You’ve probably heard plenty of startups claim they can “revolutionize” their industry, but in the case of Bolt Threads, they may actually be right. The California-based biotechnology startup is already manufacturing its Engineered Silk™ protein at scale and made two big announcements this week at TechCrunch Disrupt NY: the conclusion of a $50 million Series C financing round, and a new partnership with apparel brand Patagonia.
The funding round was led by previous investor Formation 8. Other existing investors, including Alafi Capital, East West Capital, Foundation Capital and Founders Fund, as well as new investors including Nan Fung, a business conglomerate based in Hong Kong, and Innovation Endeavors, also participated.
“The $1.5 trillion textiles industry hasn’t achieved a major step forward since the 1930s, with the development of nylon,” said Jim Kim, founder and managing partner of Formation 8. “Bolt Threads’ engineered and elegant silks represent an opportunity to fundamentally impact and enable properties in clothing we never dreamed would be possible.”
Bolt Threads was co-founded in 2009 by CEO Dan Widmaier, Chief Scientific Officer David Breslauer, and Vice President of Operations Ethan Mirsky, but was operating in ‘stealth’ until last year. The co-founders’ fascination with natural silk – its properties and the process of its production in nature – led them to develop technology to produce Engineered Silk made wholly of natural proteins, creating a sustainable and durable new material. The company sources its raw materials from the Midwest and manufactures at production facilities in North Carolina.
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Of the partnership with Patagonia, Widmaier told the audience at TechCrunch Disrupt NY that they will be “developing products for the future,” and added that they “really shared the values and the passion for performance meets sustainability.”
When asked what kind of products the partnership would focus on, Widmaier said, “We’re not disclosing exactly what we’re doing yet, but we’re just excited to work with them and there will be a lot of news coming.” Additional partnerships are expected to be announced later this year.
Bolt Threads is well-aware that they are not the first company to attempt to reproduce spider silk via modern biotechnology techniques. Many have tried to get organisms such as goats, silkworms and microorganisms to make silk, but it is extremely challenging to create the repetitive protein cost-effectively and reproducibly. Bolt Threads uses a proprietary process involving fermentation, yeast, sugar and water to create fibers with a variety of mechanical properties including high tensile strength, elasticity, durability and softness. As for their products’ sustainability performance, the company plans to conduct life cycle analyses once research and development is fully completed and processes are finalized.
Mainstream products using Bolt Threads’ fibers are expected by 2018, but consumers will be able to get their hands on a jacket made of a similar synthetic spider silk material as early as later this year. The North Face’s Moon Parka, created in partnership with Japanese advanced biomaterials company Spiber, is the result of over 11 years of research and 10 design iterations.
With multiple companies working on such biomimetic technologies, more and more sustainable fabrics are surely in store.