3 key takeaways from the 2023 SynBioBeta Conference 

SynBioBeta was back live in Oakland this year, and it did not disappoint! The event offered a healthy mix of company and service provider presentations, panel discussions, product demos, 1:1 meetups, and corridor catch ups with old friends.  It was a great gathering opportunity for industry partners, startups, and investors alike to discuss and learn how our ability to program biology may solve the world’s most critical problems.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed attending and presenting or participating as a panelist. This year, I had the pleasure of discussing “Investing in Our Future: How can Climate Tech Investment Have a Greater Impact?” along with Tom Baruch (Baruch Future Ventures), Maryanna Saenko (Future Ventures), and Shuo Yang (Lowercarbon Capital).

A few takeaways from the conference and some food for thought:

1. We’re starting to focus on the right elements of SynBio

Looking back on SynBioBeta, it’s refreshing to notice there’s been a shift in the space toward this understanding. More and more people appear to be focusing on the products and the problems they intend to solve. 

2. Lab and manufacturing automation are on the rise

The exhibition hall this year was filled with various robotic and/or other solutions that could help reduce the manual and tedious tasks for researchers, ranging from compact adjustable multichannel pipettes and automatic high throughput plasmid purification to high throughput protein quantification. While an older and bulkier version of similar machines has been around for some time, they were often left to gather dust in a corner room. In the past, most researchers wouldn’t trouble themselves with the training and the hassles of setting them up unless they were looking for a truly high throughput one-off type of experiment that really would have been excruciatingly painful without. 

Today, combining skilled labor shortages in certain specialties and the fact that automation systems have become more affordable, reliable, compact, and easy to use, lab automation solutions are rapidly becoming integral to R&D lab setups.

3. We’re still talking scale

Scale continues to be everyone’s favorite topic of discussion. Given that the conference had a heavy implication on commercialization, it was hardly surprising. Various solutions are being developed and deployed, such as monitoring solutions for traditional biological processes, AI-assisted scale-up, and cost estimation, to tools that may fundamentally change how we think about scaling biology processes. 

While scale was certainly in the limelight, equally important remarks were raised about how important it is to know why you’re scaling to begin with. Scaling a process that yields products nobody is willing to pay for now (or never) is like pouring capital into an empty bucket with a hole in the bottom.

SynBio holds great promises, but it’s a tool

As always, it was great to attend SynbioBeta. While Creative Ventures strictly invests in companies addressing existing market problems by using advanced technology-based solutions, synthetic biology remains a powerful tool with the potential to enable biological system manipulation and controls. We look forward to speaking with founders who are solving the world’s most critical problems with defensible technological solutions–synbio or not.

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