Station F

What’s the next big thing? Computational synthetic biology

This is episode 28 of The French Tech Comedy by DNA cowgirl.

The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone, by Brian Merchant

Episode 1: The Science of Sakura

Episode 2: Lost in Telomere Translation

Episode 3: Feel Flee to Donate

Episode 4: Pasteurising Tech With the French Touch

Episode 5: The Newborn Symphony Project

Episode 6: The Unknown 9% of the Human Genome

Episode 7: The Apple Tech Specs Conference

Episode 8: religA.I.on

Episode 9: Hiroshima is Japan’s World Trade Center

Episode 10: Mao’s Robots

Episode 11: Zazen in the Shinkansen

Episode 12: The Last (French) Samurai

Episode 13: To Humanity and Beyond

Episode 14: The Music of Genomic Origami

Episode 15: Direct-to-consumer Ikigami Genetics

Episode 16: Underground Science

Episode 17: Gene Karaoke Groove

Episode 18: The Osaka Forever-Young Army

Episode 19: The Toilet Slippers

Episode 20: Ichi Efu

Episode 21: The Human Sapienome with the French touch

Episode 22: The World of Sin and The World of Shin

Episode 23: Final Fantasy and the last-ditch effort in the DNA game industry

Episode 24: Will CRISPR spirit us away?

Episode 25: The Science of Sakura and The Science of Yakuza

Episode 26: Origami Blade Runner

Episode 27: Laser Blade Runner

Previously in The French Tech Comedy: Yuki, a Japanese geisha and musician from Tokyo will get married to Nono, a French engineer, talented at raising funds that are aimed at fueling the efforts of cutting-edge science in medicine, ageing, sustainable energy and more. Nono is interested in A.I. and deep learning. Science in his view amounts to a video game, just like anything else. The wedding is scheduled to take place in just two months but the new couple, now living in Singapore, is starting to feel the pressure. As she admires her brother Taka, a scientist aimed at disrupting cancer treatment, Yuki has started broadcasting videos about science and society on her YouTube channel: A Geisha Lost Between Two Worlds. She gets in touch with Geronimo Faber PhD, who is spearheading the global crusade to defeat ageing. Faber had promised he would answer personally during a Ask me anything on Reddit session, but when he sees Yuki’s questions, he finds himself lost in translation. The geisha seeks the help of her friend Koba, a manga artist. Both of them are working on a book project: The French Tech manga. Faber’s answer to Yuki has unexpected consequences. Yuki accidentally ends up raising funds for her brother’s lab, Takafumi Nagato, an oncologist who is leading the lab of Bioinformatics for personalised CAR-T-therapies in a Tokyo clinic. Nono has been working on some deep-learning A.I. tools for smartphones. On a mission as a geisha with corporate clients at Senbon main temple in Kyoto — the temple with 10,000 bright orange dorii gates — Yuki is the reluctant “test runner” of Nono’s deep-learning A.I. software. She finds it hard to be the perfect host — a geisha’s real job — for (all together) shrine spirits, unhappy ghosts, Nono’s A.I. in beta version and, last but not least, her clients, salary men and women working with Fujimoto Pharmaceutical corporation. The experimental deep learning program got hired by Elon Musk and is working on projects led by Google, Apple, Tencent, the Harvard Medical School. Also, it has drafted French Tech blogger Thomas’ upcoming presentation in Beijing and has found a new job for Nono, in a Chinese company that will enable customers to download their own medical imaging and its interpretation (diagnostic and treatment) on their smartphone.

Yuki is back in Paris. She is accompanying her brother Taka on a business trip to see investors, at Station F Paris, a mini-­replica of Silicon Valley outside the Future Shape door. F, like fun tech, or French tech. It’s a place where US investors and tech rock-stars can pick out younger versions of themselves, give them money, and — in a sense — watch all the possible versions of their own life story unfold again and again. Their job is to bring Silicon Valley in Paris. French biologist Mougin is also back from San Francisco for a few months, working at Station F. Synergies between his startup, Gene-i-us, and the French representation of a Chinese company that will enable customers to download their own medical imaging and its interpretation (diagnostic and treatment) on their smartphone, still need to be found and implemented.

Your DNA & medical data on your smartphone. Browse it on iTunes, own it & monetize it.

What’s the next big thing? Computational synthetic biology.

Taka’s contact in Paris, a business angel coming from Apple, on a mission to bring Silicon Valley in Paris, has just finished his keynote presentation at Station F.

My jacket as a member of the Walking Gallery of Health Care, painted by US activist and artist Regina Holliday

Taka was jet lagged, sad and tired. The two young doctors he was working with in China had just died, of lung cancer in both cases, this was probably a consequence of the bad air quality in Beijing, especially during the winter.

The data that was being presented by The Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal, one of the world’s oldest and best known general medical journals, was sobering:

“The quiet global killer, more than all others combined, besides tobacco:”

Nono was not too happy either, as he had just learned it was up to him to represent in France the made-by-China company in digital medicine, Hinacom, during Thomas’ keynote presentation, a few moments ago. He had already too much to do in Singapore, Japan and China. If he was to keep traveling around the world by plane, spending his time chasing guys working at V.C. firms, who would get the job done? Plus, wouldn’t that mean adding pollution to the quiet global killer number one, which happened to be… pollution?

A guy working in a startup at Station F was talking about autonomous drones, for massive reforestation. This was the kind of fun tech Nono was interested in; chasing venture capitalists round the globe round the clock was a job for the deep tech A.I. he was working on. But it seemed this was kind of backfiring, as his A.I. was getting him one new job after the other, instead of stealing his job. Nono was listening to Thomas:

“ — This Chinese company, Hinacom, is focusing on medical imaging involving A.I. (storage, interpretation). In cloud/Saas mode, it goes without saying. Medical imaging is the beating heart of conventional medicine. To see what’s going on inside of you, we need a whole variety of modalities: conventional and digital radiology, diagnostic ultrasound equipment, MRI scanners, and PET scans that can detect abnormal cell activity at the molecular level, allowing doctors to diagnose cancers and other diseases. The market was organised according to those modalities. Initially, with a computer equipped with analysis software (one per modality). Also, one per hospital in principle (there are over 1,000 public hospitals in France). Then we get to the level of hospital IT or computer servers, and so on. Now at Hinacom they are pushing the envelope as far as they can, using a multi-modal 3D cloud. With remote image analysis by experts. With AI, which allows to automatically detect, on a given exam done by medical imaging, cancerous cells for example. Hinacom services will also be available in France. Nono, a French engineer working in China and Japan, will be in charge. I suggested he should get in touch with the Estonian government, that since July 1rst is holding the Presidency of the European Union — in addition the Estonians have a personalised medical record in digital governance mode (x-road). Also, there are synergies with Apple and Mougin’s Gene-i-us startup that Nono should start exploring… and a couple of other startups, working in domains that could stick together with the made-in-China medical imaging management by Hinacom. Blockchain startups, mutual health insurance companies but not only…”

As soon as the short Q&A session following Thomas’ keynote speech is over, the king of Station F takes the stage. Or rather, the queen. Roxanne, a très hyperactive ghost in the French Tech’s shell:

“ — France is known for being unfavourable ground for businesses of all kinds, especially startups. It has high taxes, rigid labor laws, and a culture that is averse to the free market. But I have to concede that Niel, a billionaire eight times over, is putting his money where his mouth is. He’s making the case against Silicon Valley in the middle of Station F, a massive complex on the outskirts of Paris devoted exclusively to the care and feeding of startups. The building that houses it all is a former railroad terminal almost as long as the Eiffel Tower is tall and filled with a sea of desks — more than 3,000 in all. Basically, it’s a gargantuan coworking space, one that comes with all the amenities you’d find in a big Silicon Valley company campus — foosball tables, private conference rooms, fancy food courts, a chill zone, beanbag chairs. All of it is owned and operated by Niel.

He operates as its landlord. Young entrepreneurs with an idea have to apply to get in, and if they do, they pay a nominal fee for a desk and plug-and-play access to the entire French entrepreneurial ecosystem. Looking down from all sides are offices of the permanent tenants: angel networks, VC firms, incubator and accelerator programs, outposts of large firms like Facebook and Microsoft looking to hire and acquire. Those tenants pay top dollar for the advantage of being in the same building with all the young guns.” (Source)

Now, Roxanne is talking about Station F and funding:

“ — One of the nicest of the permanent offices belongs to Future Shape, Station F’s fund, which is now worth between $500 million and $1 billion. That’s equivalent to a medium- or even large-size venture fund. But the difference is that, unlike a VC fund, Station F’s fund doesn’t have a bunch of limited partners backing him, tracking returns over (typically) a 10-year maturation period. At Future Shape there’s none of the usual VC pressure to IPO or be acquired. So the point of Future Shape is finding those magic products — like the iPhone or the Nest thermostat — that need long runways but might change everything.”

Months later, it would appear that Nono’s experimental deep learning A.I. had been successful at helping Future Shape in their ability to become long-term investors. So many V.C.’s money had a life duration of 5 years maximum…

“ — We don’t have LP’s to report to and we don’t close funds after 5 years. Our incentives are different, our approach is more hands-on, and we’re in it for the long haul. ‘LP’ is a generic term for an investor in a venture capital fund. Typically they are pension funds or insurance companies, otherwise known as ‘institutional investors’, but they can also be corporates, wealthy individuals or governments looking to stimulate the startup ecosystem. LP is short for Limited Partner, a reference to the legal status of investors in venture capital funds — technically they are partners in the fund with limited rights and obligations.”

“ — Will L.P.’s and V.C.’s be disrupted by the blockchain and A.I. and deep learning and all that stuff?”, asked Yuki. She felt it was a stupid question to ask, but Roxanne had just said there was no such thing as a stupid question.

Roxanne’s answer came totally unexpected:

“ — I believe A.I. can and will do the job. More than anyone, A.I. already know that computational synthetic biology is the next big thing, and I’ll tell you why. It’s quite plain and simple: an A.I. is a ghost in the shell, so it needs a body.”

Catherine Coste

MITx 7.00x, 7.QBWx, 7.28x1–2 certified

Member of the Walking Gallery of Health Care, founded by US activist Regina Holliday

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