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C&EN highlights young firms working to make the world a better place through chemistry innovations

by Bibiana Campos-Seijo
November 21, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 42


Welcome to C&EN’s 10 Start-Ups to Watch issue. This year marks the seventh edition of this series, which seeks to highlight young firms working to make the world a better place through chemistry-powered innovations and technologies.

This year we received nominations for more than 200 companies. The entries came from readers as well as from our writers and editors, who throughout the year scour the biotech, materials, and chemical worlds to identify and select start-ups with outstanding promise.

Starting on page 26, you can find profiles of the 2021 class of C&EN’s 10 Start-Ups to Watch and their world-changing work. Each profile provides a snapshot of the firm’s founders, location, and funding sources, as well as a review of the company’s history and a schematic illustrating its technology or innovation.

The companies are working to solve difficult problems in a variety of fields. In agriculture, BioPhero is fermenting insect pheromones for sustainable pest control. In the green chemistry sector, C-Zero is developing catalysts that can turn methane into solid carbon and hydrogen. In the energy storage space, Factorial Energy is manufacturing solid-state batteries featuring polymer-based electrolytes. In drug discovery, Kojin Therapeutics is developing small-molecule drugs that target cells vulnerable to ferroptosis (a type of cell death dependent on the presence of iron and lipid peroxides in the cell) for cancer treatment. And this is just a slice. I’m confident you’ll read about science in these pages that will pique your interest.

If the 10 start-ups are the main course, for dessert there’s “On Our Radar”: turn to page 50 for firms that didn’t make the list this year but that show real promise.

Behind the companies are the entrepreneurs, inventors, and innovators who work to build a more sustainable future—and they’re as diverse as their companies.

People are a company’s most important asset. Entrepreneur and publisher Malcolm Forbes said, “Only a handful of companies understand that all successful business operations come down to three basic principles: People, Product, Profit.” This goes double for a start-up or young company. People are its lifeblood; in particular, the quality of its entrepreneurial talent is key to its success. Unfortunately, entrepreneurship hasn’t traditionally been the subject of a lot of attention or even training during a chemist’s formative years.

This is a missed opportunity. The concept of the chemist-entrepreneur is not new, and we are seeing more examples coming to the fore. You’ll have seen plenty such individuals heading up C&EN’s 10 Start-Ups to Watch over the years. Most learned by doing, and they likely rely on support and advice from friends and colleagues who trod that path before them.

The role of enterpreneurs in chemistry is also evolving and broadening. We now have solopreneurs (people who set up and run a business on their own) and intrapreneurs (managers within a company who promote new product development and marketing). The time is ripe to turn opportunity into reality and expose chemists in training to entrepreneurship and the possibilities it brings. In the meantime, C&EN’s 10 Start-Ups to Watch will offer some inspiration to those considering the entrepreneurial path.

We are collecting nominations for next year’s 10 Start-Ups to Watch. If you know of a young firm that fills the bill, please let us know about it via

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


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