Balancing school and discovering other passions can be a challenge, but for many students, utilizing their time outside of school is where the potential of startups is born.
Jefferson Clayton ‘15, MS in Course 3 and bioengineer David Glass of Stanford started developing their design after hours in graduate school, eventually constructing a prototype in their apartments and filing for a provisional patent. It was at this point the two realized that they had constructed something they could feasibly bring to the market.
They combined their respective expertise to develop new technology for DNA synthesis. The two found that current tools are slow and unpredictable, creating a bottleneck in biotech research. Currently, custom synthetic genes are made through liquid-phase assembly, which is unreliable, takes weeks to produce, and can cost hundreds of dollars. Clayton and Glass are building the first all-solid-phase synthesis platform to change all this.
“We want to be the Amazon Prime Now of gene synthesis services,” compared Clayton.
The more the project seemed real and feasible to sell to the market, Clayton and Glass brought a business co-founder from MIT Sloan, Jason Snyder, onboard to help. From there they enrolled in two courses: “New Enterprises” with Bill Aulet and “Early Stage Capital” with Shari Loessberg.
In these courses, Clayton and Glass learned about fundraising strategies, investment-related jargon, simulated negotiations with a local venture capitalist, and how to avoid common mistakes by first-time founders. After applying to GFSA and receiving $20,000, DNA Genesis was spring boarded into the IndieBio biotech accelerator in San Francisco. The startup was awarded $250,000 to build out a prototype.
With the success that Clayton has had in his startup, he advises students to take a risk and to just go for it.
“Step out of your shell and take one of the courses at MIT. Blocking off time for idea generation is one of the best first steps you can take to convince yourself that entrepreneurship can be for you. It’s not easy, but it’s fun and the Boston startup community is super supportive.”
Currently, Clayton is moving back to Boston to raise money for a full-scale synthesis platform capable of product trials with customers. DNA Synthesis plans to establish a lab in the greater Boston area upon the success of this venture.
Clayton and Glass want to create a product that eliminates scientists’ dilemma about the DNA they need to order. Ultimately, they hope to develop the next technology that will propel biotech research forward.
Additonal contributions by Stephanie Tran.