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Meet 2018’s top chemistry-based start-ups

by Bibiana Campos Seijo
November 5, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 44


It’s that time of year again. And what time would that be, you wonder? The time for C&EN’s annual edition of 10 Start-Ups to Watch. Now in its fourth year, 10 Start-Ups to Watch highlights new companies that are “connecting groundbreaking chemistry to pressing problems.” Coming up with this list means we take the time to do some horizon scanning and look for the talent that is driving the start-up landscape in our discipline.

So what are we looking for? What kinds of companies make the cut and why? We are looking for global companies whose core innovation is chemistry and that are already making a difference. We are looking for companies with promising science and the talent to drive the business forward. We are particularly interested in companies that are founded by chemists or chemical scientists; as it happens, companies with chemistry at their core often are. We are interested in finding companies that are poised to make market impact and are tackling pressing problems. We are looking for companies that are young—typically less than five years old—but that have already gained some traction with investors.

As I mentioned earlier, C&EN’s 10 Start-Ups to Watch list is now in its fourth edition. Four years is a long time in the start-up world. It is a well-known fact that a large percentage of such organizations do not survive past the three-year mark. It is a testament to the quality of the companies that we have curated since 2015 that many of them are alive and kicking and, in fact, doing well. Many made the headlines in the past year.

For example, Twist Bioscience, a pioneer in low-cost synthesis of DNA that was part of our class of 2015, recently raised $50 million in funding to support its effort to store digital information in DNA and for drug discovery. As this issue was getting ready for press, Twist announced that it had gone public, raising $70 million in its stock market debut.

Meanwhile, NuMat Technologies, which makes products based on metal-organic frameworks and is from our class of 2016, recently raised $12.4 million from investors.

And then there’s Provivi, a company from our 2015 list. Its profile was raised dramatically last month when its cofounder, Frances Arnold, was awarded part of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The company develops synthetic pheromones for insect pest control using Arnold’s Nobel-winning work on directed evolution of enzymes (see page 22). Provivi has already raised $31.5 million from BASF and others.

You can read more about where companies from previous years are now at

And so credit where credit is due: The mastermind behind this effort is C&EN Senior Editor Melody Bomgardner. She enlisted other members of the business team to help winnow the candidates and then cast the net even wider, to the whole editorial team, to complete the profiles. The creative team came through with a lovely print design and excellent web presentation.

With that, enjoy the profiles of our selection of start-up companies (see page 28). The 2018 list represents the breadth of the global chemical enterprise: focusing on growing food, storing energy, curing disease, developing materials with a variety of different applications, and more.


Finally, remember to nominate start-ups for next year, which you can do now at If you are involved in a start-up or know of someone who is, we’d like to know what kind of chemistry it’s doing and what kinds of problems it’s trying to solve. And don’t worry if the company is too early stage for 10 Start-Ups to Watch. We’ll keep your nomination on our list to watch for subsequent years.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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