om2 / projects / Culture


I co-founded Culture Biosciences with my good buddy Will Patrick. We built custom 250mL bioreactors and we ran then as a service for biotech companies. It all recently came to a tough ending -- disagreements with our board leading to me and Will leaving the company -- and there's so much to write about the years we spent here: dozens of customers, hundreds of team members, custom hardware and software projects growing and changing for years, tens of $MMs in revenue. It was the biggest and most complex endeavor I've been a part of -- lots of change, challenges, growth..

The early days

Will and I started working from Autodesk's Pier9, sitting next to the Instructables team (!) We had access to an awesome machine shop and built the first prototype. We shadowed several biotech companies and talked to many more bioprocess engineers about challenges they faced. We started circling the idea of "AWS for bioreactors." An advisor told us about the basics of fermentation and process design. and we did the first (but not the last) brainstorming for a company name, landing on Culture Robotics.

We thought we needed a prototype to raise money from VCs. We did not! Will raised a seed round of about $750k from a handful of investors, and they cared very little about the first devices, they invested in us and in the sector. IIRC we were valued at about $5M post. So we mostly junked the prototype, definitely learned from it, and also rebuilt pretty much all the software going forward.

We hired Collin out of a postdoc at MIT. We hired Fre from a national lab. Collin built everything and got our first prototype working: custom heating and cooling system, plastic parts, pumps and more. I did electronics and software. Will kept CADing all kinds of parts like our single use system. We also had two great interns: Zac and Chatham. We worked out of Verily: Google's life science offices. They were about to start a quasi-incubator but it wasn't ready so we sat near their construction team and made a mess in their offices. We hired Dan, an amazingly creative and prolific prototyper.

(robotic arm video)

Mistakes were made

I'm proud!

The End

In late 2023 Will and I came to disagree with our board about where to take the company. Our board -- Andrew Lee from Northpond Ventures, Dan Phillips from Cultivian, Risa Stack from the Production Board and Beth Thompson-Webb (independent) wanted to pursue a Series C, then they wanted to sell the company, then they went back to wanting to fundraise. I wanted to sell or focus exclusively on technology (vs tech + services). At some point the board started building their case for regime change and hired consultants to evaluate the operations and exec team. Will tried to facilitate and remained super professional but the board was not communicative, nor were they truthful in my opinion. It was all pretty chaotic and wasteful, unfortunately. I would warn other entrepreneurs against working with these firms but I don't think their funds are active anyway 🤷 Will and I left around Q1 2024.

I realized I still have physical muscle memory from Culture! And not in a bad way. I open a terminal and my fingers' first instinct is to autojmp into the old Culture monorepo, "universe" : j univ ready to hack on oxygen controllers, add to the website, or make some new stats project..

I'm grateful for the chance to meet and work with so many amazing folks via Culture -- I genuinely wish the team all the best and I hope they can find their way!