Jason Kelly, the CEO of a then-fledgling biology startup called Ginkgo Bioworks, reached out to Sam Altman, the president of the Silicon Valley tech-startup accelerator Y Combinator, to say he appreciated a blog post that Altman had written. One thing lead to another and several meetings later, Ginkgo became the first non-software startup to get Y Combinator funding.
"It was the best thing we ever did," Kelly said of Ginkgo's Y Combinator experience. Ginkgo's investors include the pharmaceutical companies Bayer and Roche and the Canadian cannabis company Cronos and it has raised a total amount of $719 million. On Thursday, Ginkgo announced a $290 million financing round which values the company at $4.8 billion.
Ginkgo is teaming up with Y Combinator to give other startups in the field of synthetic biology access to its tools, Ginkgo and Y Combinator told Business Insider. Ginkgo bills itself as the "organism company" because it uses custom-built cells to craft new materials and ingredients.
"I'd like YC to be the largest incubator of syn-bio companies in the world," Friedman said. In exchange for letting startups use its tools, Ginkgo will receive equity in the companies. The amount will be determined on a case-by-case basis, Kelly said.
From 2012 to 2017, funding for synthetic biology startups more than tripled, surpassing $1 billion for the first time in 2016.
"Ultimately this is why we want to do this: There's a lot more smart people outside Ginkgo than inside it," Kelly said. "We'd rather embrace that than fight it."