Tech Investing: A Look at Applied Genomics

On Tuesday, as part of a new documentary project we’re working on, we traveled to Boston to meet Enriquez in his office in the Prudential Center. Enriquez is a managing director of Excel Venture Management and the best-selling author of two books: As The Future Catches You and The Untied States of America.

Specifically, we asked him about the algae harvesting project of Synthetic Genomics Inc. a company he co-founded with J. Craig Venter and Hamilton Smith. Venter, you may know, led the team that sequenced the human genome back in 2001. This new project uses genetic engineering to coax algae into using energy sunlight “to convert carbon dioxide into cellular oils and even some types of long-chain hydrocarbons that can be further processed into fuels and chemicals.”

In other words, they’re using an inconspicuous little lichen to convert those dreaded “greenhouse gases” into a renewable energy source…at a remarkable pace. The project officially began last July 14, when Exxon Mobil agreed to throw $300 million into the pot.

When we were making the film I.O.U.S.A., we heard time and again that the government needs to spend money now to get the economy “back on track.” It was a mantra during the bailout period. And continues to be the rally cry of mainstream economists and many of the attendees of last week’s 2010 Fiscal Summit in Washington, DC.

Once the economy recovers, the theory goes, then we can start worrying about restructuring the financial obligations wrought by the entitlement programs AND we can balance the budget…AND pay down the debt. Heh. That’s a tall order for any economy.

So we began to wonder… What does an economy look like when it’s “back on track”? Debt and unemployment seem to be the biggest impediments to a recovery. Who are the people that will provide jobs in this future nirvana? What’s stopping them from doing so now?

The line of inquiry led us to work with Odyssey Marine. You’ve heard us mention the underwater marine salvage group before. And you’ll hear us talk more about their unique commercial approach to underwater archeology that has the academic community, particularly in England, throwing hissy fits.

But today, we want to stretch our legs a little more. We visited Juan Enriquez because he’s at the forefront of a revolutionary field of applied genomics…a field he expects will revolutionize every industry on the planet the same way the digital revolution just laid waste to the newspaper industry and many others…and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process.

Excel Venture Management has strategically positioned itself to help bring new game-changing technologies out of academia and introduce them to the marketplace.

“Countries that fail to commercialize their research discoveries remain diminished,” Enriquez points out. “Take the UK, for example: They discovered penicillin and DNA, but preferred to let the knowledge sit in a college lab somewhere, rather than let the professor, god forbid, benefit from the discovery. The moment we start adopting those same attitudes in the United States, we will begin to decay.”

As storytellers, we’re interested in the changes new technologies will bring to industry, politics, education, the markets and the economy as a whole.

As purveyors of financial advice for individual investors, we’re very interested in the companies that will start off very inexpensively and then grow to have market caps larger than many a third-world GDP.

Addison Wiggin
for The Daily Reckoning