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Biomanufacturing Company Gains $9.5M in Early Funds

Scanning electron microscope image of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or baker’s yeast (Mogana Das Murtey and Patchamuthu Ramasamy, Wikimedia Commons)

4 Oct. 2023. A company offering a biomanufacturing process it says is more efficient and scalable than conventional bio-production methods is raising $9.5 million in its first venture round. Pow.Bio in Berkeley, California is a four year-old enterprise employing techniques for continuous rather than batch production of synthetic biomaterials, such as bio-based chemicals and plastics, and building a demonstration facility for its process in nearby Alameda, California.

Pow.Bio seeks to provide developers of bio-based products across a range of industries with a continuous fermentation process that enables production in smaller quantities and lower costs than current batch production methods. Today’s biomanufacturing techniques, says Pow.Bio, requires increasing the size and thus the expense of batch-style reactors to remain scalable, raising production costs. Achieving continuous fermentation of engineered microorganisms such as yeast or bacteria, however, has been hampered up to now by contamination and genetic changes called drift among biomass cells in reactors, making this alternative technique unreliable.

The company says its process succeeds by breaking down biomanufacturing into modular functions that make continuous fermentation possible at scale. Ouwei Wang, a microbiologist trained at University of California in Berkeley and Pow.Bio co-founder, says in a company statement released through BusinessWire, “By running a fermentation process more like an assembly line, we see multi-fold increases in productivity without contamination or drift.” Wang, now Pow.Bio’s chief technology officer, is lead author of a 2017 paper on biotechnology applications of microbial interactions with chemicals, while a doctoral candidate at UC-Berkeley.

Wang founded the company, originally named POW Genetic Solutions, with biotech executive Shannon Hall in 2019. Under that name, the company received a Small Business Innovation Research grant from National Science Foundation in 2019 to address the issue of contamination that limits advances in continuous fermentation. Wang, the lead investigator on that project, proposed a natural biocide to attack microbial contaminants, and to introduce a biocide-resistant enzyme for protecting host fermentation organisms.

Optimize the process and allow for autonomous operations

Pow.Bio says its process has advanced to building a facility that demonstrates the technology end-to-end under real-world conditions. The company says the Alameda facility will also exhibit its management software in action that uses algorithms to optimize the process and allow for autonomous operations. With that software, Pow.Bio says its demonstration facility can show the scaling up of production from gram-scale experiments to full-scale outputs measured in hundreds of kilograms.

And the company claims the process demonstrated in that facility can reduce commercial-scale biomanufacturing expenses by 40 to 70 percent, through lower unit fermentation costs. Pow.Bio contends building more batch production capacity alone cannot match that performance. “Focusing on building capacity,” says Hall, now the company’s CEO, “without addressing unit economics will expose the industry to more frustration about not delivering on its promises. “The right target is economic viability, and hitting it requires technical advances in biomanufacturing.”

Pow.Bio is raising $9.5 million in its first venture funding round led by Hitachi Ventures in Munich, Germany, the venture capital arm of technology products maker Hitachi Ltd. Taking part in the round are Possible Ventures, XFactor Ventures, iSelect, Climate Capital, Vectors, Better Ventures, and Cantos.

Hideshi Nakatsu, CEO of Hitachi’s water and environment business unit, notes, “Pow.Bio’s continuous fermentation platform represents a potential step-change in biomanufacturing economics that aligns with Hitachi’s expansion plans to enter into the bio-production business.”

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