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!