Synbiosys: Better than glass

We had the pleasure of working with Jose even before we started DSV, he joined us to help get things ready before the January launch. He was about to complete a PhD in raytrace modelling where he had built a large scale photoelectrochemical reactor water splitting (aka artificial leaf) in addition to using refraction to increase the yield of algae farms. Somehow in-between this he had also collected experience in several of Imperial’s spin-outs including Hydroventuri (micro-hydro energy), DeltaDot (label free imaging) and Duvas Technologies(air quality detection) where he led sales in Brazil.

Jose really wanted to build green energy technology, particularly more efficient solar panels and step beyond the incremental progress across research in this area. He quickly formed a tight team with Alexandre (background in biofluid dynamics) and they explored hundreds of ideas, sometimes killing them at the rate of one per day (!) as it turned out that the economics would never make sense, or the technology was just too far in the future. These included advancing his original work around improving algae yield, smog reduction techniques, using builds as hydro batteries, mopping up oil spills with bacteria and even solutions to prevent the decline in the bee population.

Then, late one day he came across an Innovate UK / DSTL call for proposals to produce transparent armour that could be made to be lighter and stronger than glass. The spark was ignited. Together with 7 other members of the cohort they worked intensively to come up with solutions and ultimately settled on a synthetic biology based solution and submitted the grant a just few minutes ahead of the deadline. Two weeks later he received the email, he’d been awarded £76,000 of funding!

Once again this is where things started to go wrong, not everyone was as passionate about spending the next 7–10 years on this so the team was now non-existent and then it turned out that there was a competitor with a significant head start using a very similar technology base. Back to the drawing board. Ultimately this setback proved an enormous blessing as it forced Jose to rethink the choice of technology and go out and speak to experts in those areas. The new approach (confidential for now) should actually be lighter, stronger and cheaper than glass across all applications which require a degree of impact resistance, significantly expanding the potential market.

Now that Jose had a reasonably clear vision on how to make the technology work he set about finding potential cofounders with the right complementary skill-sets. The first, Gareth Morgan was introduced by a Principal Investigator that Jose approached for feedback. The second, Gianmaria Bullegas was found via an email call to the entire department, many people responded by Gianmaria had exactly the right attitude and technical value add as they worked up ideas over the following weeks.

The team are now entering the lab to turn theory into practice and we’ll update this post once the results are in.

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