Prellis Biologics raises $8.7M following first animal transplant of 3D printed tissue

A Series A investment led by specialist technology capital firm Khosla Ventures, the round was joined by seed contributors True Ventures and Indie …

San Francisco biotechnology company Prellis Biologics has successfully raised $8.7 million to advance its holographic 3D bioprinting platform. A Series A investment led by specialist technology capital firm Khosla Ventures, the round was joined by seed contributors True Ventures and Indie Bio.

The successful fundraising follows a number of developments at the company including, most recently, pre-clinical experimentation of 3D bioprinted cells within a living animal model. Setting ambitious sights on the creation of full, transplantable organ models Dr. Alex Morgan, Principal at Khosla Ventures, says, “Prellis’ optical technology provides the scaffolding necessary to engineer these larger masses of tissues.”

“With our investment in Prellis we’re supporting an initiative that will ultimately produce a functioning lobe of the lung, or even a kidney, to be used in addressing an enormous unmet global need.”

The journey to viable, artificial vascular tissues

Prellis Biologics was founded in 2016 and is the developer of a laser-based bioprinting method known as holographic 3D printing. This method is capable of producing feature sizes smaller than 0.5 microns. High speeds are also targeted to prevent the deterioration of live cells within the material matrix. At a base level, the technology can cure a liquid to a solid within 5 milliseconds of light exposure.

Prellis’ current aims are to develop holographic 3D printing to a stage where it can quickly and precisely fabricate vascular tissue for organs. In one of the company’s most recent announcements Dr. Melanie Matheu, company co-founder and CEO, explained that the “ultimate goal” is to 3D print “the entire vascular system of a kidney in 12 hours or less.”

Prellis Biologics engineer studies 3D pritned tissue under a microscope. Photo via Bussiness Wire
Prellis Biologics engineer studies 3D pritned tissue under a microscope. Photo via Bussiness Wire

In a rudimentary step towards this ambitious aim, the company has so far launched its Vascular Tissue Blanks product. Vascular Tissue Blanks are essentially scaffolds used to culture live cells. Recently, vascular tissues made from these scaffolds were transplanted for the first time in a live animal model at Stanford University. Only 200,00 cells, compared to 2 million and more for typical tumor studies, showed capable of achieving full tumor engraftment and vascularization. “A breakthrough like this opens the door to studying rare human tumors and complex human tumor immune system reactions,” explains Dr. Matheu. “It has the potential to significantly reduce overall animal use and speed up drug discovery efforts.”

Khosla’s 3D printing portfolio

The capital investment fund of Indian American billionaire businessman Vinod Khosla, Khosla Ventures is interested in early stage companies in high tech sectors. As such, the company has contributed to the funding of several other 3D printing related companies. In late 2018, the company invested in the $140 million Series E financing round for U.S. private aerospace manufacturer Rocket Lab. Prior to that, 3D printed composite specialist AREVO benefited from its backing in a $12.5 million financing round with two other parties. The fund has also invested in metal 3D printer developer Digital Alloys in the past.

“Khosla Ventures is the perfect investor to support our merging of deep tech and cutting-edge regenerative medicine,” comments Dr. Matheu.

“With this technology in hand, we can begin to ask questions about real 3D cell biology that have never been asked before.”

A microscopic 3D printed structure for encapsulating cells. Image via Prellis Biologics
A microscopic structure for encapsulating cells made via Prellis holographic 3D bioprinting. Image via Prellis Biologics

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Featured image shows a microscopic structure for encapsulating cells made via Prellis holographic 3D bioprinting. Image via Prellis Biologics

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Khosla Ventures leads Series A funding in identity verification startup Veri5Digital

Khosla Ventures founder Vinod Khosla said Veri5Digital had built artificial intelligence-based know-your-customer (KYC) solutions that would help …

Veri5Digital, a digital identity verification platform, has raised $2 million (about Rs 14.06 crore at current exchange rates) in its Series A funding round led by the California-based venture capital firm Khosla Ventures.

Bengaluru-based Veri5Digital said in a statement it will use the funding to scale its products for the Indian market and also build new services and digital market-related products.

Veri5Digital, which is incubated by Khosla Labs Pvt. Ltd, said it is also looking to launch its services in the United States and Asian markets.

Khosla Ventures founder Vinod Khosla said Veri5Digital had built artificial intelligence-based know-your-customer (KYC) solutions that would help address the growing need for digital authentication by businesses.

“It is possible to not only deliver high assurance identity verification, but also maintain the privacy of every individual,” Khosla added.

Formerly known as Aadhaar Bridge, Veri5Digital offers products such as document signature service Veri5eSign, payment mandate service Veri5eNach, and KYC solution Veri5KYC Video.

The startup says it helps businesses acquire customers faster, and is compliant with regulations and customisable for each client’s needs, according to its website.

Khosla Ventures, which was founded by Indian-American billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, says it seeks to address problems with technology-based solutions. According to its website, it backs companies with technological approaches to a market, including entities seeking to enter new markets or disrupt existing ones.

Apart from Veri5Digital, companies in its portfolio include voice-controlled wearable communications device maker Theatro, satellite communications startup Akash Systems, fusion energy technology firm Commonwealth Fusion Systems and cybersecurity products and services company Cylance.

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Why billionaire investor Vinod Khosla is betting big on AI, 3D printing for the future

Last month, Khosla Ventures made headlines by investing in nuclear energy startup Commonwealth Fusion Systems. Opening up on the investment, …

Billionaire investor Vinod Khosla is betting on newer platforms like AI that give entrepreneurs the potential to bring in big disruption.

Vinod, one of the co-founders of Sun Microsystems, has since then launched venture capital firm Khosla Ventures, which invests in experimental technologies such as robotics and biomedicine.

Vinod Khosla

Vinod Khosla, Founder and Partner of Khosla Ventures

At a fireside chat in Bengaluru, moderated by iSpirit Founder Sharad Sharma, and accompanied by Nandan Nilekani, the investor and bureaucrat who put India’s Aadhaar system into place, Vinod spoke about how technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D printing offer entrepreneurs huge opportunities and hold the potential to create large scale impact on the society.

Vinod said that over the last few years, there haven’t been newer platforms that allow entrepreneurs to start up and disrupt the landscape. AI, he feels, is a technology that brings in “opportunities to disrupt”. 

“My favourite sectors are medicine, AI, and 3D printing. Drug discovery using AI is interesting, but I’m sure no pharma company will do that. Startups will dominate drug discovery using AI as a technology, because you can put in incremental efforts,” he said.

On Friday, Khosla Ventures also made an investment in Bengaluru-based identity verification and user on-boarding company, Veri5Digital.

Innovating to create a difference

In the field of medicine, Vinod believes AI may well replace doctors such as radiologists. Speaking about the large Indian population, the number of doctors, and the limitations of humans, he said AI-led systems could take over in the next 10 years and be far more effective than human practitioners.

He said almost every sector could benefit from AI, adding that his dream was “an AI tutor, which teaches every child based on their learning patterns”.

Apart from AI, he said 3D printing was another area that offered multiple opportunities to entrepreneurs globally.

“It [3D printing] is a new platform, and one of my favourite startups is printing houses using the technology. The advantage is that it significantly reduces cost, takes 24 hours to build, and reduces the environment footprint significantly.” 

He urged entrepreneurs to look beyond software and service startups to innovate.

“Whether it is food, construction, transportation, education, and healthcare, they are all open to radical change in technology,” Vinod said.

The investor, who has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from IIT Delhi, believes not having prior experience can be one of the biggest advantages for an entrepreneur.

Stating that founders who lack expertise in areas they are starting up in tend to be more innovative about problems they are solving in that particular segment, he said:

“The best innovation (in a sector) comes from people who don’t come from that area. No fintech startup has come from anybody who knew anything about fintech.”

On funding startups with ‘consequential’ impact

One of the pioneers in venture investing, Vinod has always been known for his differentiated approach towards investing.

I like situations where the chances of success are less but the impact is extremely consequential,” he said, giving the example of Google, which continues to have a consequential impact.

Last month, Khosla Ventures made headlines by investing in nuclear energy startup Commonwealth Fusion Systems. Opening up on the investment, he said “someone had to do it” because it “may create incremental change”.

“Not every investment we make is a smart investment; at first it did feel foolish to invest. But someone had to do it, even if fusion feels like something what non-government establishments can’t take … Because if they succeed the change is incremental,” he said.

The iconic investor, who has invested in startups like Square and Stripe, feels that “constraint is the best thing that can happen to innovation” and startups need to be hyper-efficient with their dollars.

“In my experience,the more money you raise, the less likely you are to succeed. When there’s little money, it forces you to think about the problem much harder. If you get a lot of money, you start executing without analysing the problem well. You have to be hyper-efficient with your dollars to be more creative with the problem,” Vinod told startup founders.

On ‘values’ keeping teams together

Vinod, named among the 400 richest people in the world by Forbes in 2014, has by now spent close to 40 years building companies and teams and breaking monopolies.

He joined Kleiner Perkins Caufiled & Byers as a general partner in 1986 and played a crucial role in taking on Intel’s monopoly by building and growing semiconductor company Nexgen, which was eventually acquired by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in 1996.  

After that, Vinod helped incubate the idea and business plan for Juniper Networks to take on Cisco System’s dominance of the router market.

He said the value system has a big role to play in building a successful company. 

“If you don’t have values, people scatter the first time you have a problem. But if you have values, people stick together and make efforts as a team. It is also related to the kind of team you assemble when you have values versus when you don’t. Values play a big role when you hit a problem.”

But, finally what is the one thing that can attract a technology investor and magnate like Vinod Khosla to invest?

“There is never one solution and one formula. In the end, as a technology investor, you are looking for a unique solution that can create advantage over time. It’s really simple. And the biggest ingredient is the quality of team you assemble,” Vinod said.

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Next-gen AI systems won’t need huge amount of data: Vinod Khosla

Khosla, an IIT-Delhi and Stanford alumnus who cofounded Sun Microsystems in 1982 and later started his own firm Khosla Ventures, doesn’t believe …
Billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, one of the first Indian entrepreneurs to strike it big in the US, is known to take several off-the-beaten-track investment calls. He, in fact, doesn’t like to be called a VC investor — he prefers the title “venture assistant”, someone whose job is to help out promising businesses.

Khosla, an IIT-Delhi and Stanford alumnus who cofounded Sun Microsystems in 1982 and later started his own firm Khosla Ventures, doesn’t believe in attending board meetings, placing greater emphasis on one-to-ones with entrepreneurs.

An industry veteran, he has witnessed many technology and business shifts over the past three decades, but the 64-year-old has no immediate plans to hang up his boots. His company has made several bets in the clean-tech space and more recently, in biomedicine and robotics. Khosla Ventures’ recent successes include payments startups Square and Stripe and delivery firms Instacart and DoorDash. Khosla is also an investor in Impossible Foods, which serves up meatless burgers.

In a chat with TOI, he covered a range of topics, from the origins of the startup ecosystems in India and the US, regulation of the Big Tech companies and American politics to opportunities in artificial intelligence (AI).

You visit India every few years. What do you think of current startup ecosystem in India compared to its state four-five years ago?

It’s clearly getting more entrepreneurial. There are higher quality startups and I met about a dozen of them today. They are as good as Y Combinator startups that I see in the US. That’s encouraging. They are still mostly in the software domain and narrower areas, unlike in the US where we see very broad domains. This is why I was encouraging people to look at other areas such as food, 3D printing and manufacturing.

Look, this kind of ecosystem needs some successful entrepreneurs who can mentor the next generation. Then things get bigger and better. People like Sachin Bansal start companies again, then scale gets larger. India will do well as an entrepreneurial ecosystem, especially globally.

Do you think Flipkart exit was a pivotal moment for Indian startup ecosystem?

Flipkart would have been successful no matter what. But the exit created enough liquidity for people from Flipkart to start their own companies and invest in other startups. Or they can mentor people at other startups. Exits like Flipkart are pivotal in changing the mindset of entrepreneurs that we can build larger companies.

What are the areas where Indian ecosystem must catch up with China or US?

Fintech is very clear. There is Ant Financial in China, but there is nothing comparable to that in India. China has done well, and they are a little bit ahead of India in startups; whether it’s Alibaba, Tencent or Baidu, each has picked an area of its own. I am hopeful we will see that emerge in India too.

In fintech, Indian firms have faced unfavourable policies, and RBI has a conservative approach on issues such as cryptocurrency. What is regulators’ role in growing the ecosystem?

You know, regulators have a serious responsibility — they have to make sure fraud does not happen. But by and large, Indian regulators have been very open-minded compared to their counterparts in other parts of the world. Take for instance the Digital Sky initiative (for drone operators). Aadhaar was a good example, but UPI is even better one. Not enough startups have popped up to take advantage of UPI, payment systems or banking/new insurance. But I get the sense that regulators are working with startups in a good way.

Blockchain is the only area where we haven’t seen huge progress. And you know, blockchain had one disadvantage — all its use cases were illegal and so regulators naturally (were against it). All its uses were monetary. Non-monetary uses of blockchain are very valuable. Data privacy should be done in blockchain, so you don’t have to trust anybody. Nandan’s [Infosys chairman Nandan Nilekani] new effort around federated data is great. Setting new standards will enable a new set of entrepreneurs.

In digital infrastructure, India is ahead of many countries. Look at Aadhaar, UPI and Digital Sky; these government efforts make the scene more progressive. In the US, things are owned by a private corporation, whether it is Facebook for messaging or Google for search. So, setting up standards is a really good idea.

RBI’s stand on cryptocurrency has led to some startups shutting down…

I am supportive of the stand that the RBI has taken. I think Bitcoin’s use is mostly illegal. If you are going to have an orderly society, you can’t have money outside the system. But having blockchain-based services like privacy will be a great idea.

What is the mood in Silicon Valley? Many new firms, like Slack and Zoom, are getting listed, but there’s also the talk of regulating Big Tech.

The regulatory stuff does not impact startups; it gives them an advantage. Bigger technology companies have more constraints and anti-trust concerns. It may impact the buyout market, where big companies were acquiring startups.

Some US presidential candidates have proposed breaking up big companies.

As you know, politics is politics. You must take extreme positions to get noticed. On most policies, very few candidates are taking positions that they will carry through, like healthcare for all at a cost of trillions of dollars. And frankly, there are 20 of them, so they have to distinguish themselves. They will all move to the centre to take on Donald Trump.

How should anti-trust regulators in markets like India view the developments?

I think data privacy is an issue and steps are being taken; Indian regulators should keep an eye on that. Antitrust, I would let the world sort it out. India is a competitive market anyway, and no matter what area, foreign companies don’t do as well here as they do in other emerging markets. That’s because Indian entrepreneurs are pretty good and competitive. Tell me which telecom company can compete with Reliance Jio? They can’t, because of the bets Mukesh Ambani places.

Indian government’s tech policy talks about treating data as a public good, and data localisation. Is that the way forward?

Look, there are two things. One is what is fair and what you can get away with regulating. Outside the advertising model, data is still valuable, but not as valuable as people think. My view is that most of the artificial intelligence (AI) systems will need new kinds of data, and not old data. If you ask six-yearolds to learn what is a table, you don’t give them six million examples of a table. You give them three and they do a pretty good job of telling what is shaped like a table.

I am very confident that the next generation of AI systems won’t need huge amounts of data in the next five years. Privacy may still be an issue, but data I don’t know.

Some investors think India can take advantage of technology skillset in AI and machine learning, as it did during IT boom. What are the challenges on this front?

India has talent. There are two kinds of AI. One is researching and developing new techniques. And then there is applied AI, where I think Indian companies will do really well. You take Healthify, they are doing a pretty good job of applying AI. Research in AI is the domain of PhDs. I haven’t seen much activity in India where they may be developing new algorithms and looking at new domains.

In hyperlocal delivery space in the US, Khosla Ventures is an investor in DoorDash and Instacart. Is this segment the future of commerce? Swiggy and Zomato are burning a lot of capital here.

Both companies [Instacart and DoorDash] have very different trajectories and strategies. DoorDash can become very large; Instacart is in the specific area of groceries. There is a tendency in India to back the winner rather than multiple players. However, I don’t track the India market that closely.

DoorDash faced controversy over treatment of gig economy workers. What is the ideal way to deal with it?

Once a problem emerges, the next generation of solutions comes up. It is always an iterative process. Now that the problems have surfaced, startups are addressing them. Whoever treats workers better is going to get better workers. You will see a generation of startups working for hourly employees.

Any startup you regret not investing in?

Everyone wishes they had invested in Airbnb. We looked at them pretty late, in Series C.

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Digital Identity start-up Veri5Digital raises $2 mn in series A from Khosla Ventures

The funding was led by the California- based venture capital firm Khosla Ventures which manages over USD 5 billion in assets. The Bengaluru-based …

Veri5Digital, an initiative of Khosla Labs, one of India’s leading Identity Verification and User Onboarding Company, recently raised a sum of 2 million USD in its series A funding round. The funding was led by the California- based venture capital firm Khosla Ventures which manages over USD 5 billion in assets. The Bengaluru-based Veri5Digital will utilise the capital to rapidly scale its identity solutions for the India market as well as build new Identity and Digital India related products and services. Additionally, the company looks forward to launch its identity related products in the United States and Asia markets.

Veri5Digital, previously known as Aadhaar Bridge, is the undisputed leader in user on-boarding and verification space, with more than 2 Million onboardings a month for customers ranging from India’s largest e-commerce companies to banking corporations. With a revamped brand identity and an expanded suite of products, Veri5Digital is poised to meet the needs of the $20 billion digital identity industry globally.

Sharing his insight, Vinod Khosla, Founder, Khosla Ventures, added, “Identity is a key underlying infrastructure that drives digital transactions globally. It is possible to not only deliver high assurance identity verification, but also maintain the privacy of every individual. Veri5Digital has built innovative AI solutions around KYC and authentication which address the online, digital identity needs of companies globally.

Speaking on the latest development, Saru Tumuluri, CEO of Khosla Labs, said, “The new digital service economies be it P2P services like Ola/Oyo, eCommerce companies like Amazon/Flipkart delivering goods, or Job sites like Teamlease/Quess all have a common challenge. How does one build trust between strangers (eg a delivery boy and a customer at home) in a digital economy.”Subscribe to Moneycontrol Pro and gain access to curated markets data, exclusive trading recommendations, independent equity analysis, actionable investment ideas, nuanced takes on macro, corporate and policy actions, practical insights from market gurus and much more.

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