David Rejeski: The Synthetic Biology Startup Ecosystem in the US

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The Synthetic Biology Startup Ecosystem in the US

David RejeskiGlobal FellowWilson CenterWashington, DC


The Platform Value Now project, funded by Finlands Strategic Research Council, focuses on understanding fast emerging platform ecosystems, their value creation dynamics and requirements of the supportive institutional environment.

Type 2 innovation platform: consists of technological building blocks that are used as a foundation on top of which a large number of innovators can develop complementary services or products.Synthetic Biology As An Innovation Platform

Synthetic biology is a maturing scientific discipline that combines science and engineering in order to design and build novel biological functions and systems. This includes the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems.

Growth of Synthetic Biology Firms in the US

Data: Synbio Beta

Eric SchmidtSam Altman

Peter Thiel

Tim OReilly

Bill Gates

IT Investors Turned Synthetic Biology Investors

3-4 years ago: $10 million investmentsGrew to: $30-40 millionApproaching: $80 million and above

Synthetic-biology firms.have raised a record-breaking US $560.7 million this year. 24 newly created synthetic-biology companies have raised funding in 2015, compared to fewer than 6 in 2012. Nature, November 2015


How Did This Happen?

Bottoms up (no national strategy)Self organizing, open systemChampions with a powerful vision (engineering biology)Trading zones/creating a common languageEducation & workforce preparationCommunity/network building20 years (no quick fix)Some luck


Woods HoleMassachusettsAugust,199620062016

36 participants:DARPANSFHarvard YaleMITU. ChicagoStanfordWhitehead

First Distribution of Standardized Biological Parts



London Science Museum

Synthetic Biology Open Language

Tired of Evolving? Make New Friends


Reshma ShettyNow PresidentGingoBioworks

Woods HoleMassachusettsAugust, 2003


34 participants:DARPANSFHarvard YaleMITPrincetonStanfordJohns HopkinsCalTechDukeMichigan


1.Standardization of components

2. Component abstraction

3. Decoupling of design and fabrication

International Genetically Engineered Machines Competition

2004, National Science Foundation funds teams from 6 universitiesOur goal was to kickstart a billion dollar industry. Randy Rettberg

> 24,000 parts

Teams add >1,000 new parts per year

5,000 students annually, 300 teams, 150 judges, over 40 countries from 6 continents



SB1.0 and Beyond


We needed to create a cultural frame to operatethat is was ok to practice research in this area. Drew Endy, Stanford

"Two groups can agree on rules of exchange even if they ascribe utterly different significance to the objects being exchanged.In an even more sophisticated way, cultures in interaction frequently establish contact languages, systems of discourse that can vary from the most function-specific jargons, ..to full-fledged creoles"

Peter Galison,Harvard, Image and LogicSynthetic Biology Became A Trading Zone

Semantic networkanalysisWeb of Science

Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center - SynBERC


Our research program is creating the enabling tools and technologies that will give rise to many bio-based applications in the coming years.

- $37.4 million for 10 years- $100 -150,000 per year for bi-annual retreats

$45,000,000$140,000,000DARPAContract ResearchNational Science FoundationFundamental ResearchGovernment Funding of Synthetic Biology Research


The Network and Community LegacyYou cannot create a technology alone. You need buy-in on the part of thousands of people and you need redundant academic programs and efforts in the industrial sector. The most important thing we did was community building; creating an excited group of students who understood the sector. Tom Knight, MIT

The Idea Legacy: Design-Build-Test-Learn Cycle

DARPAThese biofoundries operate at rates approximately 100X over the prior state of the art. Biotechnology & Bioengineering, 2015

The DBT cycle was transformationalit is driving the field. Jack Newman

The Idea Legacy: Standardized Parts


Amyris has 100,000 drag-and-drop parts now for organism design. Cant have DBT advances without standards.

Educational Legacy


Firms and ClustersBay AreaBoston

ZymergenAmyris Bolt Threads Pixar AnimationStudiosThe more open a place is to new ideas and new people in other words, the lower its entry barriers for human capital the more talent it can capture.


TimeStartupBarriers(Money, Know-how)Financing Ecosystems Lower Entry Barriers

Crowdfunded Capital

Crowdfunded Equity

Donor Driven



Community Bio Labs as Incubators

Will Canine takes a biology course at GenSpace

Raises $1 million to start

Novel Bio-ProductionRapid Design and PrototypingCustom Organisms

Creating A New Bio-Production Ecosystem



Increase the rateof discovery

Goal: Faster, cheaper, better DNA2 cents/base pair for DNA (3Xs cheaper)Biology becomes a computer science field

2014: 5-7 times more experiments/person/day2016 goal: 15-20 times more experimentsPrimary customers: academics and startups$25 million, two other rounds of funding24hrs/7days

We are a software company.Produce drop-in biological-based production that others take to scale and to market

Any product, any organism

Software groupFactory operationsDevelopment (science and business)

We.would like to fulfill a promise of innovation in a space that hasn't seen innovation at a regular clip, CEO Dan Widmaier

The activity hub for the synthetic biology industry

Multiple entry points for engaging a growing global community (iGEM, SynbioBeta, SB meetings)Disaggregation of business ecosystems provide new niches for value creation and startupsEducational materials/courses now exist to build and attract next generation workforceLower barriers to entry and new funding opportunities for start-upsOpportunitiesNew skill ecosystems emerging at disciplinary intersections between biology, computation, and robotics

Rachel Haurwitz, President and CEO, Caribou BiosciencesJason Kelly, Co-founder, Ginko BioworksJack Newman, Co-founder, Zagaya, Chief Science Officer, AmyrisEmily Leproust, Chief Executive Officer, Twist BiosciencesDan Widmaier, CEO and Co-founder, Bolt ThreadsPatrick Westfall, ZymergenThanks to:

Jay Keasling, Professor or Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Bioengineering, University of California/BerkeleyDrew Endy, Associate Professor of Bioengineering, Stanford UniversityPamela Silver, Professor of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical SchoolKris Prather, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, MIT

Jim Haseloff, Head, Department of Plant Sciences, University of CambridgeAdam Arkin, Professor of Bioengineering, University of California, BerkeleyThanks to:Partial listings