Theasis (Canva)

Green is the New Gold: Cascade Biocatalysts Secures $2.6M to Scale Enzyme Technology

Funding & Investments
Biomanufacturing, Chemicals & Materials
August 22, 2023

In a marked move toward sustainable chemical manufacturing, Cascade Biocatalysts, a trailblazer in green chemistry biomanufacturing, announced an oversubscribed $2.6 million pre-seed round. Ten VC spearheaded the investment and saw participation from a cohort of investors, including Amplify.LA, Boost VC, Range Ventures, Spacecadet, and the Cool Climate Collective.

The company intends to leverage these funds to augment its trajectory from laboratory experimentation to pilot scale, fortifying its inaugural customer engagements.

Co-Founder & CEO Alex Rosay (left) with Co-Founder & CSO James Weltz (right)

Cascade's ambition is clear-cut: revolutionize the industrial landscape by making enzymatic processes more economically viable. They believe this will hasten the pivot to a more sustainable chemical manufacturing paradigm. Their innovation cornerstone? A proprietary, patent-pending technology dubbed "Body Armor for Enzymes™." This groundbreaking technology augments enzyme efficiency, fostering cost-effective and sustainable chemical reactions.

For eons, nature has banked on enzymes for the meticulous crafting of beneficial molecules. Cascade's vision is to usher these natural catalysts from their cellular origins into the industrial milieu, pivoting away from the traditional, energy-sapping, petrochemical-centric methodologies. This transition isn't merely about innovation—it's about environmental responsibility. Specifically, Cascade hopes to tackle the colossal three gigatons of greenhouse gases that the chemical sector emits annually. To do so, dismantling the cost barrier linked to enzymes is imperative.

Cascade's approach is both innovative and practical: using accessible, affordable materials to prolong the lifespan of premium enzymes. Their success isn't theoretical, either. With a 100% success rate, they've enhanced the stability of 15 distinct enzymes, even under the rigorous conditions of industrial settings. This has been validated by multiple paid clients at the laboratory scale. Their initial ventures encompass a spectrum of applications, from carbon dioxide capture and fragrance production to wastewater management, underscoring the vast commercial horizon of biocatalysts.

The enterprise's genesis can be traced to its co-founders, Alex Rosay and James Weltz, who meld chemical engineering acumen with industry proficiency.

Weltz conceived the technology during his doctoral studies in enzyme immobilization and remarked, “I had tried all other solutions, and they were inconsistent. When I developed our novel approach, I transformed immobilizing enzymes from a trial-and-error process into an engineering discipline.”

Rosay, reflecting on his serendipitous collaboration with Weltz, noted, “From the moment I met James, I knew his technology would revolutionize biomanufacturing. Additionally, from my time as a product manager at Zymergen, I saw a billion dollars go towards precision fermentation unsuccessfully, and I realized cell-free and enzyme processes were the future of the industry, though too expensive today. James’s technology solves this.”

Further reading is available in a related article for a deeper dive into Cascade’s transformative potential in molecular factories.

The editorial staff at SynBioBeta caught up with Alex Rosay recently and asked him some additional questions to provide more insights into Cascade Biocatalysts’ technology and his outlook for the future. Alex’s responses are below:

SynBioBeta: "The 'Body Armor for Enzymes™' technology seems like a game-changer. How did the concept originate, and what challenges did you face in its development?"

Alex Rosay: “My co-founder James invented the technology during his PhD. During his undergrad research, he was amazed by the potential of enzymes to do a broad range of chemistries but frustrated with their short lifespans and narrow operating windows. Motivated to make enzymes more rugged and reliable, he pursued a PhD at CU Boulder, co-advised by two professors: an enzyme engineer and a surface scientist. After spending years trying almost every enzyme immobilization approach from the last 100 years, he borrowed a material science innovation from the medical device space. And while doing all this, James was super thoughtful about which materials to include in his creation so his “Body Armor” would scale easily and economically.”

SynBioBeta: You talk about moving nature's catalysts out of the cell and into the factory, could you dive deeper into the significance of this shift and its potential implications for the industry?

Alex Rosay: “Today, most resources in synthetic biology are going to fermentation-based approaches utilizing microbes to make chemicals. But the enzymes in these microbes are what is moving the molecules around, so why not just focus on those? Well, enzymes are expensive, and cells are great at regenerating these proteins quickly. However, microbe-based approaches have struggled to scale economically and compete with petrochemicals. Microbes are typically grown in batch processes, need very sterile conditions, require close monitoring, and generate thousands of other molecules that need to be separated away in downstream processing.”
“Focusing on cell-free approaches (which we enable through stabilizing enzymes) helps drop the cost down of bioprocessing significantly. That is what we are seeing with cell-free and biocatalytic approaches championed by companies like Solugen - higher yields, lower costs, and lower capital expenditure.”

SynBioBeta: You've touched upon diverse applications for this technology, from CO2 capture to wastewater treatment. Are there any areas that excite you the most, and why?

Alex Rosay: “Personally, I am most excited about pushing past the frontiers of known molecules. At Cascade, we will enable assembly lines of enzymes (known as enzyme cascades) to create a new wave of molecules. Though our vision of a molecular factory is a few years away, our stabilization of enzymes is a critical piece of the foundation. There are hundreds of millions of different enzymes that can act very specifically on different molecules, and we are building the company to stack them together better than ever before. This will lead to completely new medicines, flavors, fragrances, materials, and consumer products as we reinvent the molecular world.”

SynBioBeta: For budding entrepreneurs and innovators in the green chemistry space, what advice would you share based on your journey with Cascade so far?

Alex Rosay: “Take the leap!”

“At this point, I’ve been lucky to speak with over one hundred founders across a wide range of industries and previous experiences. The only thing we all have in common is that we went for it. Though for specific advice, here are three things I would tell myself before embarking on this journey:"

  1. "Be prepared for an infinite to-do list but don’t sideline your life: As an early-stage entrepreneur, I have to push forward all aspects of the business. There are always more customers you can talk to, more potential employees and investors to get excited about, etc. But it’s critical you make time for yourself because if you sprint this marathon, you will not last very long."

  2. "Don’t take any advice: Everyone will have thoughts on what you should be doing, and the best advice I have gotten is to do none of it; just listen and understand where it comes from. Only you have the full picture of your business and vision. So build the company you believe should be built. For Cascade, we had a few investors try and push us to a specific application area even though we have a broad and generalizable technology. We stuck with our platform vision and are thankful to have found investors who believed in us."

  3. "Get ready to repeat yourself 10,000 times: Entrepreneurship becomes more of your identity than any other job I’ve seen. Friends, family, and people you meet are curious to learn more about what you are building, why you are doing it, and how it has gone. Start a company you are excited enough about that repeating yourself over and over will not get tiring.”

“And finally, I learned the art of fundraising. I am happy to hop on a call with any climate bio founder to share what I would have done differently during my first fundraise. The last year has been the most exciting career experience of my life, and I hope to enable more people to join me on the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship as we use biology to create a better world.”

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