In August, Christian Brix Tillegreen, Senior Business Developer at BII was invited to the annual SynBioBeta Thought Leader Retreat, this year held in the Austrian Alps.
For three days, 100 of the brightest minds, entrepreneurs, investors and experts on synthetic biology met to discuss the most important topics and trends for the future of the emerging industry. Christian Brix Tillegreen has with his background in Novozymes as Innovation Manager been close to the synthetic biology industry since SynBioBeta was established in 2012, and has spent the first seven years of his career scouting for start-ups in the synthetic biology space. At BioInnovation Institute, he helps start-ups across medtech, pharma and industrial biotech develop their businesses in the programs Business Acceleration Academy and Creation House.
Amongst the participants of the Thought Leader Retreat were Emily Leproust, founder and CEO of Twist Bioscience, who is transforming the production of synthetic DNA. Austin Che, co-founder of Gingko Bioworks, that raised more than USD 500M and is changing the future of microbial engineering. Herman Hauser, a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Amadeus Capital and Jason T. Gammack, co-founder of Inscripta, a company that just raised USD 130M to bring a benchtop CRISPR-based platform to market.
At the retreat, Christian Brix Tillegreen represented BII for its role as an incubator and accelerator in Denmark that already has a strong legacy in synthetic biology with corporates such as Chr. Hansen and Novozymes plus the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability. We asked Christian Brix Tillegreen about his experiences from the retreat.
What was the setup for the three days?
Usually at conferences, you meet hundreds of people, talk for five minutes, shake hands and exchange business cards. This retreat was a completely different experience. We started with a huge brainstorm on topics for our conversations for the following days, and we were afterward sent off in busses to the alps to do walk-and-talks all day in smaller groups on the hottest of the topics. This way of being isolated on a mountainside with a smaller group of people and plenty of time to discuss large topics was a great experience and allowed us to go much more into depth than you usually would when meeting the top 100 in synthetic biology.
What were the hot topics at the retreat?
There were many discussions around the food space on whether we should grow beef in petri dishes or go plant-based. Does it make sense to develop advanced technology using stem cells when we can engineer and ferment proteins using plants? Another widely discussed subject was the resilience of synthetic biology. Will some areas be obsolete, by for example electrification of transport or regulatory barriers against modified organism?
Where do you think synthetic biology is going?
The synthetic biology space is a really good echo of the world economy. A few years ago, our eyes were on the companies that replaced harsh chemicals with biochemicals and worked in biofuels. We then moved into the next phase of trying to understand the human microbiome and using bacteria as therapeutics and today, we are well into the next phase which is animal-free proteins. I think we will see a lot more companies in this area and in consumer products. In the future, everything we touch will be impacted by synthetic biology.
Which Danish companies should we keep an eye out for?
BioSyntia is producing vitamins in bacteria and they have come far. It is a very interesting project and they now need to show that they can scale the production. BioPhero is a spin-out from DTU BioSustain that are working on biological insect control for agriculture and from our program, Business Acceleration Academy, we have Octarine that is developing yeast-based novel cannabinoids. All three companies are very promising, and I am quite sure that we will see plenty of interesting and innovative future synthetic biology companies coming into BII programs in the coming years.