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What a week to launch the first issue of our new technology and innovation newsletter! There’s just so much going on in the local scene. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Should we discuss how Ginkgo Bioworks is leading the field of synthetic biology while making billionaires of its five cofounders (who met at MIT)? Or restaurant-tech firm Toast’s record-breaking initial public offering and its three newly minted billionaire cofounders?
The Boston startup community hasn’t seen a moment this significant since, perhaps, October 2014 when Wayfair and HubSpot went public. Those companies are now valued at over $29 billion and $33 billion, respectively, and are leaders in e-commerce and marketing.
One cool thing about the two mega deals this month is that each lays out a different but highly representative pathway for other Boston startups to follow.
The trio at Toast originally got together at Endeca, an enterprise software company bought by Oracle in 2011 for a billion dollars. Such big sales often spark startup activity, as employees find themselves suddenly with enough financial freedom to take a risk and strike out on their own.
Toast’s founders also tapped into another Boston strength, the local foodie scene, wooing noted restaurateurs like Barbara Lynch, Joanne Chang, and Jody Adams as early customers and advisers.
“They’ve been tremendous supporters, believers, and allies, who helped us figure out how to build a technology that serves their needs really well,” Toast co-president Steve Fredette told me. (Unlike Silicon Valley, there’s a lot more than just tech going on around here.) “We get a lot of good ideas that come from outside the tech bubble,” Fredette said.
Ginkgo Bioworks, by contrast, seems like one of those hard science plays that arise from the area’s powerful academic community and can take years of dedicated focus to bring to fruition. Four of the founders were grad students in 2002 when they met MIT professor Tom Knight and embraced his idea that DNA could be programmed like a computer.
“There’s kind of a moment happening right now for Boston,” CEO Jason Kelly, one of the former grad students, told me. “Boston shines at areas of hard technology,” he said, ticking off other local companies like robotics creator Boston Dynamics and energy company Commonwealth Fusion.
“You can’t, like, B.S. your way through a fusion plant like you can a social media app,” Kelly said.
Who’s next to go public? A few other companies we’ll be watching (each worth billions): Snyk in cybersecurity, DataRobot in artificial intelligence, Circle in crypto, Klaviyo in marketing, and Thrasio and Perch in e-commerce. It’s a deep bench.
Some are seeing all this financing activity and worry that it reflects out of control and unsustainable financial speculation. I covered the last couple of bubbles, in real estate and Internet companies, and this doesn’t feel anywhere near those levels of insanity (no one has asked me for stock tips in the grocery store yet).
But Kelly did get excited and tell me that Ginkgo’s public listing was “the Netscape moment for synthetic biology.”
I see what he’s saying in terms of innovations that spark new industries. Let’s just hope that Ginkgo doesn’t end up like Netscape!