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Color raises $167 million funding at $1.5 billion valuation to expand ‘last mile’ of U.S. health infrastructure

Healthcare startup Color has raised a sizeable $167 million in Series D funding round, at a valuation of $1.5 billion post-money, the company announced today. This brings the total raised by Color to $278 million, with its latest large round intended to help it build on a record year of growth in 2020 with even more expansion to help put in place key health infrastructure systems across the U.S. – including those related to the “last mile” delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.

This latest investment into Color was led by General Catalyst, and by funds invested by T. Rowe Price, along with participation from Viking Global investors as well as others. Alongside the funding, the company is also bringing on a number of key senior executives, including Claire Vo (formerly of Optimizely) as Chief Product Officer, Emily Reuter (formerly of Uber, where she played a key role in its IPO process) as VP of Strategy and Operations, and Ashley Chandler (formerly of Stripe) as VP of Marketing.

“I think with the [COVID-19] crisis, it’s really shone the light on that lack of infrastructure. We saw it multiple times, with lab testing, with antigen testing, and now with vaccines,” Color CEO and co-founder Othman Laraki told me in an interview. “The model that we’ve been developing, that’s been working really well, and we feel like this is the opportunity to really scale it in a very major way. I think literally what’s happening is the building of the public health infrastructure for the country that’s starting off from a technology-first model, as opposed to, what ends up happening in a lot of industries, which is you start off taking your existing logistics and assets, and add technology to them.”

Color’s 2020 was a record year for the company, thanks in part to partnerships like the one it formed with the the City of San Francisco to establish testing for health care workers and residents. Laraki told me they did about five-fold their prior year’s business, and while the company is already set up to grow on its own sustainably based on the revenue it pulls in from customers, its ambitions and plans for 2021 and beyond made this the right time to help it accelerate further with the addition of more capital.

Laraki described Color’s approach as one that is both cost-efficient for the company, and also significant cost-saving for the healthcare providers it works with. He likens their approach to the shift that happened in retail with the move to online sales – and the contribution of one industry heavyweight in particular.

“At some point, you build Amazon – a technology-first stack that’s optimized around access and scale,” Laraki said. “I think that’s literally what we’re seeing now with healthcare. What’s kind of getting catalyzed right now is we’ve been realizing it applies to the COVID crisis, but also, we started actually working on that for prevention and I think actually it’s going to be applying to a huge surface area in healthcare; basically all the aspects of health that are not acute care where you don’t need to show up in hospital.”

Ultimately, Color’s approach is to re-think healthcare delivery in order to “make it accessible at the edge directly in people’s lives,” with “low transaction costs,” in a way that’s “scalable, [and] doesn’t use a lot of clinical resourcing,” Laraki says. He notes that this is actually very possible once you re-asses the problem without relying on a lot of accepted knowledge about the way things are done today, which result in a “heavy stack” vs. what you actually need to deliver the desired outcomes.

Laraki doesn’t think the problem is easy to solve – on the contrary, he acknowledges that 2021 is likely to be even more difficult and challenging than 2020 in many ways for the healthcare industry, and we’ve already begun to see evidence of that in the many challenges already faced by vaccine distribution and delivery in its initial rollout. But he’s optimistic about Color’s ability to help address those challenges, and to build out a ‘last mile’ delivery system for crucial care that expands accessibility, while also making sure things are done right.

“When you take a step back, doing COVID testing, or COVID vaccinations is actually those are not complex procedures at all – they’re extremely simple procedures,” he said. “What’s hard is doing them massive scale, and with a very low transaction cost to the individual and to the system. And that’s a very different tooling.”

Agricultural biotech startup Boost Biomes adds a strategic investor in Japan’s Universal Materials Incubator

Boost Biomes, the Y Combinator-backed developer of microbiome-based bio-fungicides and bio-pesticides for agricultural applications, has added $2 million in funding and picked up a new strategic investor in Japan’s Universal Materials Incubator.

To date, Boost Biomes has raised over $7 million in financing to support the development of new products like its biofungicide developed from the micro-organisms that live in the soil in a symbiotic relationship with the plants.

The work that Boost does is primarily on understanding the interactions between microbes and plants in the soil. “The goal is to be  the discovery engine and develop new microbial products for use in food and agriculture,” said Boost chief executive and co-founder Jamie Bacher.

The commitment from Japan’s Universal Materials Incubator expands on a $5 million institutional round led by another strategic partner, Yara International, a global crop nutrition company and venture investors like Viking Global Investors and Y Combinator.

Boost hopes to tackle issues in agriculture like spoilage, bacterial contamination and pathogen infrestations, as well as addressing diseases that can affect plant health directly.

Boost is already working with an undisclosed biomanufacturing partner to develop its biofungicide.

UMI’s decision to invest in Boost comes from our evaluation of their team, technology, and the associated market opportunities.  We believe that Boost’s platform generates a unique data set that can be exploited for far superior products with many diverse microbiome applications in food and agriculture,” said Yota Hayama, an investor at UMI, in a statement. “These are critical areas to achieve food security and promote sustainable agriculture. We also expect Boost’s huge potential on other areas where microbiomes are utilized.”

 

Genomatica’s expanded Aquafil partnership brings biomaterials to more consumer goods

In a deal that has potentially big implications for the sustainability of consumer packaged goods, biomaterial manufacturing technology developer Genomatica and the massive nylon material manufacturer Aquafil have partnered on a new demonstration scale facility.

Nylon-6 is used to make everything from toothbrush bristles to pantyhose and industrial materials like carpeting and other heavy-duty fabrics.

The material will be used to develop renewable products and showcase goods that can be brought to market as more companies look to clean up their supply chains and make products that have fewer negative consequences for the environment at the end of their life.

The deal is a 50-fold expansion of previous production levels for Genomatica and represents a significant expansion of Genomatica’s capabilities.

The textile industry is a $960 billion business, and it’s one of the most polluting in the world — both in terms of chemical treatments and greenhouse gas emissions. According to data cited by the World Economic Forum, the textile industry accounts for 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per-year — nearly as much as the auto industry. Nylon production alone is responsible for about 60 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, according to the companies.

The multi-year agreement with European-based Aquafil expands on the two companies’ existing relationship. Earlier this year the two companies produced the first ton of bio-nylon-6 precursor material at a pilot scale. Now, the move to a demonstration scale plant will give Genomatica the ability to move ahead with supply agreements to certain brand partners.

Clothing maker Far Eastern New Century uses Genomatica’s products in its clothes, and other partnerships are in the works, the company said.

Genomatica is backed by Casdin Capital, Viking Global Investors, which continues as Genomatica’s largest shareholder, and organism engineering partner Ginkgo Bioworks .

“Bio-nylon is positioned to replace a material that’s used in millions of applications every day,” said Christophe Schilling, Genomatica CEO. “Our research shows that despite health and economic turmoil, 56% of Americans still want brands to prioritize sustainability. With this scale, Genomatica is offering our brand partners a key way to meet their sustainability objectives, differentiate themselves, and meet surging consumer demand.”

Aquafil is building the plant in Slovenia, where the Genomatica biological precursor material will be converted into bio-nylon-6 yarns, films and engineered plastics.