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Illumina Ventures to Abandon Cohort Model With Revamped Accelerator Program


NEW YORK – Illumina Ventures will be doing away with the startup cohort model as it remakes the Illumina Accelerator program that it took over earlier this week.

"There will be flexibility as to starting dates for companies and the residence period will be longer than six months," Ron Mazumder, partner at Illumina Ventures, said in an email. "As this program evolves, we could envision new sites across the globe and hybrid residency models."

That's the main change to the program that Illumina started in 2014, which saw approximately half a dozen companies per cohort across its two locations — first in the Bay Area and later in Cambridge, UK, as well. New cohorts were announced every six months and provided with investment, access to business and scientific expertise, and lab space, including access to Illumina next-generation sequencing technology.

Illumina Ventures Labs will work with about the same number of companies at each site, Mazumder said, "However, we will also employ multiple models in our labs, including the opportunity for entrepreneurs in residence to conduct lab-based experiments."

The new program will also consider slightly more mature startups, he added. Those companies "can benefit from these resources and facilities," while also receiving "the tools and facilities to accelerate timelines to their next value inflection point."

Illumina Ventures, an early-stage investor that was seeded with money from its namesake, took over the Illumina Accelerator program earlier this week. The venture capital firm's portfolio includes Delfi Diagnostics, DNA Script, Fluent Biosciences, Sherlock Biosciences, and Genome Medical.

The original accelerator program has graduated 74 companies, which have received more than $1.2 billion in follow-on, third-party investment, according to Illumina. Alumni include single-cell analysis firm Celldom; Broken String Biosciences, a UK-based maker of gene editing characterization tools; Cache DNA, a DNA-based data storage startup with ties to MIT; and Xcell Biosciences, a cell and gene therapy manufacturing technology firm that raised $27.5 million in Series B financing in January 2022. Xcell Bioscience has also received a strategic investment from Labcorp in November 2021 and collaborated with that firm on projects to improve safety and efficacy of cell and gene therapies.

The transition comes as Illumina is trying to reduce its spending by $100 million over the next several years. In the first quarter of 2023, Illumina saw core sequencing revenues fall 12 percent, year over year. How much money Illumina might save by offloading the program onto Illumina Ventures isn't clear, and Illumina did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, Illumina CTO Alex Aravanis noted that the move would allow Illumina scientists "to work closely with companies pioneering potential new applications of our genomics tools while leaving the investment decisions to independent venture investors who will be able to directly fund the participants."

Illumina is also undergoing a change in leadership after longtime CEO Francis deSouza resigned earlier this month and former board chairman John Thompson was ousted via shareholder vote.

Illumina Ventures did not respond to questions about the financial terms of the deal, but noted that by taking over the program, it will obtain additional investment opportunities for its fund. "There are a number of companies that have been identified as potential candidates, so we are not starting from scratch," Mazumder said.

The application process will be "very similar" he said, and startups interested in the program can contact the firm. However, the decision criteria will be "slightly different," he said, but did not elaborate.

Illumina Ventures' current entrepreneur in residence is Lisa Alderson, cofounder of Genome Medical, who joined in January.