By Mahima Kapoor, Azman Usmani
This week on Startup Street, the father of the Human Genome Project lays out his plans of making DNA sequencing cheaper by using the new hot-word of the Silicon Valley — blockchain. Corporate software startup Slack gets serious about corporate governance as speculation about the company going public rises. And computing giant Microsoft revamps its startup programme pledging more funds. Here’s what went on:
Harvard Geneticist’s New Venture Will Pay You To Put Your Genes On A Blockchain
Cryptocurrencies were the craze in 2017. And even when there are still contrasting opinions about their uses and legitimacy, experts have agreed upon the prospect of its underlying technology — a publicly distributed ledger called blockchain.
Now, renowned geneticist and molecular engineer George Church along with a crew of Harvard graduates have laid out plans of their company, Nebula Genomics, to store genome data on a blockchain. Not just that, companies that use your gene data from Nebula’s blockchain will pay you directly for it, according to the whitepaper that was floated on its website earlier this month.
Sequencing of gene data, in laymen terms, is determining the the precise structure of all the DNA molecules in a person. The data about one’s genetic makeup can aid in understanding why a person is different from the other, help physicians determine the proper choice of drugs for treating particular disease, and has the prospects of altering them to prevent serious illness.
The problem that Nebula wants to solve is the towering prices of personal genome sequencing. When the first human genome was sequenced back in 2001 it cost $3 billion. Technological advancements have seen the costs decline to around $1,000 currently. That’s still too high for most people.
A survey conducted by Nebula Genomics showed only 2 percent of the respondents having had their genome sequenced. One-third didn’t do it because it was too expensive, while another 30 percent had privacy concerns.
The Nebula model eliminates personal genomics companies as middlemen between data owners and data buyers. Instead, data owners can acquire their personal genomic data from Nebula sequencing facilities or other sources, join the Nebula blockchain-based, peer-to-peer network and directly connect with data buyers.
Nebula Genomics Whitepaper
Nebula’s whitepaper says that having a blockchain based genome databse will help subsidise sequencing costs as buyers would identify the individual gene characteristics that they need. Plus, data owners can privately store their gene data and control who accesses it as the blockhain technology itself promises to be immutable.
Nebula tokens will be the cryptocurrency that data buyers would use to pay for using an individuals gene data. Nebula Genomics will also allow them to buy tokens for fiat currency.
The company has around $600,000 million in seed funding and is backed by Boston-based Veritas Genetics, one of the companies that Church, who is also regarded as the godfather of human genomes, co-founded.
Cutting The Slack On Governance
Real-time collaboration and team communication startup Slack Technologies Inc. has appointed one of the most powerful women on Wall Street on its board of directors, as it makes changes to run itself more like a public company.
Edith Cooper, the former head of human resources at Goldman Sachs Group, will be the second independent board member of the corporate-software startup, Bloomberg reported. Her addition will contribute to better work relations at the 1,000-plus-employee company, said Chief Executive Officer Stewart Butterfield.
Cooper is the second woman to join the startup’s board after Sarah Friar, Square Inc.’s Chief Financial Officer, joined last year. Last week, Slack also named Allen Shim as its first chief technological officer. Shim was previously the senior vice president of finance.
The changes come at a time when there is speculation about the company going public soon.
“Adding directors is something you’d do in advance of an IPO but also if you care about the governance of the company,” Butterfield said to Bloomberg. As of now, the company does not have any concrete plans for an IPO, he added.
Microsoft Revamps Startup Programme
Microsoft has committed $500 million over the next two years for a new programme aimed at helping startups to grow their customer and revenue base by giving them benefits ranging from technological and sales support to free Azure credits.
The “Microsoft for Startups” programme will offer joint sales engagement with startups, access to technology and new community spaces that promote collaboration across local and global ecosystems, Charlotte Yarkoni, corporate vice president (growth and ecosystems) at Microsoft, said in a blog post on the company’s website.
Startups are an indisputable innovation engine, and Microsoft is partnering with founders and investors to help propel their growth.
Microsoft Blog Post
The program dedicates resources to prepare startups for selling their products to enterprises in partnership with Microsoft’s global sales team. It will also give them up to $120,000 in free Azure credits, technical support and development tools.
Microsoft will also tweak some of its existing startup programmes like Microsoft Ventures and Microsoft Accelerator.
Over the next month, Microsoft will open more Microsoft Reactors — physical spaces where entrepreneurs, developers and investors can come together to interact. These will be open in London, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Shangai and Beijing. They already have existing Reactors in Redmond, Seattle, San Francisco and New York.
Featured image credits: Medical Futurist
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