The hard part about what Ginkgo is doing is not the cell programming, it's how you write the program in the first place. Which is the same big problem the industry already has with GMO's and drug development. We don't actually understand genetics at the level where we can say "this sequence will accomplish that effect, no bugs", so even if you have the compiler, you're still just trying thousands upon thousands of mutations until it looks like it works. Basically the intro CS method of programming.
Ginkgo is not selling a platform, it's selling product development consulting services on their platform. Giving the platform for free is like giving out razors but selling the blades.
That could really work! But it's interesting how this announcement is spun to focus on the platform as opposed to the business model.
Ginkgo Bioworks will offer to program cells for YC companies doing qualifying synthetic biology projects on a $0 down basis. Instead of charging, Ginkgo will get equity. Their equity ownership will be based on achieving technical milestones, so it’s essentially a risk free deal for the companies. Ginkgo will effectively be making a big in-kind R&D investment in these companies. Before engaging with YC companies, Ginkgo will need to vet the projects for technical feasibility and IP conflicts. But a broad range of projects will qualify, and I expect that the right companies can save years and millions of dollars by taking advantage of this deal.
This hints at consulting for product development, but specifically avoids talking about it as a butts-in-seats service (revenue scales linearly with people-hours cost). The surrounding wording is similar:
Ginkgo’s new deal will make it possible for startups to access the same platform.
Ginkgo providing startups access to their platform is a big step in the shift that we see towards the AWSification of biology.
That's the opposite of a butts-in-seats framing, but the product development work at the moment decidedly is a butts-in-seats problem. To be clear I am hugely hopeful that someone figures this out, because that's a trillion dollar problem.
does this not ring alarm bells for anyone but me?
Most bio startups will require a significant amount of capital to bootstrap. It's cheaper now, but still an order of magnitude more than for IT.
Case in point - Asher Bio from the most recent YC batch went from zero to a working molecule & in-vivo data in ~3 months on the standard deal -