Mar 9, 2020

Growing Zymergen’s Opportunity to Drive the Fourth Industrial Revolution through Biology

by Josh Hoffman, CEO, Zymergen

The World Economic Forum and McKinsey recently published a whitepaper in which they recognize Zymergen as a “lighthouse company”, helping drive what they characterize as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (they also presented us with a lighthouse award, which a number of my colleagues shared from Davos). As the paper’s authors explain it, advances in manufacturing — from the technical to the financial to operational — are driving this Fourth Industrial Revolution. I’d like to offer another driver; one that I would argue is far more powerful and consequential. At Zymergen, our core belief is that the real manufacturing revolution is actually biological.

The world of petroleum-based material development and manufacturing is experiencing a significant innovation lull; fewer new ideas, fewer areas for improvement, and a finite raw material resource that’s running out quickly. Bio-based manufacturing is the answer. Quite literally, the next industrial revolution.

L-R: Jay Konieczka (COO, Co-founder, enEvolv), George Church (Co-founder, enEvolv), Josh Hoffman (CEO, Zymergen), Colin South (CEO, enEvolv)

At Zymergen, we know biology itself is the world’s greatest manufacturing system, so we partner with nature to create and commercialize revolutionary new materials. We developed a unique technology platform that combines biology, machine learning, and automation to unlock the secrets of the largest library of proprietary genomic data in the world, and we use that information to discover, design and scale in a way no other company can. As a result, we can bring new products to market in half the time and for one-tenth the cost of companies that use petrochemical-based materials. And the applications are incredibly broad: from electronics to adhesives to agriculture products — and more. There are loads of benefits to our approach, including lower cost, shorter time to market and dramatically lower environmental footprint. But at the end of the day, we’re actually making better products, and that’s a key difference between our team and others in this emerging space.

Our team fuses deep biology, chemistry, and computer science expertise, and with our partners in aligned industries, we can address real-world challenges with biology; moving from discovery to development to commercialization faster than anyone. We invested in creating an automated, high-throughput biomanufacturing system that can be reconfigured in minutes and can scale to fill a factory, bringing the best of pure technology, automation, and biological experimentation together in a single platform that is wholly transforming the way things are made. And as the WEF report highlighted, this is where being a truly ‘end-to-end’ company really comes to life. In the time we’ve been in operation, we have realized a 40% increase in our production yield and a 50% reduction in lead time, all while lowering our operating costs by 42% — simply by optimizing our capacity, inventory and teams.

Personally, I couldn’t be happier about our leadership role in this powerful emerging space. But this story is actually a natural continuation of my own personal journey. I grew up on a farm, and I can still remember the frustration my family felt about materials or systems that failed when we needed them most. Water supply lines that would break during cold snaps and expose livestock to dehydration. Equipment that was unnecessarily complex and heavily dependent on petroleum products. Time-consuming, repetitive work that could have easily been automated. All of this took time away from the actual job of running a farm. Through these experiences, I developed an intense appreciation for biological systems, materiality, and an understanding of how things work. Said another way, I spent a lot of my life at the intersection of technology, biology, and systems of varying degrees of efficiency. In my current role as CEO of Zymergen, these experiences help inform the work we do every day, and the end result is better products, made better — which ultimately makes for a much better tomorrow.