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YC and Ginkgo Bioworks announce new partnership for synthetic biology startups (ycombinator.com)
96 points by flipchart 9 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 13 comments

This is really interesting news, but when I asked someone in the genetics space about this, they had an interesting take:

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.

I think the announcement says that qualified YC startups get the product development consulting services, in return for equity.

We are both sort of right. Here's what they said:

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.

> We don't actually understand genetics at the level where we can say "this sequence will accomplish that effect, no bugs"

does this not ring alarm bells for anyone but me?

I'm curious what happened to the YC bio [1] track which was announced in 2018 with free lab space and a different investment deal. The details seem to have been scrubbed from the YC website. Did it get shut down? Seems like it was Sam's initiative and didn't survive his departure.

[1] https://techcrunch.com/2018/01/11/y-combinator-yc-bio-track-...

We kept the intent but changed the structure. After trying it both ways, we learned that it worked better when we didn't break bio out separately. So we're still super interested in funding bio companies (hence the Ginkgo partnership), but we don't have a different deal for them.

So YC Bio doesn't imply a much bigger investment for 20% equity anymore?

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.

Surprisingly, bio is pretty similar to software capital-wise, at least initially and the standard YC deal works well. Jared and Jorge wrote good pieces around this recently -



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 - https://techcrunch.com/2019/08/20/here-are-the-82-startups-t...

I would see this more of a reflection of spend matching the access to capital not that bio is similar to software. The difference between moving atoms and bits is significant.

I'm curious if there are other examples of this type of partnership, where companies provide services to YC cos in exchange for equity.

We have a similar partnership with Atomwise: https://blog.ycombinator.com/yc-partners-with-atomwise-to-fu...

Does YC have hardware partnerships?

Does YC have Hardware accelerator partnerships?

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