JL: I was already an entrepreneur starting Blackbird Guitars 12 years ago. However, Lingrove is a different type of company, and being at IndieBio has been instrumental in helping me make the transition from my technology and current business to the thinking involved in the mass production of my product Ekoa.

How do you think your success as a company would change the lumber and construction industries?

JL: For generations we have cut down trees to fill our need for materials. But today 91% of quality timber is gone, and industries reliant on this wood are struggling with lesser alternatives. We continue to want what the heirloom quality woods have to offer, but wood is no longer a convenient or ecological answer.

The lumber and construction industries have been slow to change and to wake up to the continual environmental degradation our massive building needs create for the planet. With Ekoa as a new viable material for the construction industry, we would be slowing down deforestation and hence helping to reverse climate change.

Because Ekoa is lightweight, stronger and more moldable than wood while still having the high quality look and feel of wood, we know the industry will be able to increase innovation in design.

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

JL: We are about to launch a new application of our material Ekoa which will allow current and new buyers to design completely new forms.  We then plan to continue to roll out the mass-production of Ekoa and to steadily lower its price point.

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

Bringing Biotech to the Masses: an Interview with Julie Legault of Amino

Bringing Biotech to the Masses: an Interview with Julie Legault of Amino

Even though biotech has a huge impact on the lives of the general public, it is an intimidating and foreign space to many. The everyday person rarely feels like they can understand and play a role in this massive field.

Amino Labs is making science accessible to the masses by creating an easy to use biokit for the consumer home. I spoke with Julie, the CEO, about her unexpected path to biotech, approaching the field from design, and the impact of an at-home biokit. 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: I never imagined I would become involved in the biotech space, to be quite honest. It seemed very foreign, complex and closed-off considering my background is in Design and Applied Arts. I’ve been focused on translating important technological advancement into understandable and desirable applications for the broader public – mainly in the field of wearables. I was actually inspired by synthetic biology when I came across the banana smell program from biobuilder in a microfluidics course I was taking to create a wearable. Long story short, I met Natalie Kuldell of Biobuilder and was amazed that a non-scientist like me could hack biology and create a living thing in a few days. A living thing that produced a smell or a pigment! I was inspired by what synthetic biology allowed me to create,  and amazed at how much a similarly simple three-day hands-on experience with bioengineering actually informed my opinion of it – I experienced the creative side of making with biology, and saw all that is possible to create currently and in the future.

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

J: Seeing the reaction of friends with no hands-on experience, and my struggle to recreate a hands-on bioengineering success outside of a workshop or lab, the idea of the Amino One platform came about. An easy playful way for anyone to have the workshop experience in their home or school. Stumbling on a fun and easy hands-on workshop for bioengineering is far from common, yet everyone is affected in one way or another by the products of bioengineering.

At the moment, the science is facing a difficult problem. There is an incredible lag between the importance of synbio and biotechnology in our daily lives and our general perception of it. The applications have tremendous benefits for us, yet society’s view of it is broadly negative.  This is always the case whenever science advances faster than our ability to comprehend it, simply think back to the early days of computers. In this societal context, I saw an opportunity for me to do important, significant work. With my design background and newfound friends in the science world, I was uniquely placed create a hands-on learning platform that could reach a broader audience. This first-hand experience allows individuals to feel entitled to partake in the difficult discussions about ethics, safety, and applications of biotech.

We see the potential of the Amino One to enable millions more people to enter the field of bioengineering and make sure the next generation of problem-solvers is equipped with the right tools and knowledge to produce, create and solve.

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: I can’t imagine a world in which all the power, decision and creation offered through bioengineering rests in the hands of the few and the elite while it influencing our very way of living. Everyone has the basic right to understand where and how new food, fuels, medicines and materials come into existence, and experience the basic of this science first hands to enable them to make informed thoughtful decisions. Furthermore, anyone that desires it should have the chance to try and create safe and imaginative solutions, entertainment, and experiences for their own lives.

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

J: We really believe that throwing open the doors to the science will allow technological advancement in the field to advance significantly faster by allowing the public to partake in critical efforts, development and discussions. For example, the mainstream adoption of computers allowed us to take all the leaps and bounds that brought us us to where we are today: Most of what your phone and computers allow you to do, personally, professionally, socially and on the larger human-scale was made possible by this democratization of computer science. We know that opening up bioengineering in a similar way will allow us to go even further, faster.

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

J: Our expertise ranges from science, synthetic biology, and bioengineering, to mechanical and electrical engineers, software developers and data storytellers, to educators and designers. Having this broad range of skills really makes us uniquely positioned to understand the user experience, the servicing experience and the technical and scientific aspects of it. But mostly, I think it is everyone’s passion for different aspects of the Amino Labs Dream that makes us stand out.

A: Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

J: Considering I had never planned on founding a startup and it all happened organically, the first lesson is be ready for anything!  When my thesis research on Amino ended as I was graduating, it was clear to me that I had to bring the Amino One platform into real people’s hands. Though I still resisted the idea of having a startup, I brought some friends together and, as a team, we rebuilt the prototype from an academic demo into a consumer-ready (almost ready) product. Even though I still am not very comfortable with the idea of having a “startup”, it really is a great experience and sense of achievement to bring your research from some theoretical, somewhat working prototype into something real-world people care about and are willing to have in their house!  

The lesson I learned which applies perhaps mostly to the designers out there is that even though you know compromises will be necessary along the way they will still be difficult. Between usability, function, user experience, aesthetics, price, sustainability, focus, and funding, there are so many things to consider that lead to hard decisions. So trust your instinct, trust your team, but more importantly, trust your actual, real-life users. And keep user-testing! Remember the long term goals… I can’t imagine not having any Amino One, Two or Threes out there in the wild, and if it means compromising on that lush material I had my eye on for the shell, well, so be it.

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

J: Actually, I don’t believe we have faced a major challenge so far. We have been very very fortunate in that way. We do, however, foresee our biggest challenge coming up quickly – we  have the need to scale up production of the Amino One much quicker than expected (which is a good problem to have, but still)! This means entering the large scale manufacturing world. We have a few leads and ideas on how to proceed, but this will definitely be a new experience for most of us.

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

J: In the short term, we will be shipping out the fifty Amino Ones sold on Indiegogo, all hand-assembled by us in wintery Canada! Following this, we are starting our “workshop series” where we will be visiting schools, museums, fablabs all around the world for 3+ day workshops using Amino One to spread open bioengineering and refine our curriculum and product. The longer term will see us going into larger scale production and shipping out products to schools at the district level before entering the home market in the coming years as we develop more home-centric apps like the ones for brewing and baking.

Get in touch with Julie at julie@amino.bio

Taking Control of Cellular Protein Output: an Interview with Paul Feldstein of Circularis

Taking Control of Cellular Protein Output: an Interview with Paul Feldstein of Circularis

Cellular protein production is used across industries to create products for medicine, consumers, research, and more. However, the technology to do so in the most efficient and effective ways has lagged behind production.

Circularis is using their expertise in discovering, analyzing, and evolving cellular promoters in order to regulate protein production with revolutionary precision. I talked to the company’s CEO, Paul Feldstein, about his team’s expertise, taking this advanced technology from academia to startups, and how Circularis will push biotech forward. Check out his pitch live on February 4th on IndieBio’s Demo Day Livestream!

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

P: I received my PhD at UC Davis in biochemistry and worked in one of the pioneering ribozyme (catalytic RNA) labs. So my background is in RNA biochemistry, and I have been working on research with the most primitive molecular parasites. These are made of RNA, are even simpler than viruses, and have led to the development of useful molecular tools.

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

P: For years we’ve been thinking about better ways to find promoters since the current tools are cumbersome and hard to work with. Our technology can discover, analyze, and evolve promoters. There’s a lot we can do with that. We can regulate protein production to increase or decrease cellular output. We can do diagnostics to see how cells change in disease states. We can do therapeutics. Ultimately, a cell has to turn on a genetic program to respond to signals and that program is driven by promoters.

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?

P: We want to help great companies become even better. There are a lot of companies that are making proteins and facing challenges. We think we can make them better and drive the field of biotech forward.

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

P: Microbes, plant, and animal cells are precision instruments that everyone is trying to manipulate. Right now the whole field of biotech is trying to use sledgehammers to control these small precise instruments. We’re making precision tools to actually control cells effectively.

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

P: My experience in biochemistry is allowing us to develop the fundamental technology. Jim and LeAnn know how to apply it to plant and animal cells. We have decades of experience developing these tools from scratch and working together.

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

P: It’s an entirely different world. I’m used to being judged only on the basis of the science in academia. In startups people think the science is interesting, but they really want to know how we’re going to make money and be a viable company. This a big learning curve and means we’re learning a totally different language. Academics talk for a long time about details, and here we’re giving five-minute pitches to explain everything.

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

P: In the short term we aim to successfully complete our pilot projects and develop longer term ongoing business relationships with our customers. In the long term, we want to expand our repertoire of organisms that we work on from only microbes to include mammalian and plant cells.

Get in touch with Paul at pafeldstein@circularisbiotech.com

Bringing Science to Beauty: an Interview with Evelyn Chen of Nerd Skincare

Bringing Science to Beauty: an Interview with Evelyn Chen of Nerd Skincare
Bringing Science to Beauty: an Interview with Evelyn Chen of Nerd Skincare

The science of skincare hasn’t changed for 100 years. As we learn more about the skin, new opportunities for innovation are being uncovered that will shift the industry’s approach to beauty.

Nerd Skincare is leveraging these advancements in science to innovate safer and better skincare products. I talked to the company’s CEO, Evelyn Chen, to learn her story, how Nerd is shifting skincare perspectives, and plans for the future. 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?

E: I studied molecular cellular biology and have a biomedical engineering degree from Columbia. I grew up in the beauty industry and have always been passionate about innovation and bringing science to the beauty industry and skincare products.

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

E: We want to use the beneficial bacteria that live on us to better our skin. Before 2009 very few people were aware of how big a role bacteria play in our physiology. At Nerd, we design proprietary organic compounds that enhance certain desired bacterial metabolic pathways and, as a result, have beneficial effects on the skin. For example, there are bacteria that can reverse photo damage, promote fat tissue growth, and suppress pathogens. These are basically probiotics for the skin and can be used for cosmetic effects.

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?

E: Happy customers who are getting safer and better products.

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

E: It will make the cosmetics industry more transparent. And people will start to look at their skin and their relationships with skin care products differently. We used to categorize the skin into four types – dry, oily, combination, and sensitive. We want to figure out what healthy skin microbiome types look like, which is way more broad than the current four types, and help everyone reach their best skin condition.

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

E: We are a very diverse team who come from aerospace science, biomedical engineering, molecular biology, bioinformatics, economics, and design. We share the same passion and goal to reinvent the beauty category.

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

E: There’s a huge gap between small scale research in the lab and scaling up in mass production.  It would definitely have saved us a lot of time if we had paid more attention to designing our manufacturing earlier.

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

E: Paid advertising can only do so much, especially when we don’t have a huge marketing budget. Figuring out how to engineer a viral loop is fun and challenging for us.

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

We’re launching a closed beta test on our skin microbiome test kit in March. Our longer term goal is to be able to determine healthy skin microbiome types and help shift undesirable skin to healthier states.

Sign up for Nerd’s beta to get your skin microbiome type!

Get in touch with Evelyn at evelyn@nerdskincare.com

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!