Launch With Caution

Posted by Sona Makker April 4, 2012
Biopolitical Times

Something complex is growing in Singularity University's (SU) labs, and it’s not just synthetic microorganisms in petri dishes. SU’s latest creation is a synthetic biology startup “Launchpad”— a 4-month program for entrepreneurs looking to enter the synthetic biology industry. Singularity Hub described the program as SU's “effort to empower the next generation of business leaders with the
disruptive influence of accelerating technologies.”

This appears to be both a calibrated effort to lure scientists and entrepreneurs into the so-called “synthetic biology revolution,” and an attempt by SU to raise its own profile by jumping on the bandwagon.

Following the example of software tech-incubators, SU plans to give top-tier start-ups up to $50k in funds, supplies, lab services and mentors as well as making available “SU’s unparalleled network of investors and partners.”

Capital, supplies, industry partners, what's missing here?

There are a few things I can think of, starting with access to mentors and partners that warn and educate entrepreneurs about the pressing need for precaution, regulation and oversight before launching products and companies.

The goal of the program is for the teams to “validate their business models, complete successful prototyping, and determine a successful distribution strategy.” The question is: will this strategizing include plans for addressing and mitigating the health, safety, and environmental risks that synthetic biology poses? For these teams of “promising and eager” entrepreneurs, spending 12 intensive weeks at SU with the goal of commercializing their ideas is a dangerous route to take without proper precautionary risk assessments.

With SU’s name on the ensuing companies and products, it’s surely in its interest to provide these entrepreneurs with recommendations for assessing the potential ecological, security and health risks of the new field.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: