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C&EN’s 2015–18 Start-Ups to Watch: Where are they now?

Previous classes of chemistry start-ups launched products, gained partners, and raised a lot of money in the past year

by Melody M. Bomgardner
November 11, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 44


It’s been a challenge to keep up with all the news from our past years’ classes of 10 Start-Ups to Watch. Notably, since November 2018, start-ups from the classes of 2015–18 have collectively raised more than $1.2 billion from investors. Join C&EN as we look back on a year in the lives of these chemistry-based innovators.

Launched products or prototypes

Bolt Threads (class of 2015) collaborated with Adidas and fashion designer Stella McCartney on a biodegradable tennis dress made with Bolt Threads’ Microsilk and a cellulose-blended yarn. Microsilk is spun from spider silk proteins made via fermentation with modified microbes. Bolt also spun off a company, Eighteen B, to focus on the personal care market. The new firm launched a line of face creams containing synthetic silk protein.

Credit: Stella McCartney
This Stella McCartney tennis dress was made with spider silk made by Bolt Threads.
Credit: Stella McCartney
This Stella McCartney tennis dress was made with spider silk made by Bolt Threads.
Credit: US Department of Agriculture
Provivi's new fall armyworm pheromone makes it much harder for this pest to find a mate.
Credit: US Department of Agriculture
Provivi's new fall armyworm pheromone makes it much harder for this pest to find a mate.

Carbon (class of 2015), previously named Carbon3D, partnered with bicycle companies Fizik and Specialized Bicycle Components for digitally printed bike saddles. With another sports-themed company, Riddell, Carbon developed a 3-D printed football helmet liner. It joined with Dentsply Sirona to launch the Lucitone Digital Print Denture material system. And Carbon is working with Ford on 3-D printed automotive parts.

Credit: Carbon
This Specialized-brand 3-D printed bike saddle was made possible with technology from Carbon.
Credit: Carbon
This Specialized-brand 3-D printed bike saddle was made possible with technology from Carbon.

Provivi (class of 2015) began manufacturing its fall armyworm pheromone product, which will be used in greenhouse tests.

Slips Technologies (class of 2015), now named Adaptive Surface Technologies, launched Slips Foul Protect N1x Marine Bottom Paint. The coating is a nontoxic paint for freshwater and saltwater vessels, structures, and other equipment. It uses a fouling-resistant coating to create an ultrasmooth surface that algae, barnacles, mussels, and other drag-creating creatures cannot stick to.

Twist Bioscience (class of 2015) announced it could manufacture long strings of synthetic DNA. It creates the oligonucleotides of up to 300 bases with continuous chemical synthesis rather than stitching together shorter segments. The oligos are used for drug development, DNA data storage, and gene-editing research.

AgriMetis (class of 2016), which uses biotechnology and chemical synthesis to create new crop protection molecules, says it will commercialize l-glufosinate as a low-cost, broad-spectrum herbicide. The firm says the molecule is an improvement on the racemic glufosinate currently on the market.

Kyulux (class of 2016) says its hyperfluorescence organic light-emitting diode (OLED) material powers a new 4.2 cm wide yellow OLED display by WiseChip Semiconductor. The product is the first to use Kyulux’s organic materials, which it says are 2.5 times as bright as standard fluorescent materials and provide improved performance and lifetime.

Two Pore Guys (class of 2017), now named Ontera, has developed a handheld detector and test strips to identify and quantify crop traits, pathogens, and pathogen resistance. The company’s tiny devices can be used in the field and return readings in under 20 min.

Credit: Adaptive Surface Technologies
Adaptive Surface Technologies launched a nontoxic, antifouling marine bottom paint.
Credit: Adaptive Surface Technologies
Adaptive Surface Technologies launched a nontoxic, antifouling marine bottom paint.
Credit: WiseChip Semiconductor
This 4.2 cm wide display, made with Kyulux organic materials, is 2.5 times as bright as one made with standard materials.
Credit: WiseChip Semiconductor
This 4.2 cm wide display, made with Kyulux organic materials, is 2.5 times as bright as one made with standard materials.

Acquired or was acquired

Connora Technologies (class of 2015) and its Recyclamine process for recycling epoxy resins was acquired by India’s Aditya Birla Group. The technology is based on polyamino acetal–based curing agents with built-in acid-cleavable bonds that become part of the epoxy structure. When an epoxy-fiber composite is at the end of its life, it is immersed in an acetic acid bath that breaks down the cross-linked polymer and allows recovery of the thermoplastic and fiber. Connora first worked with Aditya Birla in 2016.

Credit: Connora Technologies
Connora Technologies' recyclable epoxy resins are being used to make these backcountry skis.

Ionic Materials (class of 2018), which is developing a solid polymer electrolyte for safer, higher-performance lithium-ion batteries, acquired iQLP, a supplier of liquid-crystal polymer-based formulations. Ionic says the move will help it expand into growing markets such as 5G mobile, structural materials, semiconductors, and automotive materials.

Formed partnerships

Twist Bioscience (class of 2015) signed an agreement to use Imagene’s encapsulation service to store DNA-encoded digital information. The encoded data can be stored for thousands of years, the companies say.

Exscientia (class of 2017), an artificial intelligence–driven drug-discovery firm, announced partnerships with Roche, Celgene, GlaxoSmithKline, GT Apeiron Therapeutics, and Rallybio. In addition, Exscientia announced that Sanofi would exercise its option to advance an investigational small molecule that targets two distinct pathways related to inflammation and the progression of fibrosis.

Solid Power (class of 2017) teamed up with Ford to develop batteries with the start-up’s high-capacity lithium-metal anode. The goal is to create solid-state battery cells with two to three times the power capacity of traditional lithium-ion cells. Solid Power also has ongoing partnerships with—and has received investments from—BMW, Hyundai, and Samsung.

Raised funds

Carbon (class of 2015) brought in over $260 million in funding co-led by Madrone Capital Partners and Baillie Gifford. New investors Temasek and Arkema joined the round with participation from existing investors, including Sequoia Capital, Johnson & Johnson Innovation–JJDC, Fidelity Management & Research, Adidas Ventures, and JSR. The round brought Carbon’s fundraising to date to more than $680 million.

Provivi (class of 2015) wrapped up an $85 million series C financing round led by Pontifax Global Food and Agriculture Technology Fund and a global investment fund. The round included new investor Tybourne Capital Management. Existing investors Kairos Ventures, Spruce Capital Partners, Lanx Capital, and BASF Venture Capital participated as well. Provivi also announced a multiyear supply agreement with an unnamed agricultural company.

Revolution Medicines (class of 2015) raised $100 million in a series C round of funding to advance drug candidates targeting RAS-mutated cancers. Financing was led by Boxer Capital of the Tavistock Group, which was joined by Cormorant Capital, Deerfield Management, Fidelity Management & Research, and others.

Continuus Pharmaceuticals (class of 2016) raised $5 million in funding led by Mark Bamforth, CEO of Arranta Bio, with participation by Industria Macchine Automatiche and investors from previous rounds. The company will use the funds to provide technology and contract manufacturing services to drug firms. In addition, Continuus says it is developing off-patent drugs in collaboration with pharmacy retailers and hospitals to address drug shortages.

Kyulux (class of 2016) raised a $31.8 million series B round of funding from WRVI Capital and others. Kyulux will use the money to accelerate the development of its organic light-emitting diode materials and strengthen its intellectual property, business development, and organizational structure.

NuMat Technologies (class of 2016) won a $9 million contract from the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center to develop materials to protect and sustain soldiers. The company’s metal-organic framework materials are being eyed for use in gas masks, breathing apparatuses, and other life-saving gear.

Silatronix (class of 2016) was awarded a $10.1 million contract by the US Office of Naval Research to use the firm’s organosilicon electrolytes to improve the cycling stability of lithium-ion battery cells using standard cathode materials and a variety of new anode materials.

Arrakis Therapeutics (class of 2017) raised a $75 million series B funding round to advance the discovery of small-molecule medicines that directly target RNA. Investors included venBio, Nextech Invest, Omega Funds, HBM Healthcare Investments, GV, WuXi AppTec Venture Fund, and Alexandria Venture Investments. Arrakis will use the funds to build a pipeline of new RNA-targeted small molecules and reach clinical testing with one or more candidates in areas such as oncology.

Citrine Informatics (class of 2017) raised a $20 million series B round. The company says it will use the proceeds to further develop its artificial intelligence platform for discovering and developing new materials. Investors included Prelude Ventures, Innovation Endeavors, Moore Strategic Ventures, and Next47. So far, Citrine’s technology has been deployed at chemical and material companies including BASF, Lanxess, and Panasonic.

Exscientia (class of 2017) raised a $26 million series B round of funding from Celgene, specialist health-care investor GT Healthcare Capital Partners, and Evotec. Exscientia is an artificial intelligence–driven drug-discovery firm.

Relay Therapeutics (class of 2017) raked in $400 million in its third round of venture funding, which was led by the SoftBank Vision Fund. Other investors included Foresite Capital, Perceptive Advisors, GV, and Alexandria Venture Investments. Relay uses computational methods to produce dynamic images of proteins to show their full mobility and illustrate conformation and function. The protein movies can help investigators develop oncology drugs.

Checkerspot (class of 2018) raised $13 million in series A funding that was led by Builders VC and that included Breakout Ventures, Viking Global Investors, KdT Ventures, Plug and Play Ventures, and others. Checkerspot is developing algae-derived specialty triglycerides for use in high-performance polyurethanes. The company is targeting markets including outdoor gear and fabric treatment.

Kronos Bio (class of 2018) raised a $105 million series A funding round that was led by Vida Ventures and Omega Funds and that included Nextech Invest, GV, and other investors. The drug-discovery firm uses high-throughput small-molecule microarrays to target disease proteins with processes including targeted protein degradation and transcription-factor blocking. Kronos will use the funds to advance two preclinical drug programs, accelerate research, and expand its workforce.

Kymera Therapeutics (class of 2018), which is developing therapies based on targeted protein degradation, raised $65 million in a series B round. Kymera will use the proceeds to advance a lead candidate to clinical development and progress its pipeline of oncology and immunology drug candidates. Investors included 6 Dimensions Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, and Pfizer Ventures.

Manus Bio (class of 2018), a biotechnology firm focused on high-value specialty chemicals, received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to accelerate the development of its process to produce artemisinin, a treatment for malaria. Manus has been working with the foundation to use microbial fermentation to make the precursor artemisinic acid.

Molecular Assemblies (class of 2018) raised $12.2 million in a series A funding round to advance its enzymatic DNA synthesis technology. The company’s recipe for DNA enables it to produce long sequences without having to paste together shorter ones. It does not use the solvents common in other DNA-synthesis techniques. Investors included iSelect Fund, Agilent Technologies, Alexandria Venture Investments, and Keshif Ventures.

Solugen (class of 2018), which makes hydrogen peroxide and gluconic acid from sugar via an enzymatic process, brought in nearly $19 million in series A fundraising. It quickly followed up with a $32 million series B round. Solugen says it will use the money to scale up other products, including a mobile manufacturing platform, and to hire more chemists and marketing executives. Investors include Founders Fund, Y Combinator, Refactor Capital, Fifty Years, and KdT Ventures.



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