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Silicon Valley’s Hottest Tech Accelerator, Y Combinator, To Debut Biotech Startups

8/18/2014 5:59:23 AM

Silicon Valley’s Hottest Tech Accelerator, Y Combinator, To Debut Biotech Startups Silicon Valley’s Hottest Tech Accelerator, Y Combinator, To Debut Biotech Startups

August 18, 2014
By Jessica Wilson, Breaking News Staff

Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley incubator and venture capital firm famous for its tech investments, will host its Demo Day tomorrow, August 19th, and reveal its first biotech class. Twice a year, Y Combinator runs a three-month funding cycle for a group of tech-start ups, during which the founders move to the bay area to receive intensive mentoring, and which culminates in Demo Day. At this event, the company team presents and elevator pitch, or a two and a half minute presentation, to an audience of “top startup investors.”

In the past, Y Combinator has chosen tech companies, such as airbnb and dropbox, with which to work. This cycle marks a departure with five biotech companies scheduled to present: Bikanta, Gingko Bioworks, Growing Plant, One Codex, and uBiome.

Long the province of expensive drug development, biotech is now evolving into a space more hospitable for startups. For example, costs of gene sequencing are falling faster than Moore’s law would predict. Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, said in an interview with Tech Crunch, “We look at three things before deciding to invest in an industry – upcoming hyper growth, costs coming down to series-A scale, and cycle time coming down to something reasonable for a startup.”

Co-founder of Growing Plant, Antony Evans, interviewed for a different Tech Crunch article, agreed, “The rise of the affordable biotech company is what’s driving YC’s interest in the space. Costs are coming down tremendously fast,” Evans said.
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Growing Plant, co-founded by Evans and Dr. Kyle Taylor used Kickstarter for its initial funding. The company’s primary product is a genetically modified plant that glows and that could repel insects or replace chemical-based air-fresheners.

A fellow classmate, Bikanta, created by Dr. Ambika Bumb, who holds a PhD in biomedical engineering from Oxford, focuses on a different type of glow. Her vision is to use nanodiamonds to highlight abnormalities in the body, which could lead to earlier detection of cancer. “It’s like having a flashlight inside your body that basically lasts forever,” says Bumb.

Jessica Richman and Zachary Apte, co-founders of uBiome, are also interested in what is going on inside your body. The company, initially funded via Indiegogo, offers a kit to use to discover the species of bacteria that make your body home. The goal is to create a library of the human microbiome for researchers. A customer, however, can opt out of sharing data with researchers.

Founders of Ginkgo Bioworks share uBiome’s focus on bacteria. Founded in 2008 by four Ph.D. graduates from MIT and one of their professors, the company uses synthetic biology to create microbes, such as E. coli bacteria, to industry spec in an automated foundry. The larger aim of the company is to eventually produce transportation fuel through re-engineered microbes.

In One Codex, Nick Greenfield, a former data scientist, and Nik Krumm, who has a PhD in Genome Sciences from the University of Washington, have created the biotech company that leans most towards the tech end of the spectrum. One Codex is a search engine for genomes. In an interview with Tech Crunch, Greenfield explained the service as follows, “Instead of using a specific test for tuberculosis, the doctor would take a sample, sequence that sample and transform that biology into data, and then exhaustively search that data against all the pathogens and they’ll be able to tell you if you have TB, the type of TB and maybe this TB has antibiotic resistance,” he said.

Demo Day will take place tomorrow, August 19, at Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

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