Last August, I wrote about Y Combinator’s growing focus on life sciences, detailing the five biotech and six bio-related startups that took part in the Summer 2014 batch. Since then, the bio seed market has seen a lot of action: seven months is a long time in Startupland.
New player Indie Bio has been establishing itself on the bio accelerator / seed-fund front, while more targeted programs like the Illumina Accelerator have been starting to make their mark. Existing power players like Breakout Labs have also been expanding their portfolios and the rise of AngelList Syndicates is opening up bio investment opportunities to non-specialists.
It's probably fair to say, therefore, that competition to get in on the early-stage rounds of promising life science talent is heating up. Has it impacted YC's ability to attract innovative startups? Judging by the quantity and quality of the latest batch's line-up (more on this below), the answer is a clear "no". There are probably two main reasons for this. First, it's important to note that participation in one program doesn’t preclude participation in another: RockHealth’s portfolio for example includes YC alumni Benchling, Aptible and Drchrono. Second, the allure of YC's prestige, experience and enormous network of advisors cannot be underestimated.
Yesterday, in a warm-up for today’s Demo Day, 108 companies (out of a huge batch of 114) pitched to an audience of YC alumni. YC has classified 18 of that number (15.78%) as biomedical startups, as you can see from the chart below.
Some of the companies are still in stealth mode, but here's an alphabetical list of those that are on the record, plus a summary of what each does. I've started off with what I call my "personal favorites". To be clear, this isn't me saying that they'll necessarily be the most successful ones but rather that they're the closest aligned to my bio interests.
20n: A synthetic bio company, using data-mining software to engineer microbes which can then create a spectrum of biologically producible chemicals. These chemicals, mapped out in the image to the right, have health and industrial biotech applications. An early example of a chemical produced from one of 20n's engineered bacterias is acetaminophen, commonly known as paracetamol or "Tylenol". 20n was founded by bioengineering post-doc and computer science PhD Saurahb Srivastava and UC Berkeley professor J. Christopher Anderson.
- Atomwise: Applying artificial intelligence to predict drug success. Based on the premise that it takes too much time and money to discover and produce new drugs ($2.6B on average according to some), Atomwise is using machine-learning algorithms and supercomputers to work out which medicines will work and which won't. The startup is currently working on an Ebola initiative among others.
- Diassess: Cheap, disposable hardware and a complementary mobile platform for DNA testing. Users take a small, hand-held test kit, apply a sample of DNA to it and then use a cell phone to read the results. Diassess' main focus at the moment appears to be on disease detection through DNA, but the startup also foresees chemical, forensic, agricultural and industrial use cases.
Notable Labs: Helping doctors find personalized combinations of FDA-approved drugs for brain cancer patients. Notable Labs uses the machine-learning services of fellow YC-startup Atomwise to assess which drugs are likely to work in general. It takes a patient's tumor sample and then uses a custom machine to work out which combinations of these drugs work best on it before supplying the information to physicians.
SIRUM: A platform for peer-to-peer drug redistribution. SIRUM claims that $5B of drugs are wasted, while 50M Americans alone don't fill their prescriptions because of the cost. The startup has built a system to enable pharmacies, manufacturers, wholesalers etc. to donate unused medication to safety-net clinics, supplying patients who might not otherwise have access.
- Standard Cyborg: Manufactures waterproof, carbon-fiber coated prosthetic legs, using 3D-printing techniques. Founder Jeff Huber is himself an amputee and so it's a personal mission for him. Since water causes many traditional prosthetics to rust and even break down, amputees typically have to remove them before paddling on a beach or even taking a shower. Standard Cyborg believes its customized "Water Leg" is a safer and more convenient option. While the current focus is on prosthetic legs, the company plans to expand its range in future in line with demand.
Transcriptic: Remote, on-demand life science research lab, where work is carried out by robots. Founded in 2012, Transcriptic is one of the more established startups of the batch, having already raised $14.3M in funding (disclosure: my husband is an early-stage investor) and counts Stanford and Harvard among its users. The company has engaged in a partnership with YC to provide each participating biotech company with $20K of free credit to carry out experiments.
AnalyticsMD: Real-time data analytics and predictions for hospital efficiency. It's common knowledge that the complexity of hospitals makes efficient use of resources difficult. AnalyticsMD is tackling the problem with a machine-learning system that takes in data from lots of sources, both internal and external, on bed usage, flu outbreaks, staff availability etc. It uses that information to predict events and identify areas that are causing issues.
Akido Labs: API for hospitals to integrate software with any hospital health record system. Health providers are under pressure from the Office of the National Coordinator for Electronic Health Records to take their patient records online, but they're all using different ways to do it. This makes it hard for health tech developers who are having to design for multiple systems. The team at Akido Labs aims to remove this obstacle by creating a standard API for developers to use, and handling the interface set-up with each hospital itself.
CloudMedX: Patient care management and health analytics platform. CloudMedX sells its software to a group of doctors and then takes electronic health record data onto its platform to create a profile for each patient. The information is accessible to the patient via an app, as well as to the doctors. The startup's software then performs analytics on the data of each patient to provide healthcare insights and predict problems.
Industrial Microbes: Designing microbes that turn natural gas into chemicals. The idea is that biofuels companies typically use sugar to create their chemicals but the high price of sugar is inhibiting their growth. Branding natural gas as "the new sugar", the founders of Industrial Microbes believe they have founder a cheaper way of generating biofuels.
Lully: Sleep improvement device and service for children, designed to prevent and reduce night terrors. When signing up, users must answer a number of questions about the child's sleeping patterns on the Lully app. It then notifies the user of the time at which the Lully device should be activated. The device goes underneath a child's pillow and vibrates for three minutes at the calculated time in a way that apparently soothes sleep patterns. Lully estimates that the device is typically only needed for four weeks before the night terrors abate.
Meadow: Buying platform and delivery service for medical marijuana. Meadow also arranges in-home consultations with licensed physicians for users who wish to obtain a medical marijuana card. Unsurprisingly, given the variation in marijuana laws, the service is currently only available in California.
MetricWire: Data collection and analysis platform for clinical trials. MetricWire argues that clinical trials are expensive, complicated and often fall behind schedule. The team believes that its mobile platform for collecting and analyzing data, which is open to clinicians and patients, will make it easier to spot underperformance and faster (and therefore cheaper) to make changes.
RescheduleMed: Automating scheduling for the medical world. The complexity of hospitals means that scheduling is still largely done on a manual basis and it's a big administrative burden. RescheduleMed hopes to reduce the problem and therefore lower costs by automating the system. The team says it is focusing on graduate medical education as that tends to be where the most complicated scheduling issues are but plans to expand its technology to every hospital department in future.
Shift Labs: Better design and expanded access for medical devices. The aim behind Seattle-based Shift is to create simpler, more elegant medical devices and to open up access to them. Some products might be useful for the developing world while others might be suited to challenging military environments. One example offered is the battery-operated DripAssist IV infusion device.
- Spire: Makes respiration sensors which monitor breathing patterns. The idea behind Spire is that by controlling our breathing, we can control our state of mind. By detecting changes in respiration, the Spire device can identify when the wearer is tense for example, and help him or her become calmer.
- Vetpronto: Exactly what it sounds like: an on-demand veterinary house call system. The service is currently only available in San Francisco.