Three years ago, France’s Lesaffre, one of the world’s largest and oldest yeast manufacturers, entered into an alliance with the Silicon Valley-based syn-bio startup Recombia Biosciences. While Lesaffre had used yeast and yeast extracts to produce a range of products, from baking ingredients to flavors and biofuels, over the last decade, new syn-bio firms had begun modifying yeast, expanding the number of molecules obtainable through yeast fermentation. To stay at the forefront of innovation, Lesaffre decided to partner with Recombia in 2020—and that partnership helped accelerate the development of yeasts to produce fermented ingredients.
With the startup’s proprietary technologies proving to be critical for its future, Lesaffre acquired Recombia in March 2022. Since then, it has incorporated Recombia’s genome editing technologies into its bio-foundry to gain a head start in the biggest business opportunity of the century, namely synthetic biology. That’s no exaggeration; syn-bio applications are likely to disrupt industries that accounted for as much as a third of global output in 2022, according to BCG’s recent studies.
Like Lesaffre, incumbents in many industries are experimenting with syn-bio strategies, but it isn’t easy. The science continues to develop and the industry dynamics keep changing, so it’s tough for incumbents to figure out whether they’re making the right strategic choices, as we pointed out in a recent article. They can’t rely solely on traditional buying and selling relationships in the nascent syn-bio ecosystem; companies have to embark on co-development strategies, which help them make the right technology choices; choose the right partners; and use the right collaboration models.
Incumbents can use different types of collaborations to enter the syn-bio industry: They can form or join focused consortiums; enter into joint ventures; or acquire, and merge with, syn-bio firms. As the Lesaffre case demonstrates, these strategies will evolve over time. In order to design successful collaborations, companies must take four steps.