Biomanufacturing technologies — taking modified versions of existing organisms and bending them to the will of humans — has moved from the world of science fiction to becoming a new reality. Across the startup landscape companies are launching to make synthetic spider silk, or make leather substitutes, or meat substitutes, or novel chemicals and pharmaceuticals. […]
Biomanufacturing technologies — taking modified versions of existing organisms and bending them to the will of humans — has moved from the world of science fiction to becoming a new reality.
Across the startup landscape companies are launching to make synthetic spider silk, or make leather substitutes, or meat substitutes, or novel chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
What all of these companies have in common is that they need to be able to rapidly experiment with different organisms and processes for cultivating them to make their visions work at a commercial scale — and that’s where Culture Biosciences comes in.
The company was founded by two Chapel Hill, N.C. natives and Duke alums Matthew Ball and Will Patrick. The two met in college at Duke and worked together in Google’s famous skunkworks division (then known as Google X).
Will Patrick, co-founder, Culture Biosciences
After leaving Google, Patrick, the company’s chief executive, wound up at MIT’s Media Lab where he was exposed to the work that companies like Gingko Bioworks was doing around biomanufacturing and became convinced that it would be transformational by human society.
“I was becoming incredibly inspired by all of that,” says Patrick. “What I was noticing was that the problem and the bottleneck in the industry was moving from industrial design to scale-up.”
The solution to that bottleneck rested in making the fermentation process more precise and more controlled, Patrick thought.
Think of biomanufacturing as a process similar to brewing beer. Organisms are sitting in a soup of goo, eating some things and excreting other things and all of that needs to be controlled. It’s one thing to be able to control the growth and extraction of goo in a test tube, quite another to do it at the scale of a hundred-gallon sized tanks.
“There are these really challenging aspects of operating bioreactors, sampling, and testing and getting data,” said Patrick . “We have been able to create this infrastructure that we can scale out.”
The company has built its own hardware — including customized robotics, sensors, and networks for its bioreactors, which, at 250 milliliters, are roughly the size of coke cans.
“That was the problem we were solving with Culture Biosciences,” says Patrick. “We do cloud fermentation.”
The company, which just raised $5.5 million from investors including Refactor Capital, and Verily, the life sciences division of Google parent company, Alphabet, already has 50 bioreactors and is going to be scaling up to 100 really rapidly.
“What we’re helping [customers] with is making their R&D much more high throughput,” says Patrick.
Those customers include companies like Geltor, the manufacturer of a collagen replacement; Modern Meadow, the company that’s looking to make a leather replacement; and Pivot Bio, which makes supplements for agriculture to replace chemical fertilizers.
Culture Biosciences actually shares office space with Verily, working from that company’s shared office space in South San Francisco, which was built to house startup companies in the life sciences space.
With Culture, the biomanufacturing industry and the investors who are supporting it seem to be learning one of the critical lessons from the last wave of big bets on biology — in biofuels.
“That first wave in the 2000s there were lots of lessons that were learned.” says Patrick. “You have to think with the end in mind. What can those systems actually deliver from a technical perspective? Replicate those large scale environments as much as you can in your small scale lab… Not having to compete with oil really helps.”
Ciitizen, the company founded by the creators of Gliimpse (an Apple acquisition that’s been incorporated into the company’s HealthKit) which is developing tools to help patients organize and share their medical records, has raised $17 million in new funding. Ciitizen, like Gliimpse before it, is an attempt to break down the barriers that keep patients […]
Ciitizen, like Gliimpse before it, is an attempt to break down the barriers that keep patients from being able to record, store, and share their healthcare information with whomever they want in their quest for treatment.
The digitization of health records — a featured element of President Barack Obama’s overhaul of the healthcare system back in 2009 — remains an obstacle to quality care and proper treatment nearly a decade later. Hospitals spend millions and the US healthcare system spends billions on Electronic Health Records annually. All with very little too show for the expense.
Those kinds of challenges are what attracted investors in the Andreessen Horowitz -led round. New investors Section 32, formed by the former head of Google Ventures, Bill Maris; and Verily, one of the healthcare subsidiaries that spun out of Google X and is a part of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
“Ciitizen uniquely understands the challenges cancer patients face – including the intense friction patients experience when managing their medical records in our current healthcare system,” said Vijay Pande, a general partner in Andreessen Horowitz’s Bio fund, in a statement. “Using their deep insights, the Ciitizen team have developed sophisticated technology and tools that remove this friction, putting the power back in the patients’ hands and literally saving lives.”
“The continued support from Andreessen Horowitz reaffirms the rapid progress we have already made and further validates our potential to significantly impact healthcare globally. Adding Section 32 and Verily to our effort further enhances our ability to transform the way patients engage with their health data,” said Anil Sethi, CEO and Founder of Ciitizen, in a statement.
Ethos, the startup marketing a new life insurance product for people who probably haven’t really thought about life insurance, may have 99 startup problems but new capital ain’t one. The company just announced that it raised $35 million in a new round of financing. That’s a pretty big number for a company in the normally staid […]
Ethos, the startup marketing a new life insurance product for people who probably haven’t really thought about life insurance, may have 99 startup problems but new capital ain’t one.
The company just announced that it raised $35 million in a new round of financing.
That’s a pretty big number for a company in the normally staid life insurance world, but considering that the company’s previous round of $11.5 million came from the family offices and investment firms of Hollywood and sports celebrities like Will Smith’s Smith Family Circle; Robert Downey Jr.’s Downey Ventures; Kevin Durant’s Durant Company; Arrive, the Roc Nation investment company from Jay Z; and leading Silicon Valley investment firm Sequoia Capital, folks probably shouldn’t be too surprised.
The new funding was led by Accel Partners, with new investor GV (the investment firm formerly known as Google Ventures) also participating alongside return investors Sequoia Capital and Arrive .
Ethos makes its money by providing an online and mobile sales channel for insurance policies created by the Lincoln, Neb.-based life insurance company, Assurity Life.
Rather than selling permanent life insurance, which requires users to pay in perpetuity and which payers often let lapse or opt out over time for a loss, Ethos bills itself as a more equitable insurance provider by only offering term life insurance, which policy-holders only have to pay for a fixed period of time.
The term life insurance policies are less expensive than permanent life insurance offerings.
Given how little insight customers have into the process other insurance providers, which pay their salespeople on commission, have incentives to pitch the more expensive policies that customers often let lapse. It’s a win-win for the insurer, according to company chief executive officer, Peter Colis.
Ethos co-founders Peter Colis and Lingke Wang
“They’ll often convince people they need permanent life insurance. And they’ll give a you a bait and switch price that less than 10% of people qualify for,” he said.
By contrast, Ethos doesn’t pay its salespeople on commission and prices are among the lowest in the industry — while the folks that can receive the coverage are among the broadest.
It’s a new way to sell an old product to a generation that doesn’t have much use for the stereotypical insurance salesman and can’t stand the process of hours of paperwork. Using population data, Ethos can offer insurance policies in roughly ten minutes based on a few bits of customer information.
Based on those answers, the company will calculate a price for a policy, depending on whether a potential policy-holder wants insurance that would last anywhere from 10 to 30 years.
“We’re processing thousands of apps and customers,” said Colis.
Colis and his co-founder Lingke Wang have deep experience in the life insurance industry. The two previously founded Ovid Life, a company that created a secondary marketplace for life insurance policies where policyholders could cash out of their policies by selling them to willing buyers.
In addition to its cash investment, Ethos also managed to score a debt round from Silicon Valley Bank .
As a result of the investment, Accel partner Nate Niparko will join the Ethos board of directors and GV General Partner Tyson Clark will become an advisor to the company’s board.
It’s no surprise that venture investors are becoming more interested in the insurance industry. Startup companies have raised billions and have seen multiple exits already as insurers try to shore up their defenses against incumbents in the industry that are also — backed by venture capitalists. Indeed, many insurance companies have set up their own funds to invest in new technologies before they become “disrupted”.
Silicon Valley is in the midst of a health craze, and it is being driven by “Eastern” medicine. It’s been a record year for US medical investing, but investors in Beijing and Shanghai are now increasingly leading the largest deals for US life science and biotech companies. In fact, Chinese venture firms have invested more this […]
Silicon Valley is in the midst of a health craze, and it is being driven by “Eastern” medicine.
It’s been a record year for US medical investing, but investors in Beijing and Shanghai are now increasingly leading the largest deals for US life science and biotech companies. In fact, Chinese venture firms have invested more this year into life science and biotech in the US than they have back home, providing financing for over 300 US-based companies, per Pitchbook. That’s the story at Viela Bio, a Maryland-based company exploring treatments for inflammation and autoimmune diseases, which raised a $250 million Series A led by three Chinese firms.
Chinese capital’s newfound appetite also flows into the mainland. Business is booming for Chinese medical startups, who are also seeing the strongest year of venture investment ever, with over one hundred companies receiving $4 billion in investment.
As Chinese investors continue to shift their strategies towards life science and biotech, China is emphatically positioning itself to be a leader in medical investing with a growing influence on the world’s future major health institutions.
Chinese VCs seek healthy returns
We like to talk about things we can interact with or be entertained by. And so as nine-figure checks flow in and out of China with stunning regularity, we fixate on the internet giants, the gaming leaders or the latest media platform backed by Tencent or Alibaba.
However, if we follow the money, it’s clear that the top venture firms in China have actually been turning their focus towards the country’s deficient health system.
A clear leader in China’s strategy shift has been Sequoia Capital China, one of the country’s most heralded venture firms tied to multiplebillion-dollarIPOs just this year.
Historically, Sequoia didn’t have much interest in the medical sector.Health was one of the firm’s smallest investment categories, and it participated in only three health-related deals from 2015-16, making up just 4% of its total investing activity.
Recently, however, life sciences have piqued Sequoia’s fascination, confirms a spokesperson with the firm.Sequoia dove into six health-related deals in 2017 and has already participated in 14 in 2018 so far.The firm now sits among the most active health investors in China and the medical sector has become its second biggest investment area, with life science and biotech companies accounting for nearly 30% of its investing activity in recent years.
Health-related investment data for 2015-18 compiled from Pitchbook, Crunchbase, and SEC Edgar
There’s no shortage of areas in need of transformation within Chinese medical care, and a wide range of strategies are being employed by China’s VCs. While some investors hope to address influenza, others are focused on innovative treatments for hypertension, diabetes and other chronic diseases.
For instance, according to the Chinese Journal of Cancer, in2015, 36% of world’s lung cancer diagnoses came from China, yet the country’s cancer survival rate was 17% below the global average. Sequoia has set its sights on tackling China’s high rate of cancer and its low survival rate, with roughly 70% of its deals in the past two years focusing on cancer detection and treatment.
That is driven in part by investments like the firm’s $90 million Series A investment into Shanghai-based JW Therapeutics, a company developing innovative immunotherapy cancer treatments. The company is a quintessential example of how Chinese VCs are building the country’s next set of health startups using their international footprints and learnings from across the globe.
Founded as a joint-venture offshoot between US-based Juno Therapeutics and China’s WuXi AppTec, JW benefits from Juno’s experience as a top developer of cancer immunotherapy drugs, as well as WuXi’s expertise as one of the world’s leading contract research organizations, focusing on all aspects of the drug R&D and development cycle.
Specifically, JW is focused on the next-generation of cell-based immunotherapy cancer treatments using chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) technologies. (Yeah…I know…) For the WebMD warriors and the rest of us with a medical background that stopped at tenth-grade chemistry, CAR-T essentially looks to attack cancer cells by utilizing the body’s own immune system.
Past waves of biotech startups often focused on other immunologic treatments thatused genetically-modified antibodies created in animals.The antibodies would effectively act as “police,” identifying and attaching to “bad guy” targets in order to turn off or quiet down malignant cells.CAR-T looks instead to modify the body’s native immune cells to attack and kill the bad guys directly.
Chinese VCs are investing in a wide range of innovative life science and biotech startups. (Photo by Eugeneonline via Getty Images)
The international and interdisciplinary pedigree of China’s new medical leaders not only applies to the organizations themselves but also to those running the show.
At the helm of JW sits James Li.In a past life, the co-founder and CEO held stints as an executive heading up operations in China for the world’s biggest biopharmaceutical companies including Amgen and Merck.Li was also once a partner at the Silicon Valley brand-name investor, Kleiner Perkins.
JW embodies the benefits that can come from importing insights and expertise, a practice that will come to define the companies leading the medical future as the country’s smartest capital increasingly finds its way overseas.
GV and Founders Fund look to keep the Valley competitive
Despite heavy investment by China’s leading VCs, Silicon Valley is doubling down in the US health sector. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JASON LEE)
Innovation in medicine transcends borders.Sickness and death are unfortunately universal, and groundbreaking discoveries in one country can save lives in the rest.
As such, Chinese venture firms are now increasingly searching for innovation abroad, looking to capitalize on expanding opportunities in the more mature US medical industry that can offer innovative technologies and advanced processes that can be brought back to the East.
New firms diving into the space hasn’t frightened the Bay Area’s notable investors, who have doubled down in the US medical space alongside their Chinese counterparts.
Partner directories for America’s most influential firms are increasingly populated with former doctors and medically-versed VCs who can find the best medical startups and have a growing influence on the flow of venture dollars in the US.
At the top of the list is Krishna Yeshwant, the GV (formerly Google Ventures) general partner leading the firm’s aggressive push into the medical industry.
Krishna Yeshwant (GV) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017
A doctor by trade, Yeshwant’s interest runs the gamut of the medical spectrum, leading investments focusing on anything from real-time patient care insights to antibody and therapeutic technologies for cancer and neurodegenerative disorders.
Per data from Pitchbook and Crunchbase, Krishna has been GV’s most active partner over the past two years, participating in deals that total over a billion dollars in aggregate funding.
Backed by the efforts of Yeshwant and select others, the medical industry has become one of the most prominent investment areas for Google’s venture capital arm, driving roughly 30% of its investments in 2017 compared to just under 15% in 2015.
GV’s affinity for medical-investing has found renewed life, but life science is also part of the firm’s DNA.Like many brand-name Valley investors, GV founder Bill Maris has long held a passion for the health startups. After leaving GV in 2016, Maris launched his own fund, Section 32, focused specifically on biotech, healthcare and life sciences.
In the same vein, life science and health investing has been part of the lifeblood for some major US funds including Founders Fund, which has consistently dedicated over 25% of its deployed capital to the space since at least 2015.
Under its extended purview, CFIUS will review – and possibly block – any investment or transaction involving a foreign entity related to the production, design or testing of technology that falls under a list of 27 critical industries, including biotech research and development.
The true implications of the expanded rules will depend on how aggressively and how often CFIUS exercises its power.But a lengthy review process and the threat of regulatory blocks may significantly increase the burden on Chinese investors, effectively shutting off the Chinese money spigot.
Regardless of CFIUS, while China’s active presence in the US health markets hasn’t deterred Valley mainstays, with a severely broken health system and an improved investment environment backed by government support, China’s commitment to medical innovation is only getting stronger.
VCs target a disastrous health system
Deficiencies in China’s health sector has historically led to troublesome outcomes. Now the government is jump-starting investment through supportive policy. (Photo by Alexander Tessmer / EyeEm via Getty Images)
They say successful startups identify real problems that need solving.Marred withinefficiencies, poor results, and compounding consumer frustration, China’s health industry has many.
Outside of a wealthy few, citizens are forced to make often lengthy treks to overcrowded and understaffed hospitals in urban centers.Reception areas exist only in concept, as any open space is quickly filled by hordes of the concerned, sick, and fearful settling in for wait times that can last multiple days.
If and when patients are finally seen, they are frequently met by overworked or inexperienced medical staff, rushing to get people in and out in hopes of servicing the endless line behind them.
As one would assume, poor detection and treatment have led to problematic outcomes. Heart disease, stroke, diabetes and chronic lung disease accounts for 80% of deaths in China, according to a recent report from the World Bank.
Recurring issues of misconduct, deception and dishonesty have amplified the population’s mounting frustration.
After past cases of widespread sickness caused by improperly handled vaccinations, China’s vaccine crisis reached a breaking point earlier this year.It was revealed that 250,000 children had been given defective and fallacious rabies vaccinations, a fact that inspectors had discovered months prior and swept under the rug.
Fracturing public trust around medical treatment has serious, potentially destabilizing effects.And with deficiencies permeating nearly all aspects of China’s health and medical infrastructure, there is a gaping set of opportunities for disruptive change.
In response to these issues, China’s government placed more emphasis on the search for medical innovation by rolling out policies that improve the chances of success for health startups, while reducing costs and risk for investors.
For Chinese venture capitalists, on top of financial incentives and a higher-growth local medical sector, loosening of drug import laws opened up opportunities to improve China’s medical system through innovation abroad.
Liquidity has also improved due to swelling global interest in healthcare. Plus, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange recently announced changes to allow the listing of pre-revenue biotech companies.
The changes implemented across China’s major institutions have effectively provided Chinese health investors with a much broader opportunity set, faster growth companies, faster liquidity, and increased certainty, all at lower cost.
However, while the structural and regulatory changes in China’s healthcare system has led to more medical startups with more growth, it hasn’t necessarily driven quality.
US and Western investors haven’t taken the same cross-border approach as their peers in Beijing. From talking with those in the industry, the laxity of the Chinese system, and others, have made many US investors weary of investing in life science companies overseas.
And with the Valley similarly stepping up its focus on startups that sprout from the strong American university system, bubbling valuations have started to raise concern.
But with China dedicating more and more billions across the globe, the country is determined to patch the massive holes in its medical system and establish itself as the next leader in international health innovation.
After a two-year hiatus, Gawker is coming back. Peter Thiel, be damned. Bustle-owner Bryan Goldberg, who paid $1.35 million for rights to the defunct gossip site in a bankruptcy auction in July, wrote in a memo to Bustle staff Tuesday that Gawker would relaunch next year with Amanda Hale, the former chief revenue officer of […]
After a two-year hiatus, Gawker is coming back. Peter Thiel, be damned.
Bustle-owner Bryan Goldberg, who paid $1.35 million for rights to the defunct gossip site in a bankruptcy auction in July, wrote in a memo to Bustle staff Tuesday that Gawker would relaunch next year with Amanda Hale, the former chief revenue officer of The Outline, as its publisher.
A spokesperson for Bustle confirmed the hiring and upcoming launch to TechCrunch, adding that Hale “will be responsible for building out the sales and marketing teams, and developing the overall strategy for the brand. Her first project will be to solidify a plan to ensure the Gawker archives have a safe and permanent home. We will be investing significant resources in this relaunch, and we will continue to make further announcements as plans progress.”
According to the memo, the new Gawker will take advantage of Bustle’s resources, technology and business platform.
“We won’t recreate Gawker exactly as it was, but we will build upon Gawker’s legacy and triumphs — and learn from its missteps,” Goldberg wrote. “In so doing, we aim to create something new, vibrant, highly relevant, and worth visiting daily … completely distinct from our other properties and sit within a separate corporate subsidiary,”
Here’s the full memo, obtained by The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Mullin:
Full @Gawker memo from Bryan Goldberg: “We won't recreate Gawker exactly as it was, but we will build upon Gawker’s legacy and triumphs — and learn from its missteps.” pic.twitter.com/4gpRIrau0x
Goldberg, a man, is the founder of Bustle, a site that creates content for millennial women. He’s raised some $80 million in venture capital for the site, which appears to have found its footing after a rough start. In 2014, one year after Bustle’s launch, Goldberg penned a painfully tone-deaf blog post announcing a $6.5 million round:
“Isn’t it time for a women’s publication that puts world news and politics alongside beauty tips?” he wrote. “What about a site that takes an introspective look at the celebrity world, while also having a lot of fun covering it? How about a site that offers career advice and book reviews, while also reporting on fashion trends and popular memes?”
Google Ventures pulled out of that round for ethical reasons following the blog post. Goldberg went on to ink deals with several VCs, including GGV, General Catalyst, Saban Capital Group and Social Capital.
As for Hale, she left The Outline in May amid struggles at the digital media startup. Just last week, The Outline announced it was laying off its remaining staff writers and would rely solely on freelancers. It’s likely nearing a shutdown, despite having raised $5 million in venture capital funding earlier this year.
The Outline’s reported struggles don’t hold a candle to Gawker’s tumultuous past.
Gawker parent company Gawker Media was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection when a Florida court ordered it to pay $140 million in damages to Hulk Hogan, who had sued Gawker for publishing his sex tape. The lawsuit, and two others against Gawker, was bankrolled by Peter Thiel. The PayPal co-founder and Silicon Valley billionaire had a long-standing vendetta against the site since it reported that he was gay before he had come out publicly.
In its heyday, Gawker attracted 23 million visits in a month, according to Wikipedia. Based in New York and founded in 2003, Gawker Media also ran Jezebel, io9, Deadspin and Kotaku — all of which were acquired by Univision for $135 million following the infamous lawsuit.
Autonomous vehicles need more than a brain to operate safely in a world filled with obstacles. They need maps. Or more specifically, self-driving vehicles need maps that constantly refresh and can deliver important information — like that sudden lane closure due to construction or a double-parked vehicle — so they can take the safest and […]
Autonomous vehicles need more than a brain to operate safely in a world filled with obstacles. They need maps. Or more specifically, self-driving vehicles need maps that constantly refresh and can deliver important information — like that sudden lane closure due to construction or a double-parked vehicle — so they can take the safest and most efficient route possible.
This specific need has provided an opening for startups in what once looked like a locked-up mapping market dominated by a few giants.
Carmera, a New York-based mapping and data analytics startup, is one of them. The company, which came out of stealth two years ago, has now raised $20 million in a Series B funding round led by GV, formerly known as Google Ventures. Carmera previously raised $6.5 million.
The company announced the funding raise Thursday along with a few other updates, including a new feature on its autonomous mapping product and a partnership with New York City. The capital will be used to hire more talent and expand.
“We’ll be doing the most aggressive hiring we’ve ever done this next year,” Carmera co-founder and CEO Ro Gupta told TechCrunch, adding that the company will mostly focus on building out its New York and Seattle offices. Carmera, which has about 25 employees, plans to have more than 50 by the end of next year.
“The money also allows us to be more prospective than simply reacting to customer needs,” Gupta added.
In other words, Carmera can move into new markets where it suspects there will be a need in the future, not just wait for a call from their customers. One of those customers is Voyage, the autonomous driving startup that currently operates self-driving cars in retirement communities.
Carmera has an interesting business model, and one that’s likely attractive to investors looking for startups with a present-day revenue stream. The company describes itself as a street intelligence platform for autonomy. Its main product is the Carmera autonomous map, a high-definition map for autonomous vehicle customers like automakers, suppliers and robotaxis.
The twist here is that the company uses data gleaned from its other product — a fleet-monitoring service used by commercial customers with vehicles driven by humans — to keep those AV maps fresh. The fleet product is a telematics and video monitoring service used by professional fleets that want to manage risk with their vehicles and drivers.
These fleets of camera-equipped human-driven vehicles deliver new information to the autonomous map as they go about their daily business in cities. Carmera calls this a “pro-sourcing” swarm.
The startup has now added a real-time events and change-management engine to its autonomous map that Gupta contends is a major leap forward because it not only provides more detailed information to self-driving vehicles, it gives these driverless vehicles a suggested path.
In some mapping products, there’s generally a base map and then a dynamic overlay. The problem, Gupta explains, is that when things change, like a lane closure, the dynamic map only flags it, leaving it up to the vehicle to figure out what to do next.
“That works fine when humans are driving, it just doesn’t go far enough for AVs,” Gupta said. “What they need to know is how do I path plan around it?”
Carmera’s real-time events and change-management feature
The map will detect a change in milliseconds, classify it within seconds and then validate and redraw the base map within minutes, according to Carmera. The company is giving companies deploying autonomous vehicles API access to this data at every stage.
Carmera also has a “site intelligence product,” a jargon term that means the company provides spatial data and street analytics (like how pedestrians move within a particular intersection) to urban planners.
Carmera announced Thursday it will begin sharing data such as historical pedestrian analytics and real-time construction detection with New York City’s Department of Transportation. Carmera will get access to key city data sets in return. The partnership with NYC DOT follows an earlier-data sharing initiative with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.