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IT-Biotech Hybrid Zymergen Raises $130M Round Led By SoftBank

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Zymergen, a biotechnology startup that harnesses robots and machine learning to produce bioengineered microbes for customers in manufacturing and healthcare, announced today it has raised $130 million in a Series B fundraising round.

For years, companies have been tweaking the genes of microbes such as bacteria to turn them into biological factories that produce everything from flavoring chemicals and scents to fuels and biological drugs. Emeryville, CA-based Zymergen deploys IT tools in an attempt to tailor microbes for specific purposes more quickly and precisely. Its software roams the genome looking for areas of potential economic interest. Based on its algorithms for biological systems, the company’s robots can build thousands of microbial strains, and then test them for their ability to crank out useful molecules.

Related companies include Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks, which raised a $100 million round from investors in June.

Zymergen’s big funding round was led by SoftBank Group, a Japan-based telecommunications conglomerate that has been investing in Internet, mobile, energy, and robotics technologies. SoftBank was joined by prior Zymergen investors Data Collective (DCVC), True Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, DFJ, Innovation Endeavors, Obvious Ventures, and Two Sigma Ventures. New investors also participated, including Iconiq Capital, Prelude Ventures, and Tao Capital Partners.

SoftBank International Managing Director Deep Nishar is joining Zymergen’s board, as is Nobel laureate and former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.

Zymergen, founded in 2013, had already raised $44 million in mid-2015. The company says it is refining methods to create microbes that can produce biological molecules that have never before been manufactured through bioengineering. Zymergen says it also helps Fortune 500 companies that have existing bioengineered organisms to improve those strains and scale up their manufacturing processes.

Among Zymergen’s customers, according to Forbes, is DARPA, the U.S. defense agency that conducts advanced research on technologies that can improve military equipment and support functions for soldiers.