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Difference between bio and physical sciences

Notes by Narsi

When the word technology is mentioned, most of us imagine the "hard" engineering and sciences we are familiar with - mechanical, electrical or electrical engineering, computer science & software etc. Some do think about biotech while discussing technology but only as if it were no different at a fundamental level from the other tech.

In my experience, I have seen how this can be a major flaw in the thought and investment process while evaluating innovations and startups.

Put simply, be very careful when it comes to evaluating the scaling potential of any new biotech concept or innovation, especially those involving micro-organisms.

The reason: While innovations in physical and chemical sciences are highly repeatable, in bio-based innovations, you are dealing with live organisms or species. While they too follow rules, their growth and responses to stimuli are quite complex and thus repeatability and scalability are more challenging.

If you take vaccines, these are made under highly controlled conditions, and thus repeatability is high. But take something like an energy crop that is grown in thousands of acres. The yields and productivity can be quite volatile - one reason why the jatropha biofuels experiment failed in a remarkable manner. A similar argument can be made about the algae fuel sector, which, even after almost 15 years of R&D across the globe, is yet to produce a ton of commercial fuel anywhere. 

With the bio-based economy becoming a major tool for decarbonization worldwide and with thousands of startups worldwide and hundreds in India betting on biotech for their success, it is important that investors have the correct perspective and toolsets while evaluating these.

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