Small Company with Big Dreams – #BIF16 Fireside Chat with Rachel Haurwitz

Small Company with Big Dreams – #BIF16 Fireside Chat with Rachel Haurwitz

Rachel Haurwitz is young. So is her company. Caribou was founded in 2011 and Haurwitz became the CEO in 2012 when she finished her PhD. In 2014 Haurwitz landed on  FORBES 30 Under 30 list for Science & Healthcare. And then in 2016 she was selected for Fortune magazine’s 2016 “40 Under 40” list, the publication’s annual ranking of the most influential young people in business.

Dr. Rachel Haurwitz, CEO Caribou Biosciences

Dr. Rachel Haurwitz, CEO Caribou Biosciences

During a Fireside Chat today at the BIO Investor Forum, Haurwitz described her young company’s vision for the future and its unorthodox strategy for moving forward with a technology that is grabbing headlines. Caribou is developing tools derived from CRISPR Cas9 technology– a process Haurwitz says “democratizes gene editing” because it can cleave nearly any sequence complementary to the guide RNA. According to Haurwitz, the technology is highly flexible and can be quickly redesigned and deployed to target various sections of the genome providing tremendous potential for research and commercial applications.

What’s unique about Caribou is that rather than focusing on one or a few applications for the CRISPR Cas9 technology, it is instead looking to create platform technology allowing the company to be in multiple market segments: therapeutics, agriculture, biological research and industrial biotechnology.

“What we think is very exciting is that there are a number of other CRISPR derived technologies that have utility across all areas. We want to build a broader toolbox so in the future you’ll be able to determine a section of the genome you want to modify and then go into your toolbox to select the best tool to find the location.”

Caribou’s strategy is to partner with recognized leaders to gain access to each of the market segments. Agreements with Novartis in the health arena and DuPont in agriculture are partnerships Haurwitz says bring value to the company and help bring other investors to the table as well. It wasn’t always the case. When the company first started, it presented this broad portfolio approach to venture capital firms and most said they should choose one thing to focus on and come back when they’ve done that.

“But we stuck to our guns and believed in the technology. It actually ended up leading us to a number of the strategic partnerships we have today who are also willing to buy into our long term vision…Now we do have a number of other investors as well who believe in the diversified portfolio approach…”

Caribou has raised $41M to date and they are just getting started. It will be exciting to watch Rachel Haurwitz and her company as it evolves over the next several years.