We recently attended Rebel Bio's 2017 Demo Day! Rebel Bio is a biotech accelerator out of Cork, and an arm of the impressive SOSV stable - you can find out more about SOSV and Rebel Bio's sister accelerator Indie Bio in Episode 26 of our podcast.
The showcase featured 15 early stage biotech startups and was held in the swishy new Imperial College I-HUB. The I-HUB is a workspace designed to engage businesses that seek to leverage Imperial's scientific brain trust, in order to spin out tech from the lab into the marketplace.
The afternoon got off to a great start with BAFTA award winning producer John Lloyd (...yes of Spitting Image and Blackadder fame). John mirrored another comedy legend Alan Alda, in playing up his ignorance while wearing his love of science and curiosity on his sleeve. John did a wonderful job of breaking the ice for the session ahead, and everyone was excited to see the amazing biotech advances that would follow.
We've picked a few of our favourites from the afternoon, but do take a look at all the startups from the day in this playlist.
Kaitek Labs - Emilia Diaz, CEO
Emilia's company, Kaitek, offers an on site bacterial-sensing kit called MOSES, that alerts the user to a toxic sample of shellfish. Food poisoning kills hundreds of thousands of people per year, and with 3 billion people exposed to the threat due a dependence on seafood, a quick test can have a real life saving impact. Kaitek aims to have the kit in the hands of the shellfish industry (and consumers) within two years, and Emilia claimed that this technology could be extended to many other food borne toxins.
Kaitek seems to be onto a really powerful idea despite making the controversial claim that oysters can 'look wonderful, and taste amazing' ...
Cell Free Technologies - Thomas Meany, CEO
Thomas had a great start, with an enthusiastic opener and got to work explaining the fascinating work Cell Free are performing. Today if you're keen to leverage the power of the cellular machinery and produce a protein, you would need a BSL certified lab, which essentially shuts the door on molecular biology for the many. The tech behind Cell Free opens up access to protein production by carefully stripping away the unnecessary cell material while retaining the core protein building infrastructure, which means that they can be handled by anyone. Cell Free has garnered a lot of attention, evidenced by their massively oversubscribed alpha release, and with the promise of regular people producing proteins on the order of hours rather than days, we may now have a justifiable candidate for the 'Raspberry Pi' of biology.
Galactica Biotech - Jorge Valencia, CEO
The development of a drug can take decades and cost billions. First, you must identify a target, then you must identify a molecule that hits that target. Galactica seeks to utilise the power of machine learning to find alternate targets for molecules that are already available. These molecules can then be repurposed for new diseases, thus cutting the time of drug rollout dramatically.
They also get the award for best pun, with 'teach old drugs new tricks'. Good work.
Sex Positive - Mary Ward, CSO
Sex Positive has high aspirations for themselves, seeking to be as paradigm shifting as the home pregnancy test was, but this time for STIs. They provide a DNA based home testing kit for chlamydia and gonorrhea. STIs are the number one thing diagnosed in the clinic and as such, Sex Positive are walking in to a potentially lucrative market. As with Kaitek, Sex Positive also showed interest in applying their tech to the sensing of other infectious diseases. Great!
You can imagine the claims now: biotech is a regulatory nightmare! It takes too long for the product to get to market, and the domain knowledge to execute isn't in place to make the venture a reality.
Bill was keen to ground the concept of biotech ventures in reality. The truth is, as Bill noted, that through just 3 months at Rebel Bio these startups have proven their market fit, produced revenues, and made a valuable impact in the communities they seek to help. These are all statements that have shown that biotech (or more appropriately bioware) is worth backing, and is not something that should send shivers down an investor's spine.
Bill explained that he's seen enough cat videos, and from our perspective it's clear that the low hanging tech fruit has largely been picked. The market is saturated with dating apps, social networks, and food delivery services. How about we spend time on meaningful ventures? In the case of the Rebel Bio Demo Day, a whole lot of meaning can be derived from the efforts of the amazing founders that got onto the stage on Wednesday. By dedicating their lives to making leaps in bioware and deep tech, they are striving to change the world, and in turn we should be brave and curious enough to support them.