Ginkgo Bioworks made its highly anticipated stock-market debut Friday after closing its merger with a special purpose acquisition company.
The deal with Soaring Eagle Acquisition Corp. generated more than $1.6 billion in proceeds for Ginkgo, making it one of the largest public debuts for a life sciences company. Ginkgo’s shares opened at $11.15 on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “DNA” and closed at $12.18, giving the company a market capitalization of about $20 billion.
The company’s valuation is tied to the story Ginkgo readily tells investors: that one day it will be able to “program cells (DNA) like we program computers.” Ginkgo claims its cell programming capabilities could eventually disrupt physical goods industries such as food, agriculture, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and electronics.
“These are all biotech industries, they just don’t know it yet,” said chief executive and cofounder Jason Kelly in an interview. “Someday we’re going to grow chips — not chips to eat, computer chips. We really believe biology is capable of that, and every year we get better.”
Ginkgo has not yet brought a product to market, but that’s sort of the point. Its business model is reliant on other companies choosing to use Ginkgo’s technology to make their own products, like animal-free meat or a molecule that could make drugs easier to manufacture. Ginkgo would make money on royalty fees and equity stakes, which are not guaranteed.
The company already touts partnerships with big-name companies — Biogen, Moderna, and Roche in biotech, Bayer in agriculture, and Cronos Group in cannabis products.
Kelly compares Ginkgo to Apple’s App Store in the way that it could become a platform company, in its case, for cell programming projects instead of iPhone software. That has, not unexpectedly, drawn Ginkgo plenty of skeptics.
“I don’t think there’s skepticism, what there is is surprise,” Kelly said. “This stuff is starting to work. We’re the new bio nerds on the block and it’s waking people up.”
Last year Ginkgo generated $64 million in revenue, a number it projects will top $1 billion in 2025, if as estimated by Ginkgo, it starts 500 new cell programming projects that year. The company is on track to start 30 new programs in 2021.
Getting to 500 projects is highly dependent on the success of Ginkgo’s early programs, Kelly said.
“Once we have a successful example, people start calling me,” he said. “We don’t have that yet in therapeutics, we’ll have to build that, but that’s what the next 18 months are about.”
Ginkgo executives have engaged with retail investors on Clubhouse, Reddit, YouTube, and Twitter Spaces, growing a sort of cult-like following in the months leading up to the company’s public market debut. On the eve of the public listing, there was an “unofficial” biotech meetup in New York to celebrate, and before announcing its ticker symbol in May, Ginkgo solicited guesses from Twitter, sending Ginkgo swag to the winners.
Actually, Ginkgo does have a product: The company publishes and prints its own magazine, Grow, to tell “the unfolding story of synthetic biology,” a move inspired by IBM’s Think publication.
So cool to see @growbyginkgo in the wild! At @ginkgo we were inspired by THINK magazine that IBM used to share what data processing and computers were with the world (and the implications!). With GROW we want to share cell programming and what it might mean for all of us! 🌱🌱 https://t.co/AWFPRhum8i pic.twitter.com/KAKRcOamRQ— Jason Kelly (@jrkelly) September 15, 2021
Ginkgo’s proceeds come from a private placement of $775 million from investors — led by Baillie Gifford, Putnam Investments, and Morgan Stanley — and about $858 million from the Soaring Eagle trust account.
Ginkgo was founded in 2008 by four MIT alumni and senior research scientist Tom Knight, and it is headquartered in the Seaport District. Its 200,000-square-foot research and cell-design facility sits on Drydock Avenue, and in April Ginkgo said it agreed to lease 150,000 additional square feet in a building project across the street. The company employs about 500 people, mostly in the Seaport, and had raised about $900 million before the SPAC merger.
Aaron Pressman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.