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Startup Street: Decode Your DNA, For Free

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This week on Startup Street, geneticist George Church is trying to democratise DNA data and make it free and secure. A new report shows how China’s interest in Indian startups has grown. A new Rs 1,000 crore fund for promoting entrepreneurship in cooperatives. And Airbus lands in Kerala. Here’s what went on.

Free Genome Analysis!

Renowned geneticist and molecular engineer George Church is making genome sequencing free.

His startup Nebula Genomics is now providing complete DNA decoding at no cost for customers who answer a series of questions about their own health, according to its website. Everyone is eligible to use the service, which was launched on Thursday, Church said.

Church, who is regarded as the father of the Human Genome project, had started Nebula Genomics with the aim of making genome sequencing cheaper and keeping the DNA data of users private. For the latter half, Church is relying on blockchain to ensure complete anonymity remains.

“There are certainly valid concerns with genomic data being used for irresponsible and unethical things, but there is also an immense opportunity to provide value to millions of people,” Church wrote in a recent Reddit AMA session. “Nebula Genomics was founded in part to address this exact conflict.”

"By using cryptography, Nebula will never have access to your non-encrypted data, and will never be able to decrypt it alone. Nebula Genomics is taking steps to ensure that only trusted research institutions can ever access this anonymized data. You choose to allow researchers access to your data (which you can approve or reject on a case-by-case basis through our platform) and you remain anonymous while doing so." - George Church, Founder, Nebula Genomics

When the first human genome was sequenced back in 2001 it cost $3 billion. Technological advancements have seen the costs decline to around $1,000 currently. That’s still too high for most people.

Nebula’s whitepaper says that having a blockchain based genome database will help subsidise sequencing costs as buyers would identify the individual gene characteristics that they need. Plus, data owners can privately store their gene data and control who accesses it as the blockchain technology itself promises to be immutable. It also means people can then sell their data for drug research.

Church’s startup has also found backers. Ten firms have already invested $4.3 million, according to Crunchbase.

China’s $2 Billion Bet

The national flags of China, left, and India sit on a desk during a conference in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

Chinese investors upping their bets on India’s young companies.

Indian startups raised over $2 billion from Chinese venture capitalists in 2017, according to a KPMG report.

“India has always been an attractive investment destination for China, however from 2015 onwards, the country has witnessed significant increase in investments from Chinese firms, primarily in start-ups and technology platforms,” the report said.

"In 2017, Indian start-ups received Rs 12,900 crore or $2 billion from China, a growth of 3x as compared to previous year. The surge in investments indicates an inclination of Chinese to shift or expand out of China to leverage the benefits of cheaper labour, new markets and less domestic vulnerability." - KPMG Report

Chinese investments have mostly come the e-commerce, transportation and fintech secotrs. The report added that major investors in the India's startup ecosystem are Alibaba, Ctrip and Tencent.

The report was unveiled in Beijing at the second edition of the Startup India Investment Seminar that was attended by over 350 Chinese venture capitalists. Eight Indian startups are also set to get a commitment of $30 million from them, the Commerce Ministry said in a statement.

Rs 1,000 Crore For Agri Cooperative Startups

Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh after unveiling the scheme (Source: PIB)

India’s Agriculture Ministry has launched a Rs 1,000 crore startup fund for encouraging young entrepreneurs to start cooperative business ventures.

The Yuva Sahakar-Cooperative Enterprise Support and Innovation scheme was launched by agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh on Wednesday. “National Cooperative Development Corporation has created a dedicated fund with liberal features enabling youth to avail the scheme,” Singh said in a media statement.

The scheme is linked to the Cooperative Start-up and Innovation Fund that the NCDC has created. It will offer more incentives to cooperatives from North East India, aspirational districts and those which have women, or scheduled caste or scheduled tribe members. These categories will get funding up to 80 percent of the project cost as compared with 70 percent for others.

The scheme also envisages a 2 percent less interest rate on term loan for project cost up to Rs 3 crore. That includes 2 years moratorium on payment of the principal. All types of cooperatives in operation for at least one year are eligible.

Airbus’ Kerala Innovation Centre

Airbus is bringing its startup accelerator in Kerala.

The global aerospace giant’s arm Airbus BizLab signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state government on Saturday to set up an innovation centre in Thiruvananthapuram. The centre will be the nodal body for planning and executing all activities for aiding startups, particularly in the aerospace sector.

“We are confident that this partnership with Airbus Bizlab will help embed innovation in the industrial ecosystem of Kerala. It will up-skill the local youth and will enhance employability,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said.

Airbus BizLab will also provide support and mentoring for startups in Kerala and conduct regular workshops with experts from aerospace and defence sectors. This will be Airbus BizLab's second base in India after Bengaluru. It also has facilities in Toulouse, Hamburg and Madrid.

The initiative aims to foster local talent in the aerospace domain and help promising startups to contribute towards shaping the future of flying not only in India but the world, Anand E Stanley, president and managing director of Airbus India and South Asia, told PTI.

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