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Ask an Alum: Jason Kelly

June 20, 2019

“If you can build it in Boston, you can build it anywhere.”

HubWeek is a celebration of art, science, and technology, and 2019 marks five years of our celebration of Boston's innovation scene. At the intersection of these critical areas, HubWeek’s three-day event in October invites curious minds from Boston and beyond to build a better future through collaboration, exploration, and connection.

We’ve spent the last five years growing HubWeek in order to grow our city’s vision for innovation, and we value every person who helped to get us here. This includes past speakers like Jason Kelly, co-founder of Gingko Bioworks, a company leveraging technology and biology to design custom organisms. A 2018 Fast Company Most Innovative Company and recent unicorn, Ginkgo is tackling everything from extinct species to rare diseases to foods of the future and is quickly becoming a pillar of Boston's innovation ecosystem.

We're catching up with innovators like Jason to help us celebrate our fifth birthday, and to get the scoop on their companies and careers. 

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HubWeek is having our five-year anniversary this year. That's a big milestone! How would you describe the HubWeek experience and its impact on Boston?

HubWeek has successfully created a space bringing together Boston’s brilliant minds from different corners of art, design, tech, academia, and government. The five-year anniversary is not just a big milestone for HubWeek, but the Boston tech scene overall. It is reflective of the renaissance happening in Boston, where new conversations and collaborations across different industries are breaking down silos. Boston has been on the frontier of new technology and generating incredible innovations in different fields for a long time, but it’s exciting to see the tech community developing renewed awareness of what’s happening in other disciplines and how those ideas and efforts can intersect to cultivate something better.

What does the future of Boston’s innovation look like to you? Who or what is driving that innovation?

Boston has always been unique in the depth of academic knowledge and skills within the local community that work to bolster and sustain local companies. I truly believe that Ginkgo Bioworks — and many of the other cutting edge life sciences companies here — could only have started and grown here in Boston. Helping prop that up is the new wave of dedicated spaces for fostering life science innovation, like the Pagliuca Life Lab at Harvard, The Engine startup accelerator, Alexandria LaunchLabs and more. The key to a thriving innovation ecosystem is incentivizing young founders to put down roots and stay in the community as their companies grow.

Let's talk about you! What have you been up to since we last saw you at HubWeek?

Ginkgo has continued to focus on solving big challenges in everything from the future of food to living medicines.

For example, consumers care more than ever about what they eat and the way their food is produced, and desire for plant-based alternatives to traditional proteins is at an all-time high. In February, we launched Motif Ingredients, an alternative protein company that will empower global food producers to produce plant-based products that are more nutritious, more accessible and more friendly to our planet.

More recently, we announced the acquisition of Warp Drive Bio’s genome mining platform, a deal that extends a partnership with Roche to advance efforts in discovering and developing new classes of antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem that endangers thousands of people and threatens modern science -- this is a global problem that urgently needs innovation.

How have resources from the city of Boston influenced your career?

Boston has a wealth of resources, highly-skilled professionals, and the legacy of a strong academic community, offering the perfect foundation for starting a company with deep technical expertise and well-rounded perspectives. The Ginkgo leadership team has a shared history in Boston’s academic institutions through MIT; in fact, the idea of synthetic biology was born at MIT and started to grow when my co-founders and I were all there for our PhDs. There’s a phrase that has always resonated with me, especially as we founded and grew Ginkgo to the company it is today: “If you can build it in Boston, you can build it anywhere.” It’s tough to get things going in this city, but if you succeed, the city will reward you!

Who do you look to for inspiration within the Boston community?

I’ve always been inspired by Tom Knight and his ability to reinvent himself again and again, and never stop asking new questions, even if the answers are difficult. Long before we started Ginkgo, Tom was a mentor to me during my time in graduate school. I also always look to the next wave of founders for inspiration, who are coming from such a wide variety of communities and specialties within the Boston community; from academia to the design community (including Media Lab and MassArt), and innovation hubs like Pagliuca at Harvard. It is a privilege to be constantly surrounded by so much energy and innovative thinking here in Boston.

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This October in the Seaport, HubWeek’s fifth Fall Festival welcomes creative thinkers and innovation leaders like Jason to join us in building a vision of the future at the intersection of art, science, and technology. Until then, we’ve curated opportunities throughout the year to keep the conversation going at our Open Doors events. Stay connected with us on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and Instagram to learn about upcoming Open Doors, this year’s agenda, and more!

July 10: Kendall Square, Cambridge
August 19: East Boston
September 9: Dudley Square, Roxbury
November 4: Allston/Brighton

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