On EQT Ventures’ investment in Origin.Bio, the synthetic biology company breaking our societal addiction to petrochemicals

Gregory Bernstein
May 26 · 5 min read

Today, Origin.Bio announced its $15m Series Seed, led by EQT Ventures with participation from existing investor BlueYard Capital, Taavet Hinrikus and Sten Tamviki, Inventures, Acequia Capital, and Charlie Songhurst. Origin.Bio is a next-generation synthetic biology company that replicates and improves ingredients from traditional chemical industrialization processes, freeing manufacturers from petrochemical dependency.

Okay, let’s get the important but obvious out of the way. You know that our planet is in serious trouble. We are drowning in plastic waste, consuming too much, and being cooked by rising temperatures. It’s bad and we are running out of time to fix it. But I’m quite certain you get enough of this doom and gloom.

This post is about good news. It’s about new solutions emerging from the $4 trillion bioeconomy. It’s about Jens Klein’s mission to reinvent how we produce materials and his courage to leave safer waters behind to do it.

Jens Klein, Origin.Bio’s Founder & CEO, flanked by Team EQTV

But this wouldn’t be an EQT Ventures’ investment announcement without some storytelling (@Ted) to set the stage…

Back in 2015, a few friends of mine asked me to join a sailing trip that they were planning from their home base in the Bahamas to the US East Coast, via Bermuda (shoutout Island School). For the maritime-minded reader, you know an invitation like this comes your way for a few reasons:

1) You know something about sailing and/or ocean-going navigation

2) You can cook pretty well and don’t get seasick in the process

3) Neither 1 nor 2 apply but you’re fine taking orders

4) None of the above but you’re a decent backgammon player

Given my previous life as a ship captain in the U.S. Coast Guard, I’m sure you can sort out why I was invited.

This particular trip had an added incentive though. It was sponsored to raise awareness about the types of plastic pollution in our oceans. Until then, I had failed to fully grasp that one of the biggest issues with plastic is its source. Because it is a petroleum-based product, plastic boasts a number of unsustainable traits from the CO2 emitted in its manufacturing to the havoc it wreaks on an ecosystem as it breaks down.

As you know, this is now a common scene. But plastic is really just the beginning. Nearly everything we consume is derived from petrochemicals (pic from Nat Geo)

But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. In one of the trip’s more morose moments, my host said, “Greg, do you realize how many of our materials and products are caught in this same destructive loop?”

The answer is yes — it’s pretty much everything. Most of the products we use everyday are derived from petrochemicals, including medicine, clothes, shampoo, and toothpaste. The production of these chemicals and their products is the world’s largest industrial energy consumer and the 3rd largest industrial emitter of CO2 globally. The waste generated and energy consumed in their production is at the core of our planetary crisis.

And yet, while it is a broken system, it is ultimately just that; a system. We demand these products and the market provides them. 24/7.

To have a chance to break our societal addiction to this cycle, we need fundamentally different approaches to the system. We need solutions born from a re-imagination of how corporations manufacture our demand and then how we consume these products. Ultimately, we need to invest in leaders and processes that recognize that this is not a problem that we can solve with the same thinking that created it (h/t Einstein).

This is exactly why we are thrilled to back Jens Klein and the rest of the Origin.Bio team.

Origin.Bio’s solution harnesses a new paradigm in manufacturing; synthetic biology (synbio). Synbio is a field of science that leverages nature’s existing processes and design principles at the nanoscopic level to manufacture novel materials.

Origin.Bio uses these methods to design organisms that replicate many of the same ingredients from traditional chemical industrialization processes. These microorganisms are capable of creating the materials for everything from the fibers in your shoes to your favorite shampoo, without compromising performance or sustainability.

There’s been no shortage of synbio innovation in labs and startups across the globe. Jens should know. As the CEO of AMSilk from 2014 to 2020, he led one of Europe’s first product-focused synbio companies and built the world’s leading supplier of biotech silk materials to companies such as Adidas and Airbus. However, while there, Jens recognized an opportunity to dream even bigger.

Despite the many excellent synbio technologies and R&D teams emerging from Europe and the US, they have, so far, struggled to scale. There’s good reason though. The petrochemical juggernaut and the many brands that rely on their materials simply can’t take the opportunity cost to fully switch. Corporate promises of “Now with 30% less plastic!” and “From Recycled Material” are nice but they won’t get us out of this mess. Unless we reinvent how companies integrate bio-based materials into their everyday products, the noble efforts to create them will remain niche.

That’s why Jens founded Origin.Bio.

Instead of building a manufacturing company and trying to integrate new (and unproven) materials into product lines, Jens and his team collaborate with the brands to develop specific and superior products, leveraging synbio technologies. Right now.

Then, partnering with existing synbio companies ready for the market but without a target to shoot at, Origin.Bio can generate sustainable materials at speed with an asset-light and cost effective strategy, while delivering the same (or better) performance.

Needless to say, we’re pretty excited to announce the company’s round and emergence from stealth. Big thanks to my dear colleagues Ted and Sandra for their unwavering support in getting this deal done. We’d also be remiss without acknowledging our co-investors in this round and Origin.Bio’s first investors: Jason Whitmire, Pia Michel, and the team at BlueYard Capital. They incubated Jens as an Executive-in-Residence and led the way. Onward, together.

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