180° Shift: (bio)Hacking Startups


  • Ryan Bethencourt (foreground)

    Ryan Bethencourt (foreground)


Ryan Bethencourt
CEO and Co-founder, Berkeley Biolabs

Bethencourt: Hi everyone. My name is Ryan Bethencourt. I am the co-founder of Berkeley Biolabs. I am the program director of the newly launched Indie Bio. It’s a Y Combinator for biotech, we are going to be launching in downtown San Francisco, building 30 companies per year. The idea that I’d like to challenge you with in these 180 seconds is that we can now move our mindsets from biotech as a billion-dollar investment requirement and 10 years to building biotech that can now be funded for under $50,000, and we can have real products within two to three years.

So I’ve brought a team here. This is Adam and John, and they have done some interesting stuff at Berkeley Biolabs. This is an algae biobattery, so it actually holds a charge. We don’t have enough time to demo it right now, but it’s a fully biodegradable battery. No lithium, and it can actually light an LED. So we’re still on prototype number—what prototype number are we on right now?

Adam/John: Close to 20.

Bethencourt: Close to 20. We’ve also built a lot of companies through Indie Bio. The first test batch, Afineur, a coffee, so they actually make civet coffee. We also have—this will be the eventual biobattery, so you can probably see it here—this is actually going to be used to light an LED first, and we’re hoping to move it into much higher applications. We think we can get higher energy densities than lithium ion batteries, basically making them obsolete.

This is cellulose, which is grown in our lab. So this is actually going to hopefully be a replacement for energy and resource-intensive cotton and paper industries. We can just grow this in a bioreactor. The entrepreneur that did this in a lab is called Alex. Together we’ve probably helped to build, between Indie Bio and Berkeley Biolabs, about 15 companies, and we’re hoping to accelerate that. So hopefully this is a new age in biotech.

Thank you.

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