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Next-gen skincare, silk without spiders and pollution for lunch: Meet the biotech startups pitching at IndieBio’s Demo Day

Biotech can often, and sometimes literally, fly over our heads. However, the pandemic has shown an increased need for investment and focus on solutions that work on human and planetary health. For IndieBio, a science and biotech accelerator run by VC firm SOSV, this unprecedented year offered high stakes and new challenges.

Today and tomorrow, the biotech accelerator is hosting its twice-annual demo day.

Starting in 2015, IndieBio has provided resources to founders solving complex challenges with biotech, from fake meat to sustainability. Over the years, the accelerator has created a portfolio of biotech companies valued at over $3.2 billion, including companies like Memphis Meats, which develops cultured meat from animal cells; NotCo, a plant-based food brand; and Catalog, which uses organisms for data storage.

As part of the accelerator, each participating company receives $250,000 in capital, numerous other services and access to lab space. In July, the founder and head of IndieBio, Arvind Gupta, left his position to pursue a role at Mayfield. While Gupta remains an adviser, Po Bronson took the role as the new managing director.

Bronson was immediately put to the test. This year, the program expanded from operating solely in San Francisco to also create a cohort based in New York. It also doubled the amount of companies it invested in, bringing this cohort to 20 companies.

As you can imagine, lockdowns ultimately forced founders to delay key lab work in the beginning of the pandemic. Eventually, founders were able to partner with universities, contract research organizations or other biotech accelerators to begin their research, says Maya Lockwood, the head of investor relations at SOSV. The NYC class received a “golden ticket” for free lab space come November.

And these dynamics make this cohort all the more fascinating to dive into.

Watch the New York Stream here, which will happen on Tuesday October 27 from 1:00-3:00pm ET.

Watch the San Francisco stream here, which will happen on Wednesday October 28 from 10:00-12:00pm PT.

For those who can’t tune in, here’s a list of all the companies presenting in New York and San Francisco over the next two days.

San Francisco cohort

Reazent: Founded by Sumit Verma, Reazent has discovered and patented a way to manipulate soil bacteria into triggering crops to grow more. It works with 116 strains, from kale to potatoes, and wants to dig into the market of organic agricultural land.

Image Credits: Witthaya Prasongsin / Getty Images

Kraken Sense: Founded by Nisha Sarveswaran, Kraken Sense has created an in-line autonomous device to measure the concentration of pathogens in large-scale food and water systems. The product can be deployed in farms and kitchens and uses refillable single-use cartridges.

Advanced Microbubbles: The startup, led by Jameel Feshitan, has created a platform that helps practitioners deliver drugs to complex and difficult tumors. The company collaborated with NIH NIDA and uses proprietary bubbles to deliver chemotherapeutics. Currently, Microbubbles is working to solve two types of cancers: neuroblastoma and pancreatic cancer.

Cybele Microbiome: CEO Nicole Scott has created a direct-to-consumer skincare line with a focus on prebiotics. The line uses ingredients that work in tandem with the skin microbiome, even triggering it to express natural scents.

Ivy Natal: Ivy Natal is developing a process to harvest healthy human egg cells from skin cells. CEO Colin Bortner is working on a treatment for infertility and plans to enable families to have genetic children who can’t otherwise with current solutions.

Microgenesis: Led by Gabriela Gutierrez, Microgenesis has created a proprietary test and nutraceutical regiment (including probiotics) to help women who struggle with infertility get pregnant. The company worked with a cohort of 287 mothers, and with its product over 75% of patients became pregnant.

Image Credits: Westend61 / Getty Images

AsimicA: Led by Nikolai Mushnikov, Asmicia has created a new way to bring stem cells to microbes. The company could lengthen and grow the yields of bio-manufacturing, and is currently working to select the right fermentation partner.

Liberum: CEO Aiden Tinafar is working to disrupt what they think could be a $400 billion market opportunity: recombinant proteins. Liberum has created a protein printer that could cut down the creation of custom recombinant proteins from weeks to a few hours.

Khepra: Led by Julie Kring, Khepra is leveraging fuel production as a way to store extra renewable energy. The company is building a series of reactors that could take your old plastic bottles and cardboard boxes, extract chemicals and fuels, and sell that fuel to refineries.

Carbix: Carbix, led by Quincy Sammy, takes enriched CO2 and converts it into raw material that can then be repurposed into industrial products.

Spintext: CEO Alex Greenhalgh is creating a new, scalable way of making silk. The company mimics spider spinning and uses a natural protein, with an end product that they see as better than premium silk.

New York cohort

Biomage: CEO Adam Kurkiewicz wants to make single-cell sequencing data more accessible for research biologistics. The technology could help scientists explore human cells to enhance medicine and drug discovery.

Diptera.ai: Vic Levitin is creating a scalable, affordable and sustainable way to fight mosquitoes and their diseases.

Cayuga Biotech: Damien Kudela, CEO of Cayuga Biotech, has created a drug that could induce clots and stop severe bleeding situations.

Brightcure: Chiara Heide, CEO of Brightcure, has created a bioactive cream that uses natural bacterium to restore a woman’s natural microbiome.

Multus Media: CEO Cai Linton is producing an ingredient that hopes to make cultivated meat production affordable and accessible.

Image Credits: Getty Images

BioFeyn: The company uses nanotechnologies based on human medicine to deliver nutrients and disease prevention to fish. CEO Timothy Bouley is working to make eating healthy fish a sustainable practice.

Halomine: Ted Eveleth, CEO, wants to turn every surface into an antimicrobial surface. Halomine’s product, Halofilm, can be used in tandem with any household bleach cleaner to enhance disinfection techniques.

Allied Microbiota: Lauralynn Kourtz, CEO of Allied Microbiota, wants to use natural microbes to eliminate toxic waste. The company uses bacteria to clean contaminated soils.

Scindo: Scindo, led by Gustaf Hemberg, uses enzymes to make plastic biodegradable.

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Ocean Solutions Accelerator’s third wave tackles a new set of aquatic challenges

The Sustainable Ocean Alliance and its Ocean Solutions Accelerator take on the problems facing our planet’s waters, and the latest cohort of companies in the latter show a fresh slate of issues to address and resources to utilize. From reef rehabilitation to a “Fitbit for fishing boats,” they’re trying to fix things up in the oceans or at least mitigate the damage we’re doing down there.

The accelerator’s four week, all-virtual (like all of them these days) program focuses on the unique challenges faced by social good companies in this space.

“Startups in the sector are still struggling to find adequate funding during the early phases of operations,” the accelerator’s co-founder Craig Dudenhoffer told TechCrunch in an email. “Many of the solutions (especially hardware) are costly to produce and take a heavy upfront cash investment. We found that out of the hundreds of applicants, only a fraction had received substantial investments. We believe more investors need to educate themselves on opportunities in the ocean sector.”

The SOA team selected nine companies for this wave, only three of which are U.S.-based. “This year, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw our largest and most diverse applicant pool to date,” said Dudenhoffer in the release announcing the companies. “I was particularly encouraged by this year’s applicant pool to see the varying types of solutions, as well as an increase in the number of entrepreneurs that are actively building technologies to address the critical challenges that face the ocean.”

SOA founder Daniela Fernandez recently noted that their area of operation is especially international, so keeping things virtual actually opens up a lot of possibilities, especially for smaller companies that can’t afford to temporarily relocate. “It gives you so many options and makes it far more inclusive,” she told me. “Everybody just has more flexibility and tranquility. So I believe we were headed in that direction anyway.”

Image Credits: ARC Marine

Here are the nine lucky companies:

  • AquaAI (Norway): Developed a fishlike autonomous underwater vehicle for unobtrusive observation and inspection.
  • AKUA (U.S.): Makes super-healthy kelp-based foods, starting with jerky and soon burgers.
  • ARC Marine (U.K.): Helps protect and rehabilitate reefs with sustainable “Reef Cube” habitat and nursery.
  • Desolenator (The Netherlands): Solar-powered desalination for communities facing fresh water shortages.
  • FlyWire (U.S.): Digital catch monitoring for compliance with regulations and connected commerce.
  • microTERRA (Mexico): Sustainable, aquafarm-grown protein for animal feed.
  • Oceanworks (U.S.): Marketplace for recycled ocean-sourced plastic.
  • PlanetCare (Slovenia): Filter for catching microfibers in washing machine drains before they enter the water system.
  • Trademodo (Canada): New, comprehensive platform for ethical seafood businesses and supply chains.

The companies will get the tender loving care lavished on all the new accelerator’s participants, but possibly also a bit of harsh reality as they learn the difficulties of being an ethics-focused company with long-term goals in a capitalist system that demands almost immediate returns. One of the most important steps in building one of these companies seems to be getting over this demoralizing hump and seeing the possibilities in spite of the difficulties.

A demo day is scheduled for November 5, which is good timing because probably nothing else will be happening around then.

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Mozilla goes full incubator with ‘Fix The Internet’ startup lab and early stage investments

After testing the waters this spring with its incubator-esque MVP Lab, Mozilla is doubling down on the effort with a formal program dangling $75,000 investments in front of early stage companies. The focus on “a better society” and the company’s open-source clout should help differentiate it from the other options out there.

Spurred on by the success of a college hackathon using a whole four Apple Watches in February, Mozilla decided to try a more structured program in the spring. The first test batch of companies is underway, having started in April an 8-week program offering $2,500 per team member and $40,000 in prizes to give away at the end. Developers in a variety of domains were invited to apply, as long as they fit the themes of empowerment, privacy, decentralization, community, and so on.

It drew the interest of some 1,500 people in 520 projects, and 25 were chosen to receive the full package and stipend during the development of their MVP. The rest were invited to an “Open Lab” with access to some of Mozilla’s resources.

One example of what they were looking for is Ameelio, a startup whose members are hoping to render paid video calls in prisons obsolete with a free system, and provide free letter delivery to inmates as well.

“The mission of this incubator is to catalyze a new generation of internet products and services where the people are in control of how the internet is used to shape society,” said Bart Decrem, a Mozilla veteran (think Firefox 1.0) and one of the principals at the Builders Studio. “And where business models should be sustainable and valuable, but do not need to squeeze every last dollar (or ounce of attention) from the user.”

“We think we are tapping into the energy in the student and professional ‘builder communities’ around wanting to work on ideas that matter. That clarion call really resonates,” he said. Not only that, but students with canceled internships are showing up in droves, it seems — mostly computer science, but design and other disciplines as well. There are no restrictions on applicants, like country of origin, previous funding, or anything like that.

The new incubator will be divided into three tiers.

First is the “Startup Studio,” which involves a $75,000 investment, “a post-money SAFE for 3.5% of the company when the SAFE converts (or we will participate in an already active funding round),” Decrem clarified.

Below that, as far as pecuniary commitment goes, is the “MVP Lab,” similar to the spring program but offering a total of $16,000 per team. And below that is the Open Lab again, but with ten $10,000 prizes rather than a top 3.

There are no hard numbers on how many teams will make up the two subsidized tiers, but think 20-30 total as opposed to 50 or 100. Meanwhile, collaboration, cross-pollination, and open source code is encouraged, as you might expect in a Mozilla project. And the social good aspect is strong as well, as a sampling of the companies in the spring batch shows.

Neutral is a browser plugin that shows the carbon footprint of your Amazon purchases, adding some crucial guilt to transactions we forget are powered by footsore humans and gas-guzzling long-distance goods transport. Meething, Cabal, and Oasis are taking on video conferencing, team chat, and social feeds from a decentralized standpoint, using the miracles of modern internet architecture to accomplish with distributed systems what once took centralized servers.

This summer will see the program inaugurated, but it’s only “the beginning of a multiyear effort,” Decrem said.

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Allen Institute for AI’s Incubator expands with $10M fund from high-profile VCs

The Allen Institute for AI (AI2) started its incubator up two years ago, helping launch companies like Xnor.ai, Blue Canoe, and WellSaidLabs. Their success has attracted funding from not just local Seattle VC outfit Madrona, but Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins, and Two Sigma as well, resulting in a new $10M fund that should help keep the lights on.

The AI2 Incubator, led by Jacob Colker since its inception in 2017, has focused on launching a handful of companies every year that in some way leverage a serious AI advantage. Blue Canoe, for instance, does natural language processing with a focus on accent modification; Xnor.ai is working on ultra-low-power implementations of machine learning algorithms, and was just acquired yesterday by Apple for a reported $200M.

“We think the next generation of so called AI-first companies are going to have to graduate into building long term, successful businesses that start with an AI edge,” said the program’s new managing director, Bryan Hale. “And the people who can help do this are the ones who have helped build iconic companies.”

Hence the involvement of household names (in the startup community anyhow) Sequoia and Kleiner Perkins, and Two Sigma from New York. Seattle-based Madrona also recently invested in AI2 company Lexion. It’s a pretty solid crowd to be running with, and as Colker pointed out, “they don’t often come together.”

“But also, they looked up into the northwest and said, what’s going on up there?” added Hale. Indeed, Seattle has over the last few years blossomed into a haven for AI research, with many major tech companies establishing or expanding satellite offices here at least partly concerned with the topic: Apple, Google, Nvidia, and Facebook among others, and of course local standbys Amazon, Microsoft, and Adobe.

Practically speaking the new fund will let the incubator continue on its current path, but with a bit more runway and potentially bigger investments in the startups it works with.

“We just have a lot more resources now to help our companies succeed,” said Colker. “Previously we were able to write up to about a $250,000 check, but now we can write up to maybe $800,000 per company. That means they have a lot more time to build out their team, aggregate training data, test their models, all these points that are important for a team to raise a bigger, better VC funding round.”

AI2 prides itself on its large staff of PhDs and open research strategy, publishing pretty much everything publicly in order to spur the field onwards. Access to these big brains, many of which have bred successful startups of their own, is no less a draw than the possibility of more general business mentorship and funding.

Colker said the incubator will continue to produce 3-5 startups per year, each one taking “about 12-18 months, from whiteboard to venture funding.” AI, he pointed out, often needs more time than a consumer app or even enterprise play, since it’s as much research as it is development. But so far the model seems to work quite well.

“There are very few places in the world where an entrepreneur can come to take advantage of the brain power of a hundred PhDs and support staff. We’ve got a new research center with 70 desks, we’ve got plenty of space for those teams to grow,” he said. “We’re incredibly well positioned to support the next wave of AI companies.”

Source: TechCrunch