Biotech startup Zymergen nabs $130 million from Softbank

Zymergen, a Bay Area startup creating all sorts of materials from genetically altered microbes, just raised $130 million in Series B funding from Softbank.

For those unfamiliar, the company makes crazy new materials out of genetically altered microbes. It was busy buying up a bunch of robots to make these microbes for mass production of various materials during its last round of funding. CEO Josh Hoffman now plans to use the new funding to continue to grow the business — including adding a bunch of new staff and big name partners.

“This is the round that allows us to continue gathering talent, add customers and invest in the long-term as well,” CEO Josh Hoffman told TechCrunch.

Hoffman didn’t want to say who his company might be working with but did disclose they’re all in the Fortune 500. Zymergen aims to develop better yeast strains to make foods and fragrances or narrows down the molecular properties to create new types of materials faster and cheaper for these companies.

“We’ve got a proven platform that allows us to materially improve the economics of big, mature, at-scale businesses for Fortune 500 companies. And to give you a flavor, they might have a $600 million revenue business and we can improve that margin by three to 5x,” Hoffman said. “A Fortune 500 company cares about that.”

It’s a strange new world on the cutting-edge of biology and who knows what these scientists will bid their machines and microbes to make next. But Zymergen is not unique in the space. Ginkgo Bioworks and Novozymes also work with larger companies to make crazy materials using microorganisms. Ginkgo being a small, Boston-based startup with an equally impressive amount of funding at $154 million and Novozymes as the Goliath with over $1 billion in revenue.

In any case, there are venture firms, telecoms and financial institutions with bets in the new industry and money to be made.

Softbank led the round for Zymergen and was joined by previous investors DCVC, True Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, DFJ, Innovation Endeavors, Obvious Ventures, and Two Sigma Ventures. Zymergen also received funding from new investors Iconiq Capital, Prelude Ventures, and Tao Capital Partners.

The Japanese telecom will add key executive Deep Nishar to the board. He will be joined by the former U.S. Secretary of Energy and Nobel laureate Dr. Steven Chu.