In February, Michael Kanellos suggested that Amyris would be the next greentech startup to file to go public.  It pains me greatly to write that he was correct.

The synthetic biology firm, which has raised more than $244 million in private funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Khosla Ventures, TPG Biotechnology, Advanced Equities, DAG Ventures, Grupo Cornélio Brennand, Naxos Capital Partners, The Westly Group, Stratus Group, and Temasek Holdings, et al. filed its SEC paperwork today and is looking to raise $100 million. 

Here's the link to the S-1.

The company, which was spun out of research conducted at UC Berkeley, feeds sugars to custom microbes which exude hydrocarbons to order which are then converted to fuels or industrial chemicals.  The CEO, John Melo, told Greentech Media in 2008 that $2 per gallon wholesale biodiesel was achievable.  According to the S-1, Melo made $408,333 in salary, $200,000 in bonus pay, and $221,617 in other compensation, for a total of $829,950 in 2009.

The first product out of the company was an artificial version of artemisinin, an antimalaria drug that drew millions in support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

The company has been busy.  In December, it paid $82 million to Brazil's São Martinho Group for a 40 percent stake in an ethanol mill project that the parties hope will be operational by 2011 or 2012. The Brazilian company already controls three ethanol plants that make about 600 million liters (158 million gallons) of ethanol per year.  Soon after, it entered into agreements with three other Brazilian companies -- Acucar Guarani, Bunge Limited and Cosan -- to produce ethanol and high-value chemicals. 

Here are some tidbits from the SEC document:


  • The company genetically modifies microorganisms, primarily yeast, and uses them as living factories in established fermentation processes to convert plant-sourced sugars into potentially thousands of target molecules. Their first commercialization efforts have been focused on a molecule called farnesene, the basis for a range of products varying from specialty chemical applications such as detergents, cosmetics, perfumes and industrial lubricants, to transportation fuels such as diesel. 
  • Amyris has developed genetic engineering and screening technologies that enable them to modify the way microorganisms, or microbes, process sugar. By controlling these metabolic pathways, the microbes serve as living factories, or biorefineries, to produce target molecules that the startup intends to commercialize. The platform utilizes proprietary high-throughput processes to create and test as many as 1,000 yeast strains a day in order to select those yeast strains which are most efficient. 
  • Amyris is focusing on Brazilian sugarcane as its primary feedstock.  According to UNICA, the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association, sugarcane is the lowest-cost feedstock to produce renewable products at scale and using it enables Amyris to leverage the established Brazilian infrastructure.
  • The firm expects to access feedstock and expand production through a "capital-light strategy" with joint ventures with numerous Brazilian sugarcane producers processors.  
  • They plan to commence commercialization starting in 2011 using contract manufacturers, and to have their first capital-light production facility, a joint venture with Usina São Martinho, operational in the second quarter of 2012. As they commence commercial production of their initial molecule, farnesene, they expect to target specialty chemical markets. 


Amyris lists a confidence-sapping set of risks, standard for this type of document, which include:

  • They have a limited operating history and have not generated revenues from the sale of any of their renewable products.  To date, their revenues have consisted of sales of ethanol produced by third parties, funding from third party collaborative research services and government grants.
  • They have no experience producing products at the commercial scale needed for the development of their business, and will not succeed if they cannot effectively scale the technology and processes.
  • The strategy of relying on existing Brazilian sugar and ethanol producers to produce their products makes them substantially dependent on these owners.
  • They may face risks relating to the use of their genetically modified yeast strains, including failure to achieve regulatory and public approval.   


The company had 2007 sales of $6.1 million, 2008 sales of $13.9 million and 2009 sales of $64.6 million.  The profits from those years were, just kidding -- the company lost $11.7 million in 2007, $41.8 million in 2008, and a whopping $64.4 million in 2009.

Another biotech company, Codexis, which makes enzymes for fuel production, filed its S-1 in December and looks to go public this week.  Vinod Khosla, an investor in Amyris, has voiced concern that "too many companies have filed and we will get a nanotech moment."  He's "much more concerned about premature IPOs" and cites Codexis as "pretending to be a biofuels company when it is an R&D firm."

How is Amyris any different?


(Images from the S-1)