SOSV’s IndieBio — New York’s Latest Launch Pad for Early-Stage Biotech
The commercial life sciences sector is entering a golden age in New York City, marked by explosive growth in the industry. New York’s life sciences industry continued to thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic and will be a significant source of new jobs and business formation as communities across the city and state rebuild their economies.
In 2019, the Partnership Fund partnered with New York state to help venture fund SOSV bring its life science accelerator program, IndieBio, to New York City. Since the program’s launch in May 2020, IndieBio NY companies have raised over $25 million in venture capital funding.
We caught up with the team at IndieBio to discuss the launch of its New York program and the role that IndieBio is playing in making New York a leader in life sciences and expanding the sector from therapeutics to a broader “biology-tech” ecosystem.
Tell us about SOSV’s IndieBio accelerator program.
SOSV’s IndieBio is the world’s leading biotech startup development program. We work with biotech startups solving the biggest problems in human and planetary health.
We select from hundreds of applications and gather the top 10–15 startups for the four-month in-person program. Each startup receives $275,000, rent-free lab space to de-risk the technology and access to a global network of mentors and investors across SOSV. The IndieBio team works daily with founders during the program to ensure they are on track to reach critical milestones to grow and attract future investment.
The relationship between IndieBio and its alumni companies continues after the program, too. IndieBio team members continue to make introductions for portfolio companies and help founders refine their fundraising pitches as their companies grow.
IndieBio is backed by SOSV, which has a global network of investors. By engaging this network to help startups in their seed round, IndieBio catalyzes VC activity in the early-stage biotech space.
Why did IndieBio open a program in New York City? What helped facilitate that launch?
New York has many ingredients for a flourishing biotech innovative ecosystem: New York graduates more life science doctorates/Ph.D.’s than any other state in the nation. Additionally, 60% of large pharmaceutical companies have their national or global headquarters in New York, and the state is home to a quarter of the clinical trials in the US. And while New York state has received significant National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation funding at its universities and research institutions, this has failed to translate into a state-wide commercial biotech sector comparable to Massachusetts or San Francisco, recipients of similar financing.
What has always been lacking in New York is the elusive ‘first check’ that early-stage life science companies require to get going and a deep pool of management with a track record of starting and scaling successful life science companies. New York and Wall Street investors typically invest in much later stage life science companies, often with revenues or clinical data — this is where IndieBio saw an opportunity.
Life science companies with prestigious academic scientific founders, experienced management and connections to the VC establishment typically receive funding. Companies without these connections but with great ideas and teams deemed too risky by others are not getting funded — these are the IndieBio companies.
Partnerships with Empire State Development and the Partnership Fund for New York City were critical to IndieBio’s success in New York. In addition to $35 million in capital, our partners have helped us increase our east coast network of biotech executives, investors and entrepreneurs. This nucleation of activity is already showing positive results in life science companies relocating or setting up in New York; VCs from outside the state investing in New York companies; job growth; and the development of innovative new products and services in New York and beyond.
In the past couple of years, the New York biotech ecosystem has proven highly resilient, collaborative and dedicated to the growth of life sciences technologies across the board.
What makes New York a good place for scientists to commercialize and build their companies?
Growth in the New York biotech sector is evolving quickly to produce a vibrant innovation ecosystem where early-stage life science companies can start, grow and scale a business.
- The scientific talent is here: life sciences jobs increased 9% between 2018 and 2019, filled in part by the more than 112,000 graduate students at New York academic institutions.
- The space is here (and more is coming): Many key real estate firms are actively developing lab space for the growing number of biotech companies.
- And, perhaps most importantly, the venture funding is here: the amount of VC investment has increased to place New York state third in venture funding in 2020, behind only Massachusetts and California.
Tell us about a few of your graduates.
Halomine participated in the inaugural New York class at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company’s HaloFilm product is a companion to bleach-based cleaners that safely extends the life of bleach on surfaces. Now based in Ithaca, Halomine developed its technology in part at Cornell University.
During the program, Halomine demonstrated that HaloFilm provides extended protection against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Less than a year after Demo Day, the company formed a strategic alliance with Diversey, a global innovator in cleaning and hygiene technology, to bring its HaloFilm product to market.
Cayuga Biotech, a therapeutics startup that produces polyphosphate-based drugs to treat major bleeding events, was also part of the first IndieBio NY class. IndieBio mentorship helped the team to shift their go-to-market strategy by identifying an important and underserved market: reversal of the blood thinner clopidogrel.
During the four-month program, Cayuga unlocked $1.75 million additional funds from SOSV and the Partnership Fund through the new therapeutics seed track, available for therapeutics startups that participate in the IndieBio NY program. This seed money is available only to New York-based startups. Cayuga was happy to relocate to New York City to access the capital, mentorship, and fundraising that New York provides.
Beemmunity produces a food additive for bees that protects them from the effects of pesticides. CEO James Webb developed the core technology as a Cornell University graduate student. The basis of this technology, published in Nature Food, garnered national media attention from ABC News and NPR, among others. Beemmunity is currently raising its seed round to scale up production.
microTERRA, a startup creating a novel ingredient for the plant-based food industry, made tremendous progress during the IndieBio program. The CEO, Marissa Cuevas Flores (a Columbia University graduate), developed the initial farmer relationships to produce lemna, a high-protein plant, at scale, and derived the initial go-to-market product (green lemna meal) and a second, colorless product. The startup highlighted the versatility of its ingredient at a Demo Day tasting, which kicked off its recently closed $2.1 million seed raise.
What does the future look like for non-therapeutic biotechnologies and how is it helping make industries more sustainable?
Biotech plays a vital role in creating novel therapeutics, diagnostics, and devices to improve human health — but the ability to engineer biology has opened many additional opportunities to address major challenges in planetary health, as well.
Companies like microTERRA and Beemmunity are using biology to create healthier, more sustainable systems. Half of each IndieBio cohort are startups creating solutions to improve the sustainability of our energy, food, materials and waste systems. As home to major fashion brands, food and beverage producers and agricultural centers, New York City and state are a natural fit for both the development and adoption of biotech innovation.
We know there is room for massive growth in planetary health biotech, and we can simply look to the greater IndieBio portfolio for evidence. IndieBio San Francisco alumnus NotCo, a food technology company, has now reached unicorn status. Further, NotCo recently opened a commercial office in New York to leverage the benefits of the local ecosystem and continue its growth.
Our mission at IndieBio NY is to identify, accelerate and launch startups that, like NotCo, are raising the bar on sustainable innovations.
The Partnership Fund is thrilled to partner with IndieBio to help close the investment gap for biotech startups and build a more robust ecosystem for life sciences in New York. So far IndieBio has welcomed three New York cohorts. Explore the accelerator’s latest batch of New York graduates here.
Find short films about the companies featured in this article at the following links: