How This Founder Embraced His Critics and Raised $75 Million for a Mammoth Moonshot

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Ben Lamm had founded and sold five companies by the time he teamed up with Harvard geneticist George Church to create Colossal, a bioscience startup based in Boston and Austin. He had accumulated a lot of experience in raising funds from venture capitalists over the years. But this time it was different.

Colossal Bioscience was founded to take some of Church’s innovative technology and scientific process out of the university research lab and accelerate it through investment. The company’s real goal, Lamm told Inc.’s What I Know podcast, was a moonshot: bringing the woolly mammoth back from extinction. Synthetic biology and the wealth of innovations involved in the effort have many other useful applications, from mitigating climate change to protecting endangered species to human health.

What Colossal lacked was a business model. Luckily, that wasn’t an issue during the investor pitch, says Lamm: “In the seed stage, the business plan was, ‘Hey, George and I are going to start a synthetic biology company that will bring back mammoths and will help create thoughtful projects, disruptive conservation technologies. And we believe we can do things for humans. That was the pitch.” Lamm and Church had secretly approached investors, aiming to raise $8 million in seed funding. They ended up raising over $16 million.

Colossal has since raised over $75 million. While Lamm may laugh that the business model is still unclear, he says the company is working on several disruptive technologies that could have massive implications not only for conservation, but also for human health, fetal development and even the entertainment value.

Entertainment value? Lamm says he expects that when, in four to six years, his company has created a living creature resembling a woolly mammoth, there will be a “consumer experience” branch in his business. While the Colossal’s goal for the Mammoth Extinction Project is the regeneration of the Arctic, Lamm says the team wants the first calves available for humanity to see. Educational content, such as books, TV shows, and games could follow.

Partly because recreating a species is controversial, Colossal operates with radical transparency to the public. “We’ve talked a lot about this because we want everyone, from the general public to government officials to Indigenous groups, to be involved in what we do,” Lamm said. He’s also radically open to criticism: “You learn more from people who interview you. So we welcome that. That dialogue, we don’t run away from it, we run to it. It really helps us do things better. “

This approach is linked to a philosophy that is dear to him and that has driven him to launch company after company. “I think anything worth doing is pretty hard, so that doesn’t really put me off.”

You can listen to my full interview with Ben Lamm by clicking here or on the player above. You can find What I Know on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, or wherever you get your audio.

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