Founder Q&A

Biotech start up Capra wants to use $1.8 million in funding to expand modular technology

By Ravyn Cullor

- Last updated on GMT

Capra Biosciences is bringing a fermented retinol to the market to showcase the capabilities of their modular production technology. © Getty Images - 5./15 WEST
Capra Biosciences is bringing a fermented retinol to the market to showcase the capabilities of their modular production technology. © Getty Images - 5./15 WEST

Related tags biotech Fermentation ingredient technology Sustainability Biotechnology green beauty

Biotechnology company Capra is bringing a fermented retinol to the market, but the production process may mean more cost-effective biotech cosmetic ingredients.

CosmeticsDesign spoke with Capra Biosciences co-founders Elizabeth Onderko and Andrew Magyar about the company and what their technology means for biotech in cosmetics more broadly.

Can you tell me a little bit about Capra as a company?

Elizabeth Onderko:​  We began right before the pandemic, in February 2020. Initially, we worked on the startup part-time and kept our day jobs. We were able to go full-time in the year after that and we participated in the Prince William Science Accelerator program which allowed us to be full-time and really make good progress on our company moving forward.

During that time, we decided on retinol as our first product. On an industrial scale today, Retinol is actually produced through a chemical synthesis process in industrial factories. This was really surprising for us to learn because it is a natural molecule. We were really excited that we could make this cost-effectively with our platform.

Andrew Magyar:​  We invented this bioreactor technology and one of the decisions that we made is that we wanted to use this technology ourselves to make sustainable chemicals. We felt that would have the most impact. 

This technology is most well suited for hydrophobic molecules, molecules that aren't soluble in water. A lot of cosmetics ingredients, of course, meet that criterion. Retinol was one that was identified as being the most exciting, but we do see also this as a platform technology and are excited about a lot of future opportunities, both in the cosmetics space and beyond.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the retinol ingredient itself?

Onderko:​  The retinol that we're producing, it's molecularly identical to the retinol on the market today. It's just a drop-in replacement. 

We have our platform organism produce this retinol product in a sustainable fashion, with no petroleum required.

Magyar:​  Now we're engaging with companies to better understand what form they would be looking for the retinol in. We have several big companies we've been talking to, but we’d love to expand that to more people because understanding the requirements of different formulators and people in the space is always helpful.

Can you tell me a little bit about the investment in your company that you just received?

Onderko:​  We recently raised a fundraising round of $1.8 million, and this enabled us to hire three full-time employees and expand our company. So we're really excited right now because it's bustling.

Magyar:​  One of the things that is really important about this round is it's allowing us to get to our production scale reactor. One of the great things about our technology is that we have this modularity. Once we demonstrate productivity in this modular unit, we can rapidly scale. 

It's just a matter of making more of these modules to meet product demand. With this funding, we'll get to that point where, as soon as we get that market push, we can scale up to our pilot manufacturing plant and bigger with future ventures or other types of investment.

What does your technology mean for the scaling of fermentation across the beauty industry?

Magyar:​  Scaling is a really important thing that can be a big barrier to getting a new product on the market. Our technology helps there. Sometimes you have to lease this giant fermenter and, particularly for a novel product, you don't necessarily know that the market demand is going to be there. With our technology, we'd be able to basically scale the units as the demand grows to meet customer needs.

What does the cost of this ingredient look like for brands?

Magyar:​  Our value proposition and something that's really important to us is making products that don't have that green premium We're projecting that our initial price point will be in line with what companies are paying for the petroleum-based retinol today. 

As we move towards future products, our initial targets are really on those products that we can do this type of cost-competitive performance. There is a lot of opportunity in this space because there are all sorts of ingredients that are today made from petroleum. 

As long as you can get it at a place where consumers can pay the same price, almost all consumers in the cosmetic space would choose the sustainable option.

What do cosmetics industry professionals need to know about your company or your product?

Magyar:​  Just because something hasn't been cost-competitive by fermentation in the past, because of the difference in how our technology operates, that may not be true anymore. Our technology provides the opportunity to revisit things that may have been put on hold or dismissed in the past because of concerns about cost limitations.

Is there anything else that you want to or anything important that you feel we might have missed?

Magyar:​  I would just emphasize that we don't see ourselves as a retinol company, we see ourselves as a sustainable ingredient company. We would love to help cosmetics professionals solve the challenges that they have in sourcing sustainable ingredients.

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