Breakout Labs, a funding programme financed by Peter Thiel’s private Foundation, has just announced that it is investing in four new tech startups.

Breakout Labs fund backs startups working to combat ageing and food wastage

Peter Thiel, the charismatic founder of Paypal, besides being a successful entrepreneur is also a dedicated libertarian thinker and an excellent chess player. Moreover, as one of today’s leading financiers in Silicon Valley, he is also widely renowned for having been one of the first investors to believe in the potential of Facebook.  He heads up a number of investment funds, including Breakout Labs, a seed-stage revolving fund operating out of the Thiel Foundation in San Francisco. Founded in 2012 as a non-profit organisation, the mission of Breakout Labs is to help early stage companies making major scientific discoveries to reach key strategic R&D milestones so that their work can create a real impact on society. Breakout Labs awards grants of between $50,000 and $350,000 to help tech startups transition their breakthroughs out of the lab and into the economy, attracting public attention and interesting new investors.


                                          Paypal founder Peter Thiel

“We’re always hearing about bold new scientific research that promises to transform the world, but far too often the latest discoveries are left withering in a lab,” points out Lindy Fishburne, Executive Director of Breakout Labs, underlining: “Our mission is to help a new type of scientist-entrepreneur navigate the startup ecosystem and build lasting companies that can make audacious scientific discoveries meaningful to everyday life.” Accordingly the investment fund has just announced that four new promising companies have been selected for grant funding, including one working in the health sector and another in the world of food.

CyteGen: helping to combat degenerative illness

CyteGen, which is not exactly promising immortality but aiming to get somewhere close, was co-founded by a San Francisco venture capitalist and a professor of biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin, and is drawing on the work of internationally-reputed researchers from eight universities. CyteGen’s aim is to protect humanity from the ravages of ageing by combating degenerative illnesses that progress with age, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease, plus a number of other less well-known diseases. The firm works in the field of cytogenetics, which involves studying the chromosome structure of individual cells. “There is an assumption that ageing necessarily brings the kind of physical and mental decline that results in Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. Evidence indicates otherwise, which is what spurred us to launch CyteGen,” explains George Ugras, co-founder and President of CyteGen, in the Breakout Labs communiqué.

C2Sense: tackling food wastage

Working at the frontier between the health and food sectors, using technology developed at MIT’s Swager Lab, C2Sense has come up with a means of quickly detecting fruit ripeness and meat, fish and poultry freshness. The C2Sense approach uses inexpensive, lightweight hand-held sensors based on highly sensitive carbon nanotubes, which are placed between two electrodes. When certain specific substances – such as ethylene or amines – released by the food being tested are emitted into the atmosphere, they will stick to the nanotubes, thereby changing the direction of the electrical current passing between the electrodes. The system can thus reliably indicate whether a food item is still edible – which should help to avoid not only a great deal of food wastage but also many instances of food poisoning.  
The two other fledgling companies awarded Breakout Labs grants this time around are Maxterial Inc., which has developed a method of preventing metal from rusting, and nanoGriptech, a firm that has drawn inspiration from the grippy properties of gecko skin to make a strong, durable, non-pollutant adhesive for a wide range of uses.

By Guillaume Renouard