Bolt Threads raises $50 million to brew spider silk, inks deal with Patagonia

If the idea of wearing spider silk intrigues, the idea of managing a farm full of spiders isn’t all that appealing. A startup called Bolt Threads has developed a means of brewing spider silk and other insect fibers and spinning then into yarn, making them accessible to makers of apparel, upholstery and more.

Co-founded in 2009 by CEO Dan Widmaier, Chief Scientific Officer David Breslauer and Vice President of Operations Ethan Mirsky, Bolt Threads has raised $50 million in a Series C round of venture funding, the company announced today onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt NY.

“Two new big pieces of information today. One, we’ve closed a $50 million Series C round,” Widmaier said. “We’re in the process of scaling up. We’ve built a lot of the supply chain to bring the products to the market,” he said later in the interview.

The second announcement is that the company has also inked a deal with Patagonia to begin developing and designing products with these science fiction-esque new threads. “We’re not disclosing what we’re doing yet, we’re disclosing that we’re working with them,” Widmaier said.

Bolt already manufactures its Engineered Silk protein at scale, with outsourced manufacturing partners, says CEO Dan Widmaier, and will be moving into yarn manufacturing this summer.

Formation8 led the investment joined by Hong Kong-based Nan Fung and Innovation Endeavors. Earlier backers of Bolt, including Alafi Capital, East West Capital, Foundation Capital and Founders Fund also participated.

A founder and General Partner with Formation 8, Jim Kim, said his firm invested in Bolt because its silks have amazing properties. Spider silks could be used to make materials that are stronger than Kevlar, and more durable but at least as flexible as Lycra, he said.

But the processes that Bolt Threads has come up with are far easier than natural silk manufacturing, which traditionally requires silkworms and plenty of mulberry leaves, which are plants threatened by climate change and the silk industry.

Kim said, “Lots of people are investing in the next Uber for something, but not a lot of people understand the technology around textiles. What Bolt is doing impacts a trillion-dollar market.”

Given the funding, Kim said he expects Bolt Threads to make its bio-fabricated silks available in mainstream products by 2018.

Modern Meadow is also growing nicely

Also onstage today, Modern Meadow CEO Andras Forgacs talked about his company. Modern Meadow has been making bioprinted leather and it’s working well.

“In our case, we grow leather and we’re able to grow real leather — same biology, same structure — but we don’t have to kill animals to do that,” Forgacs said.

Obviously, it takes a lot of time to build a company that makes a new kind of fabric. But Modern Meadow plans to double in size over the next year. In particular, Forgacs really believes in his company’s mission. “Leather is $100 billion industry,” he said. “Along every step, there’s a lot of chemistry involved, a lot of waste involved.”

Commenting on Bolt Threads’ news, Forgacs said that Modern Meadow and Bolt Threads have a lot of things in common. “There are not a lot of companies doing what we do, so we stand out,” he said.

Modern Meadow has raised around $13.5 million in total. Startups are always working on new things, but Forgacs joked about the fact that he didn’t come with any news. “I don’t have an announcement to make just yet,” he said.

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