Interviews — 18 January 2015

Arvind Gupta is one of the co-founders at Indie Bio, the world’s first Synthetic Biology accelerator. Established this September by SOSventures, Indie Bio is an accelerator program designed to support biotech companies whose products aim to solve pressing global problems. Arvind started out studying genetic engineering at UC Santa Barbara, but decided to leave the field and got into industrial design. When SOS Ventures offered him a position as a venture capitalist, Arvind felt the time was right to move back into the biology field and decided to establish Indie Bio. “The timing was right this year for a couple of reasons. One reason is the falling cost of biotechnology research and the digitization of biology. You can model experiments on computers now and then execute them, and you don’t actually need a fully stocked lab. Second, the perception of biotechnology by scientists has changed with the start-up scene.

I think biologists are starting to believe in themselves as founders and entrepreneurs.”

IndieBio’s focus will be on companies that are trying to solve challenging problems using biology as their core technology. The upcoming round will include 10 teams from around the world, most comprising 2-3 co-founders. Indie Bio’s selection process is highly competitive, with multiple factors being taken into account. “First, we look at the scale of the problem that the founding team is trying to solve. If you’re trying to solve a problem that is fundamentally important to human society, that’s really important to our mission at Indie Bio.” The Indie Bio team also takes into consideration the technology being employed by the company, and how ambitious the team is being about what they are planning to achieve. Lastly, Indie Bio also takes into consideration the team itself, and whether they think that the people behind the idea have the ability to do what it takes to make their business successful. “It’s like a Venn diagram, it’s a confluence of all three factors that makes a company successful.”

Once accepted, companies will be given free access to a lab for up to a year, along with $50,000 in seed funding. The program itself will last 100 days, and during this time the founders will be provided with help and guidance by the Indie Bio team. “A big part of the accelerator is to help scientists become entrepreneurs,” says Arvind “I like to think about each business being built on three major areas: creating the value, creating the product, and extracting the value. We provide help in each of these areas”. Extracting the value has to do with creating a customer-product fit. Founders will get the chance to communicate with potential customers and understand where their product could make an impact. Then, the teams will have to create or improve the product itself. This is the actual biology work, and where the founders will likely be strongest. At this stage teams will be mentored and supported by scientist mentors and by Indie Bio’s Chief Scientific Officer, Ron Shigeta. Lastly, extracting the value has to do with the business model adopted by the team once the product has been created. At this point, teams will be mentored by business designers and other venture capitalists. Arvind hopes that by the end of the round each team will have a working product: “we create a design-research program for them where within 100 days they are able to get to a de-risking event that either scales up expression or production, showing that the team has made progress on creating the product”. At the end of the program, Indie Bio sets up a Demo Day in which investors are brought in and teams get the opportunity to pitch their product and raise follow-up funding. In some cases, Indie Bio itself will co-invest in the company.

According to Arvind, Indie Bio helps pave a path from biology to entrepreneurship – one that was missing before.

“We’re finding a third way for biologists to change the world. It’s very hard to change the world when the only directions available in biology are academia and the pharmaceutical industry. I think being able to quickly work on your ideas is a really important part of the ecosystem that was missing and we’re looking to fill in.”





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Noa Yaakoba-Zohar

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