“California’s economy did not become the fifth-largest in the world in spite of our environmental regulations. We flourished, in part, because of them.”
So says California Governor Gavin Newsom in a recent op-ed on the occasion of Climate Week. Newsom is not waiting for DC’s permission to protect the environment and grow California’s already impressive tech-based economy.
As Mayor of San Francisco, Newsom presided over the biggest biotech boom the Bay Area has ever seen. Now, as the 40th governor of California, he wants to use his political and entrepreneurial experience to apply technology for the health and prosperity of all Californians.
If you’ve been following my Forbes column, then you know that synthetic biology is an industry that combines advances in computing, biology, and automation to supercharge traditional biotechnology, making possible everything from extending life expectancy, transforming transportation, storing massive amounts of data and properly feeding the world’s population. Many of these companies are actively taking carbon out of the atmosphere and fixing it into new products. The industry is especially hot here in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Silicon Valley investment meets world-class innovation hubs in bioscience and technology.
California has brought in $5.3B in synthetic biology investments over the last 10 years, with 75 percent of it invested in Bay Area-based companies. If you think good climate policy is bad for the economy, then good luck explaining California. Image courtesy SynBioBeta.
Gavin Newsom knows this. In his book, Citizenville, he calls on technology to improve democracy itself. He argues for a new style of government that treats citizens not just as spectators but as collaborators, creating a more engaged government. Newsom understands that technology can provide solutions to some of our biggest real-world problems in food, materials, water, and waste — a sentiment reflected by many in synthetic biology’s new wave of social impact innovators and entrepreneurs.
If every state had a governor like Gavin Newsom, the bioeconomy would be booming not just in California but everywhere. Here’s why:
He’s an entrepreneur too – he gets it.
Newsom has started and run several small successful businesses. He knows what it takes to make them run, and he understands the kind of support needed to encourage business, investment, and innovation.
He understands that innovation can make life better.
In his book, Newsom argues that citizens along with technology can and should play a key part in creating and building our cities and communities. He just started a new Office of Digital Innovation – maybe an office of biological innovation is next? There’s good reason to think synthetic biology can lead to better, more sustainable cities, too.
He looks forward, not back.
Former California Governor Jerry Brown set history’s most ambitious climate target by committing the state to total, economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045. That’s great, but it takes real policies to make that vision a reality. Newsom is doing that by promoting technology solutions to reach that goal. “We’re moving forward in our efforts to clear the air—toward the clean energy future—rather than dragging the country back to the past,” he said recently. (Businesses agree: in July, in recognition of low-emission cars favored by consumers, four major automakers volunteered to reduce vehicle emissions, despite Washington’s attempt to loosen tailpipe emissions.)
He’s a pragmatist – and a climate warrior.
Newsom champions the state’s historically strong stance on the climate. California first adopted zero-emissions vehicle requirements in 1990. Today, electric vehicles like Tesla are California’s eighth-largest export by dollar value, to the tune of $2.9 billion, and all cars produced in 2040 are projected to be electric. Newsom seeks no-nonsense policies that spur innovation in anticipation of consumer needs.
He understand the crucial role government support can play in business development and building a California for all.
“If we want to build an economy that works for all Californians, not just those who live on the coast, it will require us to do more and to do so in partnership with the private sector,” said Lenny Mendonca, Governor Newsom’s chief economic & business advisor and director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. Through “inclusive capitalism,” Newsom’s team wants to bring coastal innovation to the Central Valley and the rest of California. There is great potential in this: the state’s Central Valley is a bread basket brimming with biomass — the raw material that provides sugar to the fermentors that can make all these new products — to power bio-based solutions that could give rise to a new Bio-Belt within California and the beyond.
When Newsom left the mayor’s office and became Lieutenant Governor, he also became a resident of The Founders’ Den, one of the first coworking spaces in San Francisco. It’s home to many entrepreneurs working on a wide range of new startups. Newsom often preferred to work from the coworking space instead of his Sacramento office, choosing to seek “the kind of collaborative and creative atmosphere to foster new ideas not only for emerging new businesses, but government as well.”
“The energy and community of startups building the next wave of innovation really appealed to Governor Newsom, who was one of our early tenants,” said Zack Bogue, an environmentalist, co-founder of The Founder’s Den, and champion of the synthetic biology industry through his venture capital firm, DCVC, of which I am also an Operating Partner. DCVC’s synthetic biology portfolio includes Zymergen, Pivot Bio, Asimov, Atomwise, and Molecular Assemblies.
It’s difficult to find another governor who understands at the same depth the three critical ingredients to make the California economy thrive: finance, innovation, and policy. This support for innovation is now firmly threaded into the DNA of California. This state embraces tech because it enhances the quality of life here. Gavin Newsom understands this, making him the kind of leader necessary for the coming bio-industrial revolution.