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Start-ups

Ginkgo raises $290 million, pairs with start-up accelerators for organism engineering

Well-funded Y Combinator grad will offer services to young firms in exchange for equity

by Melody M. Bomgardner
September 19, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 37

 

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Credit: Ginkgo Bioworks
Ginkgo Bioworks opened its fourth organism foundry earlier this year.

The synthetic biology firm Ginkgo Bioworks has raised $290 million in a fifth round of funding from investors including T. Rowe Price, Viking Global Investors, and Bill Gates’s Cascade Investment to expand its abilities in organism engineering. The round brings Ginkgo’s total funding to $719 million.

In the last 2 years, Ginkgo has expanded into markets that have proved appealing to its investors. It will produce fermentation-derived cannabinoids with Cronos and is working with Roche to discover new antibiotics. It is developing so-called living medicines for Synlogic. Last year it spun off Motif FoodWorks, which aims to produce dairy proteins using microbes.

Most recently, Ginkgo has partnered with two start-up accelerators, Y Combinator and Petri, to bring its organism-engineering services to early-stage firms for no money down. Instead, Ginkgo will receive equity stakes in companies if it meets their technical milestones.

The deal could appeal to new companies producing chemicals, flavor molecules, cosmetic ingredients, or drugs that require a custom-designed fermentation organism. It’s an opportunity for start-ups, which are generally strapped for cash, to access the same technology Ginkgo is providing to its large, established partners, Y Combinator partner Jared Friedman writes in a blog post.

It’s no coincidence that Ginkgo is pairing with Y Combinator. In 2014, Ginkgo was the first biotech firm backed by the accelerator.

In those days, Ginkgo had to bootstrap to get the equipment it needed, according to Austin Che, a Ginkgo founder. “We got our lab equipment from eBay and MIT dumpsters,” he recalls in a blog post. Ginkgo sees its new service as a way for today’s young firms to lower their costs.

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