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Ginkgo, a Boston biotech venture, is a magnet for VC money

A Ginkgo Bioworks engineer was at work in one of the Boston company’s labs.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File 2017/Globe Staff

Quick: What’s the most valuable venture-backed startup in Boston?

Hint: If you don’t follow biotech closely, you’ve probably never heard of it.

The answer is Ginkgo Bioworks, a synthetic biology foundry that tinkers with the genes in microorganisms to produce new proteins, scents, antibiotics, cannabinoids, and other products.

The 11-year-old company, which has 280 employees and is based in the Seaport District, is valued at about $4.8 billion, according to PitchBook, a Seattle company that analyzes and sells data on the private markets.

The next-most-valuable venture-backed startup in Boston is Intarcia Therapeutics, another biotech in the Seaport, which is valued at about $4.1 billion, according to PitchBook.


Ginkgo is also the second-most-valuable VC-backed biotech startup in the country, behind Samumed in San Diego, which PitchBook says is worth $12.4 billion.

PitchBook provided the figure as Ginkgo announced Thursday that it has raised another $290 million from investors, bringing total funding to $719 million.

Jason Kelly, Ginkgo’s chief executive and cofounder, said the firm plans to use the cash to expand its laboratory and buy more production robots. Ginkgo occupies 100,000 square feet at 27 Drydock Ave. and expects to use another 120,000 square feet in the same building as it grows.

“It’s a dream come true to have the capital to push the technology to a scale that’s unique in the world,” said Kelly, one of four PhDs from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who founded Ginkgo in 2008 along with a former MIT professor.

The venture capital financing round is the biggest for any biotech in the state this year, according to the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, a trade group. Beam Therapeutics, a Cambridge gene-editing startup, had the next-largest round, at $135 million.

PitchBook reported Monday that Ginkgo’s latest fund-raising round would be even bigger— $311.6 million. Kelly said that after the report came out, Ginkgo stopped raising money and decided to announce what it had taken in at that point.


In the past two years, Ginkgo has signed several big deals that reflect enthusiasm about its approach. The deals include one with Toronto-based Cronos Group for $122 million to produce cultured cannabinoids, another with the Swiss drug giant Roche that’s worth up to $160 million to discover novel antibiotics, and yet another with Synlogic, of Cambridge, in which Ginkgo invested $80 millionto speed the development of living medicines.

In 2017, Ginkgo formed a joint venture with Bayer called Joyn Bio to create microbes that can replace or supplement fertilizer for crops.

Last year, Ginkgo spun off Motif Foodworks, with $120 million in funding, to engineer ingredients for food companies to make high-protein products, from veggie burgers to plant-based yogurt.

And on Monday, Ginkgo announced a partnership with Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley accelerator, to give startups access to tools to make materials from living things.

“Ginkgo Bioworks was the first bio company YC funded, back in summer 2014, which makes us especially delighted to announce a new partnership between YC and Ginkgo,” Jared Friedman, a partner at Y Combinator, wrote this week in a blog post.

Billing itself as the “organism company,” Ginkgo custom-designs cells, transforming everyday yeast and bacteria into living factories that produce flavors, scents, and other products.

“Cells are programmable similar to computers because they run on digital code in the form of DNA,” Kelly said in a statement accompanying the financing announcement.


“Today’s fundraise will allow us to expand our technology and continue our drive to bring biology into every physical goods industry — materials, clothing, electronics, food, pharmaceuticals, and more. They are all biotech industries but just don’t know it yet.”

If that sounds grandiose, Ginkgo is attracting some big-name investors.

Among the old investors who decided to pony up again were Viking Global Investors, a Greenwich, Conn., hedge fund; Cascade Investment, the investment firm owned by Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates; and Baillie Gifford, an investment firm in Edinburgh.

In addition, the latest round marked the entry of new investors, including funds handled by T. Rowe Price Associates. Kelly declined to specify how much investors put up.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at