Opentrons, a company that’s setting out to help life scientists automate many of their experiments using robotics, has raised $10 million in a seed funding round led by Khosla Ventures, with participation from Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Y Combinator Continuity Fund, and Jeff Kindler.
Founded out of Brooklyn in 2013, Opentrons is one of a number of startups to garner investment for robots that “save” humans from having to carry out repetitive tasks themselves. Opentrons’ robots offer automation for any laboratory, though for now it’s targeting biologists with pipetting. The company said that its hardware and software is used by “70 percent of the top 10 largest pharmaceutical companies and 90 percent of top 50 biology research universities,” according to a statement issued by the company.
In addition to a fresh tranche of funding, the Y Combinator alum also announced its new $4,000 OT-2 lab robot, which includes access to a pre-programmed library of protocols (procedural methods for carrying out experiments) and which is designed to cut down on the time it takes to set experiments up.
These protocols can be tweaked and tailored for scientists’ needs. Researchers can develop their own from scratch with a new visual design program called Protocol Designer, which basically allows anyone to create their own protocols to run on the OT-2 without having to write any code.
Ultimately, the OT-2 is designed with the company’s core mission in mind: improving accessibility and cutting down on time-consuming setup processes that may require more technical training.
“We’ve learned so much from our customers about what the right automation solution is for the majority of biologists, and we built OT-2 to those specifications: affordable, easy-to-use, and reliable,” noted Opentrons cofounder and chief product officer Will Canine. “Our mission is to democratize sophisticated biotech tools, and we are starting with lab robots. OT-2 is in a position to make a scientist’s day-to-day work easier, and ultimately speed up the process of scientific discovery.”
Life sciences and biotechnology have been ripe for investment in recent years. Last week, TwoXar raised $10 million from big-name investors including SoftBank and Andreessen Horowitz for its AI drug discovery platform — Andreessen Horowitz has actually launched not one but two bio funds, including a $450 million pot three months ago. Atomwise, another AI-driven drug discovery platform, also recently raised a sizable $45 million series A round, and Menlo Park-based Transcriptic has raised nearly $30 million for a cloud-based platform for scientific research that includes a remote automated lab.
Elsewhere, Alphabet’s GV has made a number of investments in this field in recent times, having previously pledged that around a third of its capital will be plowed into life science and health care startups.
“Life sciences investment is surging because the potential for this industry to innovate everything from drug development to bio-manufacturing is exciting and inevitable,” added Khosla Ventures partner Vinod Khosla. “With access to automation, these developments can cost less and move faster. Opentrons is not only bringing affordable equipment to labs of all sizes, but is harnessing the power of open source technology to cultivate a more collaborative scientific community. The lean biotech startup is possible now.”