By Emily Quiles
Human and planetary health has never felt more connected. The past six months not only blended our once bordered issues into one, it has also reminded us of our need for collective action and collaboration when addressing the global health and climate crises.
“From the pandemic, to forest fires, to floods, it has never been clearer that biology is both an opportunity and a threat to humanity and our planet,” said Sean O’Sullivan, Managing Partner at SOSV.
This year’s Demo Day, CEOs, scientists, and founders rose to the challenge to build paradigm-shifting companies — all while following the CDC masked and socially distanced guidelines. So it felt fitting to tag them as the ‘Pandemic Class.’ The groups focused on reinventing the means of production for a sustainable planet and engineering new solutions for human health.
IndieBio saw the need to innovate. We created a task force with O’Sullivan, to invest in COVID biotechnologies. By April one of the eight investments, Renegade.Bio, scaled routine tests to UN staff.
Within three days of the pandemic, we opened our New York location with funding from the Empire State Development Corporation and Partnership for New York City. We later hired eight new team members and a new Managing Director, Po Bronson.
As the pandemic exposed the need for a sustainable protein supply chain, our portfolio companies raised millions in funding (Geltor $91.3M, New Age Meats $2M, Perfect Day $30M). Three months ago, the founding members of SOSV and Mayfield Fund started Genesis Consortium, to encourage VCs and corporates to be actively investing in the future of human and planetary health.
Together, IndieBio and SOSV gained reputations as one of the most active early stage investors during the pandemic, and we don’t plan on slowing down any time soon.
Six months later, San Francisco’s 10th and New York’s very first virtual Demo Day class of 19, pitched their products and findings to investors over Youtube livestream — instead of the thousands usually gathered at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.
“Please keep the emojis going,” said Managing Director Bronson as he pointed to the mind blown and test tube emojis. “It is always a hard journey, and was made worse by being locked out of their labs and workshops in May and June.”
Ivy Natal, pursuing a revolutionary solution to the problem of the fragility and scarcity of human eggs, not only had to relocate during the pandemic, but also started lab work. “We’ve been able to make a huge amount of progress despite that!” said co-founder Jeff Hsu.
Even once the founders were able to reach research momentum, they were met with vendor, review board, and shipping delays. Which in turn gave the entrepreneurs big business lessons.
“I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter if we execute a protocol ourselves or work with partners and vendors,” continued Hsu. “What matters is cost, reproducibility, quality of the results, and ability to scale.”
Then there’s the virtual element to performing workshops over Zoom.
While the core components of the program were still there, “We miss the spontaneous interactions in our labs,” said CSO and Partner, Jun Axup.
NY Communications Director Julie Wolf explained, “A great source of pride for me has been watching them not only form a community with us at the IndieBio team, but amongst themselves — using one another as resources and continuing their relationships even after the program is over.”
While innovation holds weight, ideas can’t be developed alone. Julie Kring, CEO of Khepra, upcycles waste into renewable fuels, said “IndieBio opened doors to a lot of corporates, we have been making full use of the network and actively reaching out to incumbents.” To their surprise, they learned that oil and gas corporations understand the impact they have on the world and that climate change will affect how we live.
CTO of Khepra, Madeleine Allen, learned to leverage the wealth of expertise. “I am no longer afraid to reach out to and ask experts for help.”
Travel restrictions and bans halted movement across the globe, while literal boundaries have hardened, figurative ones melted away as we arrived virtually. For instance, time zones now feel meaningless in the modern global workspace. This year’s class features innovators from the UK, Israel, France, and Canada.
“This has been a truly global effort to get the companies on an accelerated path to market and ultimately effect positive change for human and planetary health,” said Julie Wolf.
The baby boomer generation grown into old age has brought unprecedented healthcare costs. To help combat this, we have refocused from diagnostic care to preventative care and holistic medical treatments. Biotechnologies have enabled tailored diets, developed real time health tracking devices for individuals and populations, and management of skin, and gut microbiomes. We have also explored avenues like AI and psychedelic assisted therapies.
As climate change defines the way we produce our food and energy, we have been especially interested in creating delicious sustainable substitute meat with cultivated fat. Another notable change is the textile industry, which is currently using bacterial nanocellulose as a way to grow customized textiles at scale and on demand.
Together the 19 companies addressed today’s environment and the future security of our bodies and planet.
Now, let’s meet five of this year’s ‘Pandemic Class.’
Ivy Natal aims to allow women who cannot have children except through the use of donor eggs, to have genetic children for the first time. Using a process which starts with a skin biopsy, to transform the skin cells into a new, healthy egg cell. Co-founders Colin Bortner and Jeff Hsu were excited by the potential for patients and for society. “Our goal is to give women confidence in their ability to choose whether and when to have a child — and in the long term, ensure that every person and couple has the choice to have genetic children, including same-sex couples.” Within the next year, the founders will have gathered data from experiments and results from partnerships. SF Batch. Location: San Francisco, CA. Investment Stage: Accelerator round. Read more about Ivy Natal.
KrakenSense detects pathogens in the food supply chain in real time. Their system is based on antibodies on a carbon nanotube, which allows bacteria sensors to detect strain specific E. coli, Legionella, and Salmonella in water. Born in Sri Lanka, CEO Nisha Sarveswaran, explained “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.” Sarveswaran sees their solution being used across the supply chain from early detection on the farms to prevent costly recalls, to critical supply chain points that are highly susceptible to contamination which adds to food waste. It is low-cost and functional with an IOT enabled dashboard and analytic tools. SF Batch. Location: Mississauga, Canada. Investment Stage: Accelerator round. Read more about KrakenSense.
Multus Media develops animal-free growth media for the cultivated meat industry. Their chemically-defined media will help lower entry barriers, shorten routes to market, and support scale in the cultivated meat industry. In turn, CEO and co-founder, Cai Linton, wants to help reduce livestock greenhouse gas emissions, which is currently at 15% globally. “We didn’t see it as a huge scientific gap in understanding, but more of an engineering challenge where we would take existing technologies and apply new, modern ones to innovate a new industry.” Multus Media is accelerating the bioindustry forefront to replace the environmental impacts of livestock agriculture. NY Batch. Location: London, UK. Investment Stage: Accelerator round. Read more about Multus Media.
Khepra turns waste into renewable fuels and chemicals. The continuous flow reactors deploy high-intensity ultrasound frequencies to break the chemical bonds in the waste. By up-cycling plastics and agricultural wastes into high value fuels and chemical products, CEO Julie Kring, hopes to eliminate the need for ecosystem degradation through drilling, create a portable energy source from fixed renewables, and address the plastic waste problem. Staying true to their silicon valley origins, Kring and CTO Madeleine Allen, started tinkering in her garage. Khepra now plans to scale up to a 500-liter reactor by the end of their Series Seed and add catalytic refinement capability to enable higher-value fuels. Looking into the future, their goal is to work through 70 tons/day, equivalent to the waste output of a small city. SF Batch. Location: San Francisco, CA. Investment Stage: Accelerator round. Read more about Khepra.
Allied Microbiota uses microbes to clean soil, ‘turning brownfield into greenfield.’ Microbes rejuvenate areas which have been distressed from industrial contamination, by degrading organic pollutants such as polychlorobiphenyls (PCBs), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and dioxins. Instead of the traditional process, which is to move the problemed dirt somewhere else. Spun out of Columbia University to launch, ThermO+™, CEO Lauralynn Kourtz said, “We are not only growing a company, but we are creating solutions to clean the environment and make a real difference in people’s lives.” NY Batch. Location: Stony Brook, NY. Investment Stage: Accelerator round. Read more about Allied Microbiota.
These companies have officially graduated from IndieBio. “There is a throughline between the companies we saw today and a better, more sustainable world,” said O’Sullivan.
The dream: “Your children will be growing up in a more healthy and sustainable planet with greater abundance and greater equity.” To make this possible, the investor ecosystem must step in to support these startups which are breaking ground.
Thanks to our mentors, Adjunct Partners, syndicate, and everyone who participated in the journey.
Interested in learning more or investing in one of the companies, visit the San Francisco or New York Demo Day Event page. IndieBio is currently accepting applications for the next batch in January: Apply today