Last night, Zymergen, one of the first biology unicorns, announced that they would not generate revenues through 2022 and that their CEO was stepping down. Zymergen’s stock promptly fell 70% in after-hours trading. But I am not writing this to single out Zymergen. There are larger questions that I think we need to ask ourselves as an industry:
We are in a race to save the planet. After a decade of toiling out of the public eye, we have emerged onto the world stage. But have we gotten ahead of ourselves in the process?
Our entire industry is founded on partnering with nature so we can build a better world. But catching up to her genius when she has a 4 billion-year head start is going to take significant time and money. But it’s a partnership that we must absolutely make for the sake of future generations.
It’s a challenge to live in a quarterly system where we are pressed to show profits every three months when, in reality, we are striving for generational change. Today may feel like a hard day, it certainly feels that way to me. But, I have hope for the future because this community is made up of people working their hardest, day in and day out, to make our world a better place.
We all know we have made missteps in the past. Biofuels, it turns out, were not the planet-savior we thought they were. I encourage everyone in the synthetic biology community to embrace the long game. There is no doubt in my mind that changing the world with biology is our best path forward.
This is a call for transparency, accountability, and a recognition that we shouldn’t hype what we want to have until we have achieved it. At the end of the day, the people who need us to succeed the most are everyday citizens. We cannot serve them and our planet if we tell the world we can run before we can walk. And our world needs us to run.22