Interview with Steven O'Connell of RebelBio

RebelBio is a global Moonshot Bio-Factory. They're an accelerator by SOSV that is funding and building startups in biotechnology, life sciences, health and synthetic biology to solve our worlds’ most complex and pressing challenges – with life itself!

Here's our interview with the Associate Director & Programme Manager, Steven O Connell.

Why don't we start by telling me something about yourself, the team you worked with to build RebelBio and why did you build it?

RebelBio began as SynbioAxlr8r in 2014, founded by Bill Liao & Sean O'Sullivan to demonstrate investing in early stage synthetic biology & biotechnology  was not only possible but entirely feasible. From there SOSV pioneered investments in biotechnology spanning US through IndieBio since 2015 and Europe with RebelBio since 2014.

How did you find the space and funding?

We are backed by SOSV - The Accelerator VC to be a pioneer in early stage investor in Biotechnology & Synthetic Biology since 2014. Our lab space in the Department of Microbiology was sourced via our local University College Cork which is available during the summer and is staffed full time by a dedicated Microbiology team who support the research of researchers and since 2014...entrepreneurs!

What were the challenges you encountered in building RebelBio?

A common challenge in both US & EU facing many commercial accelerators lies in bridging the gap between academia and entrepreneurship.  Many academic labs develop their technologies in isolation with no substantial market to commercialise their technology or the necessary business acumen to become successful entrepreneurs. Accelerators like IndieBio and RebelBio bridge this gap but can sometimes find it difficult to engage with these researchers as the new paradigm would not feed the grant funding mechanisms that academic research normally desire.

What types of projects have you and the RebelBio team worked on?

RebelBio has successfully invested in Perfect Day Foods based in San Francisco, one of the first ever post animal bioeconomy companies creating animal free milk! From there we have funded a number of impactful startups and technologies. You can see our full portfolio here.

Tell me something about your accelerator?

The accelerator has evolved over time since 2014 to create bespoke mentorship with leading business professionals, successful entrepreneurs and talented scientists to help shape these scientists into entrepreneurs.  Backed by our amazing team at SOSV we have a substantial level of support to offer startups.


Who is/were part of this project (people, company etc.)?

The core team is as follows:

Bill Liao - European General Partner for SOSV & Founder of RebelBio

Elsa Sotiriadis - Programme Director for RebelBio
Dr. John Carrigan - Chief Scientific Officer for RebelBio

Steven O Connell - Associate Director & Programme Manager

Caitriona Kelleher - Investment Analyst
Sally Hudson - Executive Assistant to Bill Liao

Together we are an elite team of hustler, business professionals and synthetic biologists to meet any needs of startups, support investment and help grow the European Ecosystem for Biotech & Synthetic Biology.

What were the challenges you encountered?

The core challenges in Europe are normally associated with investment from the VC / Angel side. Investors here are more focused on traditional therapeutics and large scale biopharmaceuticals so they tend not to put large amounts of cash into synthetic biology & biotechnology. This trend is changing however and we are looking forward to getting companies.

Is there someone who funded or helped you with this project, I mean financially?

This programme is backed by SOSV - The Accelerator VC, a venture fund worth $300 Million under management dedicated to making the impossible inevitable. Check out the site to find out more!

What motivates you with this accelerator?

To meet and engage with the amazing biohackers, citizen scientists and entrepreneurs to support them in their quest to

What equipments did you use/are you using?

We use the latest equipment to meet the requirements of any of our startups but we have excellent resources available to us in UCC in the Department of Microbiology as well as the UCC SynBioCentre led by Dr. John Mark Tangney.

What are your plans after this accelerator?

Our plans are to scale this programme to two programmes a year and host a second programme in another biotechnology hotspot! It is a very exciting time and we look forward to working with more and more entrepreneurs each year. 

How do you see as the future for biohacking globally?

Biohacking is a great practice and many of this biohackers demonstrate very strong entrepreneurial qualities, especially their will to change the world or address a major issue! I can see a bright future for young biohackers to partake in biohacking to gain a greater understanding of life and technologies as these biotechnologies become democratised. 

And one last question,Many people say that biotechnology is dramatically changing the world, what can you say about that?

As William Gibson once said "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed" but when you look at what is happening in biotechnology and accelerators like IndieBio and RebelBio we are democratising and distributing biotechnologies more evenly than thought possible. 

Biology is advancing 5 times faster than Moore's law and in our portfolio technologies now exist which were previously thought possible. Helixworks have successfully made the worlds commercial DNA data storage, animal free milk courtesy of Perfect Day Foods and sweet tasting proteins thanks to Milis Bio all within under 2 years! Our full portfolio is located here.

The future is exceptionally bright!

Interview with Rafael Lobo, CEO of Magenta Biolabs

Rafael Lobo Martin

Magenta Biolabs produces high quality hyaluronic acid for the cosmetic industry. We have an innovative production process to avoid chemical or biological hazards. Our method is eco-friendly, fast and efficient

Magenta Biolabs Team

Magenta Biolabs Team

Why don't we start by telling me something about yourself, the team you worked with to build MagentaBiolabs and why did you build it?
- Haha well, I define myself as a young Costa Rican scientist and entrepreneur who loves sports. I am a biotechnology engineering student (on july I will obtain my bachelor degree - hopefully) from Costa Rica Institute of Technology. I met my team in Startup Weekend 2015, an entrepreneurship competition. We are all from the same career and the same university. Sofía Miranda, Pablo Méndez and Marcelo Castro are their names. Before Magenta, we worked in another Startup looking to control crop pests, however, the market (potential clients) wasn't interested in our technology. After it, we wanted to take advantage of some agro-industrial by-products to develop a platform using synbio to produce different valuable compounds. Thats how Magenta Biolabs was born and we chose to produce hyaluronic in our first platform.

How did you find the space and funding?
- We applied to the biotech accelerator IndieBio EU (now RebelBio) in 2016 and we were accepted. In last summer we moved to Ireland and in there we had lab space to develop the prototype and received funding from SOSV. Back in Costa Rica, we partnered to CENIBiot (National Center for Biotechnological Innovations), a fully equipped lab where we can optimice the prototype, scale to pilot plant (100 L) and to develop the other platforms we designed. Currently we are having conversations with some angels and also we intend to apply for some national funding for scientific startups to continue with the next stages.

What were the challenges you encountered in building MagentaBiolabs?
- Well, we faced (and are facing) lots of challenges. First of all it was difficult to find funding. I mean, there aren't many funding opportunities to start as a business idea and it is expensive to develop an MVP for a biotech business (you need a lab, equipment, reagents, biological and genetic material...). Finding lab space wasn't easy at all.

Bureaucracy is also a huge challenge. Some legal procedures may take lots of time that you could spend in the lab.

The fact that we are young (between 20 and 22 years old) is both good and challenging. Some people are like: "wow, it's great that young people decided to start a business" and they look to help us in everything they can (introductions and advice), but for other people it isn't good.

What types of projects have you and the MagentaBiolabs team worked on?
- Individually the team members took part as interns in research projects related to plant virology, animal tissue culture and molecular identification of species.

And together I mentioned to you our previous project: biotech products to control crop pests in a sustainable way. The product didn´t fit in the market. And now, fully dedicated to Magenta Biolabs.

We also founded Hora Biotec (Biotech Hour in english haha), the first mensual meet-up of biotechnology in Costa Rica. We seek to cover different themes, but relate them to biotech. For example: soft skills, entrepreneurship + biotech, computer engineering + biotech, etc.

Tell me something about your project?
-More detailed, Magenta Biolabs is a biotech company aiming to develop novel platforms using synbio, agro-industrial by-products and a circular economy model to produce valuable compounds for the cosmetic, biomedical, pharmaceutical and textile industries mainly. By this I mean: the by-product X plus the strain Y will produce hyaluronic acid; the by-product Z and the strain R will produce this anticoagulant or pigment or any molecule.

We chose to start producing hyaluronic acid; an anti-aging product used in cosmetics, aesthetic treatments, diseases therapy among other applications.

Our business is based in a licensing model where companies with industrial capacity to supply a massive demand can use our platforms.

Who is/were part of this project (people, company etc.)?
- Myself, Rafael Lobo as CEO, the one in charge of the business strategy. Sofía Miranda is the CTO of the company and the main brain of the team. Marcelo Castro is the one who coordinates the projects design to become a reality in the lab. He is our COO. And Pablo Méndez, our CFO. He keeps the order in the numbers.

Despite the fact of our roles, there is room for all to work in the lab, but also to represent the company in competitions or international fairs.

Is there someone who funded or helped you with this project, I mean financially?
-Yes. Through IndieBio (now RebelBio), an accelerator of SOSV (VC).

What motivates you with this project?
- Lots of things. The team is strongly united and passionate about Magenta Biolabs. There is no such thing as a great team and I believe that we are it. We are learning all the days different things, and not just in the technical area, but also in business, legal, finances, marketing, etc. I mean, it's amazing.

Our business by itself motivates us. We imagine simple, sustainable, but efficient processes under a circular economy model and where the molecules that are produced have a very positive effect for the final consumers: the people.

Finally, our main motivation is to inspire young people (off course that we want it more for Costa Ricans) to start
 their own companies. The road isn't the easiest, but it is one of the best ways to improve our society doing what we love and are passionate about.


What equipments did you use/are you using?
- Mainly, we are using the basic molecular biology equipment (thermocicler, incubators, hoods, electrophoresis equipment, freezer, etc.) And also bioprocess equipment like bioreactors, filters, etc.

What are your plans after this project?
- To continue developing our platforms. And we wish to start our own biotech business incubator in Costa Rica, focused mainly in young scientists students from all over the world and who start like we did.

How do you see as the future for biohacking globally?
- I love the fact that there's a continuously growing biohackers community locally, regionaly and globally. It happens the same to biohacking spaces. Some places have a mature community like US or UE, and others are still under development like in Latin America (Syntech Bio is a great example and effort where Ryan is also an advisor).

Open Science, amazing tools like Benchling and the fact that gene sequencing and synthesis is getting cheaper through the years will empower biohackers and citizens.

I visualize a great future for the biohacking community and maybe in the next answer will be clearer my position.

And one last question,Many people say that biotechnology is dramatically changing the world, what can you say about that?
-I strongly believe that biotech is and will be a powerful tool to improve society and what a better oportunity to do it through entrepreneurship. There are huge opportunities for us (biohackers).

Globally we are facing lots of problems in several areas: food delivery-preservation-quality, food sources, land for crops, diseases (cardiovascular diseases and cancer as the main causes of death), pollution, species extintion, etc, etc, etc.

And biotechnology has emerged as a current paradigm shift in many areas: meat will be produced from tissue culture, milk will be produced in a bioreactor, leather will be produced from mycellium, silk-pigments-anticoagulants-valuable compounds will be produced in bacteria, yeasts or even algae, animal structures/tissues like Rhino horns will be produced also from tissue culture in a lab, super nutritional food sources like from algae will be available for people in poor regions, diseases diagnosis will be faster and even better, the treatments will be more efficient, fuels won't come anymore from the bottom of earth, but from microorganisms; disease and Hostile abiotic conditions crops will be cultivated and the examples won't finish.  And I mean, there are companies who have done it or are doing all these examples like Memphis Meats, Perfect Day, Spira, Neogram, Pili,  Amyris, UniBiome, the Costa Rican startups Speratum, Bio-TD, Cibus 3.0 (and Magenta :p)... Literally biotech will change the way we live and it's amazing that we are witnessing that change.

Steve Jobs mentioned it: "I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning."