IndieBio, a San Francisco-based biotech accelerator, believes biology is our most powerful technology — powerful enough to begin a “second domestication,” in which meat is grown in a lab and not on the farm — and flexible enough to put neurons on a chip. IndieBio also believes it can help scientists become entrepreneurs. The accelerator funds startups with at least two co-founders that utilize biology and technology to impact humanity’s most pressing problems. It’s providing startups with a space to help them develop those solutions faster and “make something that matters.”
IndieBio sees the application of biology extending beyond traditional biomedical applications. “Our aim is to accelerate biology as a technology. So, not just limited to the bio-medical vertical,” says Ryan Bethencourt, program director and venture partner at IndieBio. “We view biology as a technology that can be applied in multiple different verticals, across many different industries, including consumer, biomaterials, tools, medical, diagnostic, and therapeutic as well.”
Companies that join the accelerator do work on therapies, but others are building with biology. One of IndieBio’s first companies, Clara Foods, created egg whites without chickens. The process uses five times less water, creates egg whites with more protein, and avoids the health concerns that come with raising large numbers of chickens in enclosed spaces.
During IndieBio’s second Demo Day in February 2016, Vali Nanomedical presented targeted cancer treatments, NERD Skincare explained how it uses the body’s microbiome to prevent acne and fight aging, and Koniku showed off how it’s building computer chips with living, biological neurons. One company, Gelzen, showed how it’s disrupting the gummy bear industry with its lab-produced, animal-free gelatin.
Founded in late 2014 by Arvind Gupta, Ron Shigeta, and Bethencourt, IndieBio invests $200,000 in cash and $50,000 in resources in up to 15 startups every six months. In return, the accelerator receives 8 percent equity. Backed by a $250 million VC fund from SOSV Ventures, the accelerator also provides startups access to a dedicated biolab in downtown San Francisco for a year. While startups develop products in the lab, they also spend a significant amount of their time in the 100-day program focused on the business side of their science. Bethencourt says the goal is to “enable scientists to really transition and translate their research from an academic lab, or occasionally a commercial lab, into their own company and their own vision.”
IndieBio is also branching out. It’s partnering with World Agri-Tech Investment Summit and the Stanford Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES) competition in 2016. Over a hundred companies made of Stanford students and alumni refine their pitch, business plan, and technology through BASES each year.
Leveraging tech to solve the world’s intractable problems may be a noble pursuit, but it requires funding. Biotech funding hit an all-time high in 2015, and IndieBio’s companies are just getting started, raising seed money to take their ideas further after they “graduate” on Demo Day.
Scientists don’t often begin their careers with the goal of becoming entrepreneurs, but IndieBio is an example of one path they might choose to help realize the impact they believe their work can have. Bethencourt says the company’s mission is to have a positive impact through the companies it funds. If they’re successful, Bethencourt says, “Literally, billions of people will have used a product or service by a company that was funded by IndieBio.”