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C&EN’s 2015–2017 Start-Ups to Watch: Where are they now?

Many of the young, chemistry-based companies C&EN is tracking made headlines in the past year

by Melody M. Bomgardner
November 5, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 44


Attracted corporate partners

AgriMetis (class of 2016) will collaborate with Monsanto on insecticides made from the start-up’s semisynthetic compounds. AgriMetis alters spinosad compounds, made via fermentation, to improve potency and selectivity to specific insects.

10 Start-Ups to Watch 2018

Citrine Informatics (class of 2017) linked up with BASF to use artificial intelligence to develop environmental catalyst technologies. The firms will work on catalysts that can capture greenhouse gases, including CO2.

Photo shows close-up view of a catalyst used to trap CO2.
Credit: BASF
A close-up cross section of a catalyst developed by Citrine Informatics and BASF that traps greenhouse gases.

DiCE Molecules (class of 2016) inked a multiyear research collaboration with Genentech to discover small-molecule drug candidates. The partnership will use DiCE’s platform for directed chemical evolution to optimize small molecules for targets such as protein-protein interfaces.

Ecovia Renewables (class of 2017) joined with Seppic, a specialty chemical producer, to develop a suite of biobased and biodegradable polymers for the health and beauty markets. Seppic was also an investor in a $1 million funding round for the start-up.

Image shows two vials, one with a few small polymer beads, one with them fully expanded to fit the vial.
Credit: Ecovia Renewables
Ecovia Renewables' biobased superabsorbent polymers (right) expand to absorb water (left).

Lodo Therapeutics (class of 2016) teamed up with Genentech to mine bacterial genomes for novel natural products. The deal could be worth up to $969 million.

NuMat Technologies (class of 2016) will produce metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) for Versum Materials, a supplier of materials and gases for the semiconductor industry. MOFs can be used to selectively capture, store, or separate gases and liquids.

Silatronix (class of 2016) licensed its organosilicon materials to Hitachi Chemical for use in lithium-ion battery electrolytes. The start-up’s electrolytes can stop unwanted damage caused by chemical reactions in carbonate solvents used in the batteries.

Solid Power (class of 2017) was tapped to work with BMW on solid-state batteries that can extend the driving range of electric vehicles. Solid Power’s inorganic materials replace liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries.

Image shows workers assembling a BMW electric car.
Credit: BMW
Solid Power is collaborating with BMW on solid-state batteries for electric vehicles.

Raised funds

Carbon3D (class of 2015), now called Carbon, raised $200 million from investors Baillie Gifford, Sequoia Capital, GE Ventures, and the venture arm of Adidas. The developer of three-dimensional printing materials and systems will use the money to scale up manufacturing.

Citrine Informatics (class of 2017) raised $8 million from Tencent Holdings, a Chinese internet services firm, and B&C Holdings, an Austrian private equity firm. Citrine will use the funds to expand its artificial intelligence materials design offering internationally and hire data science, engineering, and sales staff.

NuMat Technologies (class of 2016), which makes products based on metal-organic frameworks, raised $12.4 million from investors, including OS Fund, Osage University Partners, and Tin Shed Ventures, Patagonia’s investment arm.

Provivi (class of 2015), a developer of synthetic pheromones for insect pest control, raised $31.5 million from BASF and others.

Relay Therapeutics (class of 2017) raised $63 million to develop its cancer treatment discovery technology. Relay uses computational tools to capture movies of protein motion to find otherwise-elusive drug targets. Investors included BVF Partners, GV (formerly Google Ventures), and Section 32.

This animated gif by Relay Therapeutics shows a protein folding.
Credit: Relay Therapeutics
Relay Therapeutics studies protein motion to help find drug discovery targets.

Revolution Medicines (class of 2015), a cancer-focused drug discovery start-up, raised $56 million from Nextech Invest, Casdin Capital, Third Rock Ventures, and others. In October, it acquired Warp Drive Bio, a genome-mining drug discovery firm, in an all-stock deal.


Solid Power (class of 2017) raised $20 million from Samsung, Solvay Ventures, A123 Systems, and the venture arm of Hyundai. The start-up has developed a solid-state battery prototype containing its lithium-sulfide solid electrolyte. The company says such a battery can store more energy more safely than can lithium-ion batteries of the same size that use liquid electrolytes.

Twist Bioscience (class of 2015), a pioneer in low-cost DNA synthesis, raised $50 million to advance the use of its process to store digital information in DNA and for drug discovery. The investors were not disclosed. On Oct. 31, Twist went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange, raising $70 million in its initial public stock sale.

Won grants

NOHMs Technologies (class of 2015) was awarded two Small Business Innovation Research Phase I grants. The first, from the U.S. Air Force, is to develop nonflammable lithium-ion batteries for aerospace applications. The second, from the National Aeronautics & Space Administration, is to demonstrate high-energy and extremely lightweight lithium batteries for use in space.

Silatronix (class of 2016) won a $2 million contract from the U.S. Navy to use its organosilicon electrolytes in new types of lithium-ion batteries that contain silicon rather than graphite anodes.

Launched products

SLIPS Technologies (class of 2015), which has changed its name to Adaptive Surface Technologies, introduced SLIPS Repel, a line of industrial coatings used for manufacturing, marine, and medical applications. The coatings create a slippery, self-healing liquid layer on surfaces to allow sticky materials to flow easily and leave no residue behind.

Image shows a marine surface with and without SLIPS coating.
Credit: Adaptive Surface Technologies
A slippery coating from SLIPS Technologies (now Adaptive Surface Technologies) renders a marine surface water repellent (right). Without the coating, the same surface corrodes.

Was acquired

Olivo Laboratories (class of 2016), developer of a polymer that reduces the appearance of wrinkles and bags under the eyes, was purchased by the Japanese cosmetics maker Shiseido. Olivo’s products are formed into a breathable second skin that can be applied to the face.

Won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry

A photo of Frances Arnold.
Credit: Caltech
Frances Arnold, cofounder of Provivi, won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Provivi (class of 2015) cofounder and California Institute of Technology chemical engineering professor Frances H. Arnold won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the directed evolution of enzymes. Provivi exploits Arnold’s technique of producing souped-up enzymes via microbial mutations. The company uses the enzymes to make synthetic insect pheromones for pest control.


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