There seems little doubt that we’re on the cusp of something special in the biotech space. What eventually happens might not be quite as radical as the digital revolution, or as rapid, but given the potential for biotech to change the world, it could be the most lucrative market of all time, once it gets going.
The reason for this has to do with why people engage in productive activities at all. The whole purpose of the economic machine is to meet our biological needs and figure out a way of deciding who gets what. We want products, like cars, because we can’t run effortlessly at 60 mph. Motor vehicles help us surpass our biological limitations.
Biotech, however, means that for the first time, we can adjust those biological needs in practically any direction we desire. You can imagine a future in which people get injected with something akin to cheetah DNA and all of a sudden can run down the motorway, overtaking cars along the way.
This sea change in what’s possible is opening up new business opportunities. The most successful entrepreneurs in the space will be those who can ride out the technological wave and create massive value for stakeholders.
But the field is still so new. There’s no biotech “app store” where you can sell your creations. So where do the opportunities lie? Let’s take a look.
Agricultural Seed Development
GMOs might not be the most popular of products on the market in the West, where there is a long-established fear of lab-created crops. But the same isn’t true of some of the largest developing markets in the world, including China and India. Here GMOs are accepted and even embraced.
There’s a demand, therefore, for startups and companies with the ability to modify existing seeds in ways that make them more robust, higher yield, and taste better for consumers. Modification of the genetic makeup of seeds can be a highly lucrative opportunity for those who understand existing startups wants and have the tools to make it happen.
Manufacturers always want biotech firms to come up with new ways of processing food which lengthen shelf life, improve taste and boost profitability. Most of the obvious production improvements have already been made. If there is to be new progress, it’ll involve using a 96 well plate to manipulate the fundamental structure of plant biology.
Take bacterial and enzymatic reactions, for instance. Food manufacturers rely on these enzymes to catalyse their chemical processes to produce the food they make for consumers. The cost of these enzymes, however, can be high, and in their natural state, they may not be efficient. Biotech startups in the space, however, are increasingly looking for ways to make these enzymes more effective and cheaper by going in and editing the bacteria that make them. The hope is that with further development, new competitive products can be made and sold to major food producers.
If farm yields are going to continue rising, the world needs companies that can produce biofertilisers – a special kind of fertiliser made by biological organisms. Biofertilisers enrich the soil and help to make it more amenable to plant growth, often on a massive scale.
Currently, there are several new companies in the space looking for ways to take advantage of new biotech tools to make the creation of biofertilisers more productive and effective. However, there are no dominant brands or players as yet. This fact leaves opportunities for entrepreneurs wide open in the space. Biofertilisers will continue to grow in importance over the coming decade, and somebody is going to have to be there to satisfy demand.
If you want to start a biofertiliser company, you’ll need a couple of PhDs and a laboratory. You’ll also need some pretty hefty venture capital funding. But the potential to make money from fertiliser is substantial.
Medical Device Development
Medical devices are moving out of the hospital and onto (and into) our bodies. It used to be the case that if you wanted to get your sleep tracked or blood pressure monitored, you either had to stay a night in hospital or visit your local doctor’s office. But today, that’s no longer the case. Now you can order practically any medical device online, and they’re all consumer-friendly.
The job of entrepreneurs in the west thinking of starting a medical device company isn’t to go into medical device manufacturing. It’s to create the intellectual property that will combine the digital with the biological. Consumers want wearable devices, like wristwatches, which give them accurate, real-time information about their current physiological state. People need to know their blood pressure, blood glucose levels and other markers to get a sense of whether they are getting healthier or sicker over time.
Biodegradable Plastic Manufacturing
Biodegradable, natural plastic sounds like a contradiction in terms. For years, plastic has been the poster child for everything that’s wrong with modern civilisation. Our desire for material items comes at the cost of ocean and rivers clogged with plastic particles.
The reaction of people on the political left who consider themselves to be “progressive” is to ban the use of plastic in consumer products. But this is a tragically shortsighted view. Solving the plastic problem doesn’t mean that we have to live without plastic; it just means that we need to develop new kinds of plastic which biodegrade naturally.
It seems like a fantasy. Everybody knows that plastic is made from fossil fuels, it’s synthetic, and it doesn’t break down. The only problem with this view is that it’s not true. Thanks to biological manipulation, it’s now possible to program organisms to produce plastic-like fibres which offer similar properties to their synthetic equivalent, as well as make bacteria that can extract energy from regular plastic, breaking it down in the process.
The job of entrepreneurs, therefore, is to find markets for new biodegradable plastic packaging products while at the same time, making them stronger and more effective. Do you want to be a part of this revolution?