Accelerating Biotech at Startup Speed

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IndieBio, a seed-stage biotech accelerator, believes we can reprogram life to solve “intractable problems.” It’s helping companies develop faster solutions to those problems with $200,000 in cash and $50,000 in resources, for which the accelerator gets 8 percent equity. Recently the company held its second Demo Day. Fourteen companies got the chance to show off the work they’ve done over the last four months and convince potential investors of their product and business’ viability. It was packed: more people than chairs, overloaded Wi-Fi, pretty much what you’d expect at a time when biotech funding hit an all-time high.

Alex Lorestani, CEO and cofounder of Gelzen, likened evolution to “a million monkeys typing tech.” His company engineers cells intended to disrupt the gummy bear industry with its version of gelatin, which is a $2 billion market. Gelzen competes with traditional gelatin on cost, but its product doesn’t require growing an animal. Gelzen was one of three companies focused on the post-animal economy at Demo Day. Memphis Meats was another. The first domestication of animals for food happened 12,000 years ago. It changed civilization. Memphis Meats believes cultivating meat from beef and pork cells and growing them in a lab is the “second domestication.” No more antibiotics or animal slaughter. The company gave out “meatballs,” which apparently taste like meatballs.

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Beyond Trust Falls: The Future of Company Retreats

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Part of the NewCo team near the Undertow roller coaster in Santa Cruz, Calif. Photo Credit: Hayley Nelson

It was during the dancing Tuesday night. That’s when I thought, “This is the company I work for. This is amazing and I’m exactly where I need to be.”

The NewCo team wrapped up our retreat, in Santa Cruz, Calif., on Wednesday. It was a chance to learn more about one another, challenge our convictions, and bond. We cooked together and enjoyed great food, reflection, brainstorming … and dancing.

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Why I’ve Joined NewCo

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Why I’ve Joined NewCo

Several times in my career I’ve wanted to work with a team that seemed to know where things were going just a little bit ahead of everyone else. That’s why I was desperate to write for WIRED early on, why I was eager to write columns and edit newsletters for The Industry Standard, and why I wanted to test at Federated Media whether content marketing might be something I could be part of without taking a scalding shower afterward.

I’ve been lucky enough to do that with other employees and clients too, but the three places I mentioned up top had one thing in common: my contact there or my contact’s boss was John Battelle. So when I talked over the summer, after a much-too-long break, to my editor at The Standard, Jonathan Weber, to congratulate him on his new gig at Reuters, he told me about the project he was working on before he took the position at Reuters. It sounded like a smart, next-generation mix of an events business and a media business. And then he mentioned he was working on it with Battelle. Of course it was the next thing.

I’ve been helping NewCo in an advisory capacity since the summer, but I knew pretty quickly that I’d want to jump into the deep end with the people there. Their citywide festivals are a canny flip of the usual high-end conference model; the media business we’re building alongside the festivals covers the people, companies, and stories driving what may be the biggest shift in business and business culture since the industrial revolution. We’re getting started with a daily newsletter and a website and — I’m going to say this in public so we have no choice but to deliver — we’ll launch another editorial product before the month is out.

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Mobile Gets a Back Button

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I just opened an email on my phone. It was from a fellow I don’t know, inviting me to an event I’d never heard of. Intrigued, I clicked on the fellow’s LinkedIn, which was part of his email signature.

That link opened the LinkedIn app on my phone. In the fellow’s LI feed was another link, this one to a tweet he had mentioned in his feed. The tweet happened to be from a person I know, so I clicked on it, and the Twitter app opened on my phone. I read the tweet, then pressed the back button and….

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12 Predictions for 2016

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Twelve years of making predictions doesn’t make writing them any easier, regardless of my relatively good showing in 2015. In fact, I briefly considered taking the year off — who am I to make predictions anyway? And so much has changed in the past few years — for me personally, and certainly for the industries to which I pay the most attention. But the rigor of thinking about the year ahead is addictive — it provides a framework for my writing, and a snapshot of what I find fascinating and noteworthy. And given that more than 125,000 of you read my post summarizing how I did in 2015 (thanks Medium and LinkedIn!), it was really you who’ve encouraged me to have at it again for 2016. I hope you’ll find these thought provoking, at the very least, and worthy of comment or debate, should you be so inclined.

So let’s get to it.

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Ahoy, Matey! 826 Valencia Reinvents the Writing Center

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Becoming a pirate? 826 Valencia’s Pirate Supply Store in San Francisco has hooks to replace missing hands, captain’s journals, and even a leash for your monkey. Gear for aspiring pirates fills the space, but in the back of the store is something more fantastical — a writing center.

Founded in 2002 by Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and educator Nínive Calegari, nonprofit 826 Valencia helps under-resourced students ages 6 to 18 develop their creative and expository writing. Named for its street location in the Mission District of San Francisco, the writing center sees itself as a place, separate from school and home, where students receive one-on-one attention and think of themselves as writers. It’s become a supplement to the public education system in San Francisco, and with 826 National has taken its model to other cities.


In 2008, the nonprofit officially formed 826 National to support its other chapters. There are currently seven in the U.S. The writing programs are the same, but the whimsical storefronts are different in each city. 826LA runs a Time Travel Mart. Brooklyn’s 826NYC features superhero supplies. And the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute fronts 826 Boston. A new location in the San Francisco’s Tenderloin, the city’s most densely populated neighborhood, will open in 2016. 826 National has also inspired similar projects in England, Ireland, and Italy.

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The State of the NewCo

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Welcome to the last NewCo Daily of 2015. We’ll be back January 4 to chronicle what NewCos are doing and start delivering a number of new editorial products (including one in January). It’s too early for us to run a comprehensive year-in-review piece (hey, we’ve only been publishing this newsletter since October) but today we’d like to look at the state of the basic unit of measurement for the NewCo: the company.

The NewCo Daily covers the organizations and the people in them trying to make meaningful change. Our founder John Battelle calls them companies on a mission, which is a subtle but important difference from being a company with a mission. Most companies have a mission. But companies on a mission are more likely to be open, driven by purposeful ideas, connected to their cities and communities, and connected to one another.

A report recently published by the JUST Capital Foundation investigates the role of the corporation in American society. It’s an impressive undertaking — more than 43,000 respondents — and we’ll address it in more detail in the coming year. But two data points jump out. One is that, across ideology and incomes, nearly 100% of respondents said measuring “corporate justness” is important. And no matter how JUST sliced the ideological pie, it never saw more than 50% of respondents say they trusted corporations. The desire to make businesses better is universal, and the belief that companies must earn our trust is strong.

Most important is what a company does, but what a company says has a great impact on its behavior. For example, if you’re on a mission, your mission statement has to be more than a series of rote bromides. NewCos like Patagonia (which we profiled recently) say what it believes upfront. Its mission statement: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” It captures both the idealistic and realistic reasons to build a business. Another NewCo, Warby Parker, says it was founded “with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear with a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially-conscious businesses.” A great mission statement says how a company will do well and how it will make good. It describes what it means to be on a mission.

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Walmart’s NewCo Transformation

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How did Walmart build an internet startup inside the world’s largest retailer, undertaking one of the largest digital transformations in the history of business? It took talent, data and a huge commitment to Silicon Valley. Hosted at Walmart’s Global eCommerce office in Sunnyvale, California, this concise conversation between Walmart’s Brian Monahanand NewCo’s contributing editor Jonathan Weber reveals Walmart’s unique NewCo story.

Originally published at stories.newco.co on October 23, 2015.

Opening Up in Oakland

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Clef is a seven-person security company in Oakland that believes passwords won’t exist in five years. It spent the last year working with diversity and human relations consultants to reimagine how the company operates. On Thursday, hours before its NewCoOAK session, the company shared its new employee handbook as open source on Github.

Some of its bold practices include opening up company salaries and policy for all to see. It’s Clef’s attempt to signal its values, to be a positive part of the city where its employees work and live, and to spread what it has identified as best practices to other companies who are reconsidering how they operate.

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