21. Ginkgo Bioworks

Microbe economics.

Founders: Barry Canton, Austin Che, Jason Kelly (CEO), Tom Knight, Reshma Shetty
Launched: 2008
Headquarters: Boston
$429 million
Valuation: $1.4 billion (PitchBook)
Key technologies:
Robotics, synthetic biology
Fragrances, food ingredients, sweeteners

George Kavallines | CNBC

Ginkgo Bioworks is a Boston-based start-up that bills itself as the organism company. That means it designs and prints DNA, the building blocks that support all living things. The company, started by a team of MIT scientists, builds made-to-order microbes for customers in markets such as agriculture, pharmaceuticals, food, enzymes, to name a few, enabling customers to grow rather than manufacture better products.

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Ginkgo is backed by $429 million in venture funding from Cascade Investment (Bill Gates' asset management firm) and Allen & Company, including a December round of $275 million from previous investors and a new one: General Atlantic. This puts the company's valuation at $1.4 billion.

Perhaps the most interesting development in the company's 10-year history is its recent partnership with German conglomerate and Fortune 500 giant Bayer. In September the two companies announced that they are creating a new venture that could potentially enable plants to produce their own nitrogen fertilizer. That's important because the $80 billion global market for manufacturing chemical nitrogen fertilizer is often blamed for adding to carbon emissions.

If successful, this new company will help crops like corn, wheat and rice to become their own little nitrogen fertilizer-makers, eliminating the need for chemical fertilizer. The new company, Joyn Bio, is backed with $100 million in funding from Ginkgo, Bayer and New York venture firm Viking Global Investors. Ginkgo Bioworks claims this is the largest Series A financing round in the agricultural industry.