Marc Andreessen recently wrote an essay entitled “It’s Time To Build.” He’s right, and biology is the building platform for California and the rest of the world in the 21st century.
Marc Andreessen—the co-founder of Netscape and Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz—recently wrote an essay entitled “It’s Time To Build.”
It is awesome.
Mr. Andreessen calls for a renaissance in what made America great: building. He attributes our current shortage of everything from cotton swabs to vaccines to a “smug complacency” that can be seen all around us, from our housing shortages to our overstretched schools and universities to our costly, underperforming health care system.
Along with Ben Horowitz, his VC co-founder and member of Governor Newsom’s COVID-19 Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery, Andreessen is one of the most successful people in business and technology.
Mr. Andreessen is absolutely right: it’s time to build. And for me, there’s just one crucial element missing from his wonderful thought piece on rebuilding the American dream.
The building platform of the 21st century
If you follow my column, then you know that synthetic biology aims to make biology easier to engineer. Using DNA as a programming language for our physical world, it is enabling us to use biomanufacturing to synthesize food from thin air, store all the world’s data in a teaspoon of DNA, design smart medicines for individual patients, and program matter itself. Put simply, biology is the technology and manufacturing platform for the 21st century.
We should not aspire to go back to the old way of building. Normal wasn’t good enough to begin with.
I’ve spent the last 10 years focused on helping companies understand what their biostrategy should be, particularly as it relates to biomanufacturing. The power of biology to get things done clearly outstrips our crude extraction economy, where goods are cobbled together rather than grown. I believe our future will be made brighter when we merge the two. COVID-19 makes it clear now more than ever: We need to build with biology.
Built With Biology: California’s Biostrategy for the next fifty years
Last week, I convened 100 leading entrepreneurs, investors, startups, large and small corporations, scientists and engineers, national lab members and advocacy organizations to think about what an Apollo Program for biology would look like. Out of that came Built With Biology, a new set of policy recommendations for Governor Newsom’s Task Force to rethink and rebuild our economy using biomanufacturing as the engine.
Built With Biology is a five-point plan to build secure supply chains and manufacturing capacity in the face of the current and future pandemics. It will create a flexible and resilient bioindustrial base that can rapidly respond to future crises like disease, drought, fire and earthquakes, and form a multi-skilled workforce that will help California thrive in good times and bad. Built With Biology is a 50-year strategy to create a more prosperous, sustainable, and equitable California bioeconomy for all.
Rather than retreating on the environment, it accelerates our commitment to renewable energy, sustainable goods, and clean water and air. The initial Built With Biology proposal is focused on California, but the same blueprint (I call it a “greenprint”) could easily be applied to other states and countries.
Here’s a summary of the five main recommendations:
- Built With Biology Initiative. Bring together industry leaders and policymakers to reimagine California supply chains, beginning with a Summit of the biomanufacturing industry, government officials, and traditional manufacturers.
- Jobs of the Future in Biomanufacturing. Equip our schools and universities with the courses and lab facilities that will bring them into the new bioeconomy, and promote job creation, innovation, and local problem solving through visioning and awareness.
- Biomanufacturing Opportunity Zones. Sites of biomanufacturing implementation and integration that will position California as a world leader in carbon-neutral manufacturing and green-collar jobs.
- California Biopreferred Program. Procurement of biobased products in California by state agencies (mandatory) and private sector leaders (voluntary & incentivized) to generate new jobs, develop new markets, and spur innovation by creating market certainty. Plus, loans and grants for programs that provide clear, disruptive potential to advance leadership in biomanufacturing.
- Bio-Bridge Matching Investment Fund. Public matching of private investment to sustain the work of talented innovators and startups that are now at risk of running out of money due to the economic impact of COVID-19.
California is already a leader in synthetic biology. It has the opportunity to change the world for the good through a creative and courageous approach to biology and the biotech industry. The devastation of COVID-19 is a jarring reminder of the need to invest in proactive science and sustainable technologies. Built With Biology will not just prepare us for future crisis scenarios, it will also give our students the tools they need to succeed, provide our communities with the jobs they need to thrive, and sustain California’s role as an economic and environmental leader of the world.
For a complimentary perspective on the policy actions needed today, my collaborator and WEF Global Network Expert Nishan Degnarian asks, Could Biomanufacturing See A Renaissance In The Post-COVID Economy? He argues that biomanufacturing could end up becoming an underdog success story in the post-COVID economy as governments consider how to re-open the global economy, and he offers a unique perspective on the specific policy steps needed now to ensure short- and long-term prosperity and health.
DNA, the master-builder for California and beyond
Most nations were unprepared for the terrible health and economic impacts of this pandemic, both of which were predictable and preventable. We can draw two lessons from this. First, biology is an awesome and formidable force. And second, we need to dramatically improve our ability to build things.
In his essay, Marc Andreessen points out that we didn’t build the cotton swabs, common reagents, and essential medicines needed for a basic response, much less the more complicated treatments and vaccines to thwart the virus completely. But all of these items have one thing in common: they can all be built with biology.
California has unique strengths in bioengineering, universities, corporations, investors, and startups. We have the labs, people, and know-how to save California lives and livelihoods and to lead the world through the COVID-19 crisis. Now is the time to apply our biomanufacturing potential and reimagine our supply chains by using biology to make medicine, food, materials, and more.
California can lead the world and show that carbon-neutral and sustainable manufacturing is not only possible, but it can be profitable too. California biomanufacturing could be the state’s biggest growth opportunity in a lifetime if its fledgling technology sectors are supported.
If we can build it at all, we can build it better with biology.
Follow me on twitter at @johncumbers and @synbiobeta. Subscribe to my weekly newsletters on synthetic biology. Thank you to Kevin Costa, Ian Haydon, Nishan Degnarain and Mark Bünger for additional research and reporting in this article. I’m the founder of SynBioBeta, and some of the companies that I write about are sponsors of the SynBioBeta conference and weekly digest — here’s the full list of SynBioBeta sponsors.
Originally published on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johncumbers/2020/05/05/its-time-to-buildwith-biology/0