Highlights of the EIC x SYNBEE Day

On 9 April 2024, the European consortium SYNBEE (Synthetic Biology Entrepreneurial Ecosystem) and the European Innovation Council (EIC) organised an event at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, to explore the potential of synthetic biology in addressing climate change and fostering sustainability. During panel discussions, researchers, entrepreneurs, policymakers and early-stage investors also discussed the challenges and opportunities related to different aspects that will shape the future of synthetic biology: start-up creation, regulations and access to public and private funding. We’ve summarised the highlights of these fascinating panel discussions below. You can also watch or rewatch the event on YouTube.

Photo of the EIC and SYNBEE Day event

SYNBEE’s commitment: unleashing the innovative potential of synthetic biology in Europe

In recent years, investors have shown increasing interest in synthetic biology (SynBio), a field with great potential for innovation. But transforming the technologies and discoveries made in research laboratories into marketable products is no easy task, and many obstacles stand in the way of those ready to take the plunge. SYNBEE, a European Commission project coordinated by Da Vinci Labs, is tackling these obstacles.

Committed to advancing the field of synthetic biology in Europe and unlocking its technological potential, the SYNBEE consortium offers a range of activities and resources to strengthen the entrepreneurial and business skills of young professionals across Europe. During the EIC x SYNBEE Day, a matchmaking event organised in April 2024 with the EIC, SYNBEE showcased examples of innovation and invited researchers, entrepreneurs, policymakers and investors to discuss the challenges and opportunities for technology development in panel discussions.

Highlights of the panel discussions

On the creation of start-ups
  • Being well prepared: all the speakers agreed that future innovators should prepare themselves for this journey into entrepreneurship. And the list is long: finding out about intellectual property, patents, funding opportunities, and regulations; finding the right equipment and environment to develop your idea; analysing and understanding your market; finding your customers; knowing the value of your product, etc. 
    There are opportunities to strengthen your entrepreneurial skills. For example, SYNBEE offers mentoring programmes and learning materials for those ready to take the plunge.
  • Tips to prevent failure: participants also discussed the risk of failure and options for mitigating this risk. The main advice was to join communities and clusters of businesses so that innovators are more likely to be surrounded by like-minded people with whom they can exchange ideas, meet talents, generate ideas, and access the right information, investment, facilities and equipment.
  • SynBio training for investors: despite the growing interest in SynBio technologies, speakers acknowledged that investors lack knowledge of SynBio concepts and that specific courses for them could help manage their expectations in terms of return on investment.
On regulatory aspects

Regulation is a subject of concern for investors and can be a daunting word for young entrepreneurs. Will the product comply with regulations and can it be brought to market?

But regulation should be seen as an ally, as it plays a crucial role in limiting risks and making the use of technologies safe for us and our environment. Regulation is a long process and synthetic biology is evolving rapidly, faster than regulation. Consequently, regulators need to be helped to address the development and use of emerging technologies. A number of possible solutions were raised during the discussions, including the following:

  • regulatory sandboxes, which are “regulatory tools that allow companies to test and experiment with new and innovative products, services or activities under the supervision of a regulator for a limited period of time” (source);
  • more connections between researchers and regulators/policymakers. The scientific community has a crucial role to play in regulation. There is already a regulatory framework that can be applied to SynBio technologies, but it needs to be adapted. A strong commitment from scientists on the regulatory aspects can only help regulators to clearly define the contours of synthetic biology and to ensure that regulation and synthetic biology evolve together.
On funding (public and private)

Bringing your future product or service to market is a major project. The TRL (Technology Readiness Level) scale is used by the European Commission to determine “the development or maturity of a research and its readiness for the market uptake and potential investments” (source). Several key points emerged from the discussions.

  • A project requires several sources of funding, innovators must not rely solely on public funding: depending on the stage of readiness, there are different funding options to support your project. The further you are from the market, the more public funding you need; the closer you are to the market, the more private funding you need. Innovators also need to be well prepared, have a thorough understanding of market demand, what investors, banks and funding bodies are looking for, and to know the added value of their product.
  • There is a wide range of funding available and innovators must also be open to acquisition and merger. For more details, we invite you to watch the recording of the event on YouTube.  The SYNBEE consortium has also created a database of non-dilutive funding opportunities, freely accessible to all.

The winners of the pitch competition

One of the highlights of the event was the SYNBEE Pitch Competition, a competition which rewards innovative projects aimed at meeting the challenges in the fields of sustainability and green innovation.

The winning projects are :

  • BioHalo, which uses biofluorination technology to manufacture safe, environmentally-friendly, high-performance biobased substitutes for harmful PFASs;
  • baCta: to manufacture high-quality, reliable and durable rubbers with a low carbon footprint;
  • And we were delighted to learn that Syngens, a project of which SynCellEU community member Rahmi Lale is co-founder/CEO, is one of the winning projects. Syngens aims to harness AI-powered DNA design to offer unlimited possibilities in synthetic biology. Keep up to date with our news, as we’ll be coming back to the Syngens story soon.

For more information on the event and the participants, please consult the SYNBEE article: EIC x SYNBEE day