8 Biomimicry Examples Taken From Actual Startups
There is some darn cool stuff going on in nature. Spider silk is five times stronger than steel, a mantis shrimp is quicker than a bullet, and tardigrades can live for a decade without food. How can we take some of these amazing natural occurrences and exploit them to our own advantage? The design of materials or products based on inspiration from nature is called “biomimicry” or “biomimetics” and it’s a good way to come up with cool new ideas for startups.
This is not the first article we’ve written on biomimicry examples. We’ve written about NanoMech that mimics the structural design of a lotus leaf surface to develop a metal coating with the toughness of diamonds. We also covered Bolt Threads that came up with a tough fiber by emulating the way a spider spins its web using a genetically altered yeast combined with water and sugar. Most of these technologies are driven by the need to use less synthetic compounds, less consumption of petroleum-based fuel, reduce carbon emissions, and make our world simply cleaner and safer (queue picture of interracial people hugging):
As we go deeper in understanding what technologies are really based on nature’s open source solutions, we come across truly “cool” designs and templates to emulate. We picked 8 biomimicry examples used in startups today that we thought our readers may be able to take inspiration from.
GreenBone Ortho SRL is an Italian startup founded in 2014 with a $3.55 million single-round venture capital funding round from investors for its patented technology that transforms bamboo into bone graft scaffold. An ideal bone graft or scaffold should be created from biomaterials that can mimic the properties and structure of natural bone. GreenBone’s bone graft scaffold uses bamboo to mimic the channel-like porosity of human bones. The technology is expected to bring down infection and death rate in bone transplant and grafting to zero. At the moment, the worldwide market for conventional bone graft scaffold and substitute is expected to reach $3.2 billion by 2022. If they don’t use “bambone” as a product name, we’re going to be slightly upset.
Sharks are cool and so is shark-based technology. Sharklet Technologies is a startup based in Aurora, Colorado, founded in 2008 with total funding of $3.17 million so far. The Company is developing coatings and films designed from the denticle-like nano-scale structures on a sharkskin which repels bacteria and other microorganisms. This technology will hopefully bring down the incidence of hospital-acquired infections (HAI), 20%-40% of which come from environmental contamination. Data from the Annual Survey of Hospitals conducted by the American Hospital Association and the Medicare Cost Report of 2004 indicate an aggregate hospital care cost of $16.6 billion shouldered by patients attributed to hospital-acquired infection. Shark technology may be able to take a big bite out of those costs.
Human Immune System
Immunservice is a German R&D startup founded in 2007 with an undisclosed seed fund round and the most latest round of funding as a Series C in 2015. The Company has developed a process to harness a hormone which encourages the growth of “T-cells” that are the source of human immunity to cancer and virus cells. Immunservice is able to use their technology to integrate the immune system into therapeutic procedures. Clinical trials reveal this system can stop cancerous diseases, viruses, tumors, obesity, and even nicotine addiction. The market data for treatments driven by these diseases should be of great interest to investors. Anti-cancer treatments is already a market worth $77 billion and expected to grow to $143.7 billion by 2023, while the anti-obesity market is expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2019. Although there is no prominent treatment for nicotine addiction, the de-addiction market was valued at $7.0 billion in 2015.
Spiber is a Japanese biomaterials company that is developing synthetic spider silk. Spiber had 6 rounds of funding from 2007 to 2015 totaling $145.3 million plus a grant from an undisclosed source in the amount of $20 million last October 2016. Spiber’s technology allows them to come up with different features for a fabric based on the available protein types in their library. They started marketing the first ever synthetic spider silk fabric in 2016 under their QMONOS™ trademark. The North Face’s Antarctica Parka is the first brand to be made with this fabric designed for harsh environments like the South Pole. We couldn’t find the parka on Amazon so pretty much that means you can’t buy it yet. With that much funding and a Series E of $84 million late last year, we’re expecting to see some big things from Spiber.
NBD Nanotechnologies is a Boston-based startup founded in 2012 with 5 rounds of funding totaling $12.6 million. NBD stands for Namib Beetle Design. The company was inspired by the Namib Desert Beetle, an insect able to harvest fog in the Namibian desert by using hydrophilic and hydrophobic regimen which NBD Nano refers to as “surface wetability”. For those of you who hate those all familiar fingerprints on shiny surfaces, NBD Nano has a technology under the trademark “The InvisiPrint” that makes fingerprint invisible on metal and glass surfaces. This “wetability” technology may be significant to those using fingerprint ID to restrict the use of their smart devices considering fingerprint impressions can actually be lifted from shiny surfaces and use to spoof your fingerprint identity. For all you Yanks out there, you could use this technology on your Superbowl trophy so that it stays nice and shiny for all those photo opportunities. Or you could just start playing a sport for real men – rugby.
Founded in 2007, Los Gatos California startup Calera Corporation is able to capture and convert carbon dioxide (CO2) to calcium carbonate. The process comes in different names: carbon recycling, carbon capture, and carbon sequestering. With a total of $45.5 million from 3 rounds of funding backing it up, Calera found a way to mimic the mineralization of CO2 in marine organisms which comes in the form of calcium carbonate. Divers can attest to the fact that calcium carbonate is usually deposited on the ocean floor through time. The Calera process as they call it is able to produce calcium carbonate as a supplement for cement, solely as cement, or as a binder. The powder can replace 15% of Portland cement for concrete mixture use in construction. Now we have a “concrete” solution to the nagging carbon emission problem by simply converting CO2 to something else. Who knew biomimicry could be so much pun?
Aquaporin is a Danish clean technology company based in Copenhagen which received $6.76 million in a single round of venture funding. Aquaporin has developed a filtering technology that emulates the cellular membrane of living organisms. The term aquaporin, in fact, refers to the pores or water channels in the membrane of living cells responsible for facilitating or controlling the transport of water between cells. The market driver for reverse osmosis membranes is municipal water desalination applications, water reuse, and process water treatment. The market for RO membranes reached $5.4 billion in 2014 and is estimated to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.5% to a market revenue of $8.8 billion by 2019. Aquaporin technology is now available for commercial applications under the trademark “Aquaporin Inside™” and includes membranes for both reverse osmosis (RO) and forward osmosis (FO).
Glowee is a French startup organized in 2014 with an undisclosed seed funding round taken in the following year. The Company is developing a lighting technology by using the bioluminescence capability of marine organisms. Glowee accomplishes this by identifying the gene responsible for the bioluminescence in organisms, and then introducing this gene in common non-pathogenic bacteria. Once this bacteria is bio-engineered and cultivated, it is then encapsulated in a transparent shell incorporating nutrient solution to stimulate the production of light. An alternative technology for lighting that is sustainable is definitely enticing. Short of that, there is going to be an amazing new clothing line for ravers coming out of this.
So there you have 8 biomimicry examples that are being commercialized. The above startups are worth watching not only because they are literally “clean” investments but because the environmental sustainability of our world seems to be part of their bottom line. Now if only we can figure out what gives camels 30 minute orgasms and put that in pill form. (If you thought it was pigs that had the longest orgasms, it’s actually the camel). These are the sorts of quality insights that our readers have come to expect from us.
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