The Sustainability Equation: Why Tech for Good Means Tech for the Future
The World Economic Forum (WEF) believes that technology is key to helping the world respond to global problems such as climate change. It’s technology that has allowed the world to redefine itself in the wake of a global pandemic, and that has given individuals and organizations the tools they need to thrive in complex times. We need startups with innovative mindsets to step forward with solutions that will enable the world to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), startups that put sustainability at the heart of their technology, which is precisely what Basecamp Research, BioSimulytics Limited, and Sellalong Ltd. have done. These three companies have recently been recognized for their innovative approaches in the AWS Software Startups Awards. Receiving Gold, Silver and Bronze in the Sustainability Champion category respectively, these companies won because they’ve effectively leveraged technology for the betterment of society and the environment. Today, meet three software startups leading the sustainability movement in 2022.
Gold medalist Basecamp Research is leveraging tech to boost biodiversity
Basecamp Research is a young startup founded in 2020 that’s committed to the value and preservation of biodiversity. The company successfully completed its seed round in 2021—attracting $7 million from leading US and European venture capitalists. The ethos that drives this fresh-faced sustainability company is the belief that biotechnology is the first credible chance to wean the world off petrochemistry and to move towards a cleaner, biochemistry-based future that sustains biodiversity.
“In 2019, our team led the first ever fully off-grid environmental sequencing expedition to Iceland’s icecaps,” says Philipp Lorenz, Head of Data Science at Basecamp Research. “We were fascinated by the diversity of undiscovered species, genes and proteins in our planet’s remote and underexplored environments. This fascination led to us founding Basecamp Research.”
With just 17 employees, the company is already working to create a bridge between biodiversity and the bioeconomy, and promoting the protection of Earth’s wild places. Its goal is to identify the building blocks for a cleaner and more sustainable future. To achieve this goal, Basecamp Research is partnering with biodiverse nations to discover novel genes, enzymes, and organisms from diverse environments, and combining exploration and data science to build the world’s largest ethically sourced and fully contextualized Knowledge Graph about the planet’s undiscovered biodiversity. This Knowledge Graph uses the labels, annotations, and predictions generated by the London-based company’s machine learning pipeline to provide novelty, speed and improved performance to all sectors within the bioeconomy.
“By doing this, we provide biodiversity guardians with a fair and equitable way of sharing their environmental genomic data with biotechnology innovators,” says Lorenz. “It allows us to trace the benefit sharing agreement associated with every one of our products so we can ensure full traceability, and so we can use the benefits of our work to promote and protect the source biodiversity.”
This approach is vastly different from how the biodiversity and biotechnology sectors have communicated in the past and a step towards a more inclusive and collaborative future. As Basecamp Research focuses on the foundations for the planet’s future, it uses AWS FSx for Lustre, Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS), and Amazon Elastic File System (EFS) for storage, and it has implemented Amazon EC2, Amazon CloudFront, and AWS Lambda, among other services, for its compute functionality.
“The most useful AWS cloud products for us have been AWS Step Functions and AWS Batch that we’ve used for the orchestration of our cloud production pipeline, BaseScan,” concludes Lorenz. “This pipeline was developed in-house and generates complex networks of annotations for our ethically sourced metagenome samples that we embed into our Knowledge Graph.”
Winning Gold in the AWS Awards has shone a light on the work done by this dynamic startup—work that really does leverage technology to power a more sustainable future. When asked what advice he would give to anyone wanting to start a tech-for-good enterprise, Lorenz said: “Have clarity in your vision because conviction and communication are absolutely key.”
BioSimulytics Limited won Silver for driving forward drug development
BioSimulytics Limited is a spin-off company from University College Dublin (UCD). Founded in November 2019 thanks to substantial national scientific grant funding, the company has developed an AI-powered molecular simulation technology platform designed to dramatically improve the accuracy, speed, and cost effectiveness of new drug development.
“The company came about after several years of scientific research into solving a long-standing and fundamental problem in the field of material science—the ability to predict how molecules will form as a crystal structure in their solid state,” says Peter F. Doyle, CEO and Co-Founder of BioSimulytics Limited. “This solid state structure impacts on everything from the taste of chocolate to the color of paint to the efficacy of a new drug.”
The company was motivated to solve this problem, not just because the research would be scientifically ground-breaking, but because it can potentially transform new drug development. Currently, bringing new drug molecules to market typically requires between $2-3 billion and up to 12 years and, even then, there is a limited chance (<1%) of success.
“One of the complicating factors in the drug development process is polymorphism, which is the ability of a compound to exist in more than one stable crystalline structure, if it can even be crystallized at all,” says Doyle. “Drug molecules are complex compounds that can have many plausible structures, and different drug polymorphs can have different properties, such as solubility, toxicity and efficacy.”
It is vital that pharma companies fully characterize the fundamental structural makeup of drug molecules and have absolute certainty about identifying and reproducing the most desirable crystal structure of any new drug before bringing it to market and patient use. The problem is that the lead optimization phase of drug discovery and development that accounts for 25% of the overall cost requires the synthesis of thousands of molecules to find the right one. By applying AI and machine learning technologies for molecular simulation and crystal structure prediction, BioSimulytics can essentially digitize a significant amount of the work carried out today.
“This reduces the amount of experimentation work down to only the most value-adding tasks and dramatically shortens the odds while accelerating the time-frame associated with new drug development,” says Doyle. “This will help usher in a whole new era of precision medicine for tackling many chronic and hard-to-treat diseases and this is the quest that drives our growing team today.”
BioSimulytics deploys its software technology for molecular simulation on an AWS High Performance Computing (HPC) parallel cluster platform. This is essential for the company to offer its global clients a cloud-based solution where they can run simulations on candidate drug molecules on an as-needed basis without compromising on performance, speed or compute.
For any entrepreneur thinking of setting off down the same path, Doyle has this advice: “Clearly articulate the societal challenge you are addressing and how you’re uniquely doing so, and then stay super-focused on this mission while remaining flexible enough to adapt the ‘how’ as you grow.”
Bronze award winner Sellalong Ltd. is advancing sustainability in the retail sector
Sellalong Ltd. was founded in 2021 and is dedicated to making circularity a central part of every purchase. It is working towards building the world’s first fully circular eCommerce system driven by engaging customer experiences. The company is innovatively meeting the retail sector’s need to improve its sustainability and environmental footprint by focusing on the circular economy. The Sellalong Ltd. solution makes resale a part of every retail transaction, allowing for customers to cash-in previous purchases when buying new items.
“Our team believes in the urgency to transition the world to a circular economy to help tackle the current climate crisis and to lead towards a more sustainable future for the planet,” says James Pamplin, CTO and Co-Founder of Sellalong Ltd. “Our mission is to demonstrate how circularity works in a fully closed-loop system, and how our technology is a key enabler for this. We were founded with this mission in mind and remain focused on solving these critical issues today.”
The company is in the early startup stage and has initial seed funding secured with a new funding round in the pipeline. It has already launched its pilot sell-back experience to two retail partners on the Shopify platform, allowing for customers to seamlessly sell any item they’ve purchased at that retailer when they buy a new product.
“The pilot results have shown great customer interest with up to 67% higher email campaign open rates and up to 80% higher email click rates,” says Pamplin. “A/B test results have also shown an improvement to checkout conversion rates for customers that have been offered the ability to sell back their items.”
AWS is a key technical enabler for Sellalong’s platform, providing the backbone of its eCommerce integration through Amazon API Gateway, AWS Lambda, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon S3, AWS Glue, and Amazon Athena, among others.
“We focus on using several AWS services for our core platform—their strength lies in enabling us to work seamlessly across multiple services,” concludes Pamplin.
When asked what single piece of advice he would give to anyone about to step into tech-for-good, Pamplin says: “People are key, so ensure that the people you work with, as well as your business partners, align with your company values and mission as this helps create effective and productive working relationships as the business grows.”
The AWS Software Startups Awards recognizes innovative startups and entrepreneurs across several key categories, including Rising Star, Go-To-Market Innovator, Founder of the Year and Rocketship. Become a member of the AWS Startup Loft for news on opportunities like this and more.