One year ago, we launched OS Fund; what a fantastic year it’s been! It’s been uniquely satisfying to work alongside many of the world’s most capable entrepreneurs focusing on some of the most audacious projects on planet Earth.
— Bryan Johnson (@bryan_johnson) October 20, 2014
In a nutshell, here’s a snapshot of what some of our portfolio companies are working to achieve:
- Cure age-related diseases and radically extend healthy human life to 100+ (Human Longevity)
- Make biology a predictable programming language (Ginkgo Bioworks & Synthetic Genomics)
- Create advanced artificial intelligence (Vicarious and Viv)
- Mine an asteroid (Planetary Resources)
- Reinvent transportation using autonomous vehicles (Matternet)
- Reimagine food using biology (Hampton Creek)
- Rewrite the operating system of voting and governance (change.org)
- Make the microbiome useful for personalized medicine (uBiome)
- Reinvent scientific exploration and funding (Experiment)
- Better drug discovery using artificial intelligence (Atomwise)
- And many more
Their visions, determination, and progress has fueled me with optimism about the future.
In less than 18 months, one of our first investments, Human Longevity, has become the world’s largest sequencer of human genomes, launched the newly imagined preventive care center Health Nucleus (see video below), and inked a deal with one of the largest insurance companies in the world (Discovery) for low-cost exome sequencing, redefining personalized health care.
This past summer, Matternet piloted its autonomous vehicles to deliver mail in Switzerland. Where else better to test your product than within one of the world's most efficient postal services?
At the same time, they continue to work on using their fully autonomous vehicles to deliver critical supplies such as food and medicine to areas that are otherwise unreachable; for example, Matternet delivered supplies earlier this year in Bhutan.
One particularly exciting area to us is synthetic biology, which uses organisms and designs from nature to engineer new tools. Synthetic biologists are the future of engineering and are creating solutions now in food, flavors, textiles, and cosmetics – working toward solutions in health and medicine, the environment, and more.
A good example of this industry at work is a company we invested in this year, Ginkgo Bioworks. Based in Boston, this company is working to make the programming of biology more predictable. Ginkgo signed several deals this year in fragrances and flavoring, and we are proud to support them and excited to see what comes next!
Taking a different approach to reinventing the food industry is Hampton Creek, a company we invested in last year. It’s been a remarkable year for Hampton Creek – with their Just Mayo and other products on the shelves everywhere from Dollar Tree to Whole Foods – and also a tumultuous one – with recent stories surfacing that they were a target of an ugly attack by the American Egg Board. Reinventing an entire industry is no small task, and we look forward to seeing what the next year brings for Hampton Creek.
Other recent investments include: LightSail, which is working to produce the world’s cleanest and most economical energy storage systems; Viv, which is working on an advanced artificial intelligence interface; and Emerald Therapeutics, whose cloud lab is reimagining how biologists conduct their science, providing a virtual laboratory accessible via the Internet.
These future-literate founders are challenging our assumptions about what is possible and how we think about ourselves and the world around us in the most fundamental ways. We had the privilege of interviewing many of our portfolio company founders for a video exploration of “tools of creation.” Their optimism about the future and thoughtfulness about the risks involved in their technologies are truly inspiring.
Open sourcing our due diligence
In one of the biggest developments for OSF this year, we open sourced our “playbook” for conducting due diligence on companies in emerging areas of science and technology. We started with one domain, synthetic biology, using a case study from a leading company in that field.
Creating the OSF Playbook started as an internal process to improve our own due diligence. We recruited a team of experts in computation and modeling and biotechnology to research existing modeling efforts and create a systemic process for us. The goal was to reduce some of the biases common to evaluating start-ups, while also identifying unique risks and rewards posed by emerging sci-tech.
The model and modeling process that resulted have been hugely insightful in identifying the factors to prioritize in the due-diligence process. Last month, we shared the Playbook with the world, as a modest contribution to an increasingly collaborative and open funding ecosystem for future sci-tech.
We continue to solicit feedback on the model and our process from the broader community and look forward to future explorations in the coming year.
Exploring what it means to do good with tech
One of the most interesting intellectual explorations I’ve had this past year was around the topic of “Doing Good With Tech," a panel discussion I participated in at Collision. It’s germane to everything we’re doing at OS Fund, as our aim is to benefit the lives of billions for generations to come. The problem with using words such as “benefit” is that they mean very different things to people. Here is a snippet of the piece I wrote prior to the panel, which appeared in TechCrunch:
So if everyone’s ideas of good and bad are different, how can we decide how to do good with technology? In exploring this, I realized this may be the wrong starting point. Instead, the following may be a better guide: The best way to do good with technology is to build good technology.
When I think about our founders and their teams, I reflect on the 14 challenging years I spent in the trenches of entrepreneurship building many companies, constantly being dead broke, putting out ceaseless fires, having intense family pressures with young children, etc. Now being on the other side of the table, I think about the dramatic difference of offering perspective and making minor contributions to help founders when they’re carrying the weight of the world. Bottom line is this: Being an investor can be hard. Being a founder is always insanely hard.
I deeply admire and respect those of you who give it your all, enduring the most challenging of circumstances to do something exceptional. Thank you for doing what others can’t or won’t do.