The Genesis Consortium will elevate their work to transform human and planetary health with engineering biology
Global venture capital firm Mayfield announced today that IndieBio’s Arvind Gupta will join its firm to expand its engineering biology initiatives. In addition, Mayfield has partnered with SOSV, the parent firm of IndieBio, to found the Genesis Consortium, an alliance of funds and corporations to promote human and planetary evolution.
Gupta will remain a Venture Advisor at IndieBio, while Po Bronson will become its new Managing Director.
IndieBio was founded in 2014 by Gupta and is the world’s largest biotech-based seed fund. In over five and a half years, IndieBio invested almost $50 million in companies that went on to raise over $700 million in funding on their own. Today, those companies represent a total enterprise value of over $3.2 billion in the pursuit of building a better future with biology.
“This was the hardest decision I’ve ever made because IndieBio is the most important thing that I’ve created in my life, but the core reason for the decision is that the mission is the same,” says Gupta. “It’s to empower and enable a new class of companies using biology to rebalance human and planetary health. We had this long-running dynamic where we truly saw Mayfield as a place that was people-first, and so the working relationship organically grew to exactly that.”
People and the planet first
The new Genesis Consortium’s deep commitment to supporting the vast array of endeavors engineering biology with purpose — business for the betterment of the world — is underscored by a clear understanding of the challenges and incredible potential that lie ahead.
“When we look at how we want to go about and make an impact, it’s all coming from a deep belief in this approach of collaboration and community and the ecosystem coming together,” adds Ursheet Parikh, Partner at Mayfield. “This is probably one of the most collaborative corners of the venture ecosystem, and so we’re very excited to have Arvind come on board.”
“Climate change and a variety of factors affect human health are accelerating,” says Gupta, “and we’re running out of time to address these problems. So it’s incredibly important to deploy money through a wide variety of companies to move the needle on human and planetary health in time, but the growth in scale issues that these companies run into are nontrivial.”
Gupta explains that “[t]he process by which we start these companies is fairly codified, but the next level of growth needed for the movement is here. We don’t have a map for this, but it’s 100% driven by the mission that we can really create the change that we’ve started and now extend it all the way through.”
Biology: the ultimate change agent for human and planetary health
Mayfield is one of a growing number of venture capital firms with a focus on synthetic biology, a field that brings together advances in computing, automation, and DNA engineering to make everything from zero-calorie sugar to 20-minute Covid-19 tests. The potential for this kind of high-tech biological engineering to disrupt food and agriculture, chemicals and materials, consumer goods, and health has attracted the attention of tech investors, and major tech investment houses like Sequoia Capital, DCVC (where I’m an Operating Partner) Andreessen Horowitz, NFX, Khosla Ventures, Venrock, Kleiner Perkins, Sofinnova, Morgan Stanley, and Viking Global Investors, to name a few.
In the past ten years, the synthetic biology industry has seen investment of over $12 billion. While much of this funding has come from major pharmaceutical and venture capital players, startup accelerators such as Y Combinator and IndieBio have also played a pivotal role, particularly at the seed funding stage.
The momentum behind the synthetic biology movement is rooted in deep scientific and technical innovation, but investment capital has moved that innovation from the lab bench to the market, pushing synthetic biology powerhouses like Ginkgo Bioworks, Zymergen, Twist Bioscience and soon to IPO Berkeley Lights into the spotlight.
An inflection point in biology and venture capital
Firms like Mayfield see synthetic biology as a core technology behind trillion-dollar companies of the future. Parikh describes “the engineering biology feedback loop,” which for over a decade has continued to self-optimize as the cost of digitizing biology asymptotically approaches zero. This enables cheaper and better biology-based platforms and applications, in the same way that Moore’s Law enabled the computer revolution. This, in turn, spurs more development, more products built with biology, and more demand for products — including many of the diagnostics and therapeutics combating the coronavirus pandemic.
The engineering biology innovation loop. The ability to marry information technology to advances in biology is a big opportunity for a whole new class of companies. MAYFIELD
“This loop becomes a basis to build companies,” says Parikh. “Engineering biology has been our thesis for a while, but this is moving from science and divine inspiration and publications in Nature and Science to engineering and making products and solutions for the world.”
Considering Covid-19’s disruption of market ecosystems, such progress toward positively transforming the world for the better cannot be taken for granted. The culture of putting the world and its people first has underscored all of IndieBio and Mayfield’s work, and the newly founded Genesis Consortium serves to further serve that purpose.
“It’s called ‘Genesis’ because it is the birth of something,” emphasizes Gupta, “and it’s a consortium because it is inclusive. We are built on inclusivity. Climate change and human health are problems facing the entire world, and we need everyone involved.”
Venture capital with a conscience
For Mayfield, this ethos comes to life in a parallel thesis of conscious capitalism — leveraging disruptive innovation with an acute awareness of what it means to “do good” in the world.
In addition to today’s announcement, Mayfield recently introduced initiatives in diversity and inclusion. The firm will pledge 1% of its management fee and carryover every year to support diversity, health, hunger, and education, while also building its Access For All program to address systemic industry barriers in partnership with community organizations.
“It’s really about applications of technology to help individuals rise to the next level and the planet evolve in a better direction,” explains Parikh, “and that is the conscious capitalism view that underlies all of our work at Mayfield.”
The world looks to biology to lead us out of the Covid-19 crisis and into a post-pandemic future. But this is just the tip of the iceberg for the bioeconomy, which has incredible potential to improve human and planetary health. A deeply focused investment and commitment to a people-first, biology-based approach is the next frontier in securing a better future for generations to come.
Follow me on Twitter at @johncumbers and @synbiobeta. Subscribe to my weekly newsletters in synthetic biology. Thank you to Aishani Aatresh for additional research and reporting in this article. I’m the founder of SynBioBeta and an operating partner at DCVC, and some of the companies that I write about—including Mayfield and DCVC—are sponsors of the SynBioBeta conference and weekly digest. Here’s the full list of SynBioBeta sponsors.1