In the Familiar Faces series, our Target Accelerators Program Managers check in with companies who have participated in one of our Target Accelerators programs. This is a chance to dig in and learn more about each company’s growth since completing their Target Accelerators experience and our way of continuing to root them on every step of the entrepreneurial way. Welcome to Familiar Faces.
Checking in with Sun Genomics, Target Takeoff Wellness alumni
Through their signature product Floré, Sun Genomics is creating custom gut probiotics tailored and formulated to individual’s unique microflora to improve digestion, increase energy, and reduce bloating; helping us all to perform at our best.
Interview by Anne Kitchen, Target Takeoff Program Manager
Anne: It’s been about a year and a half since you went through the Takeoff Wellness program and it seems the world is completely different from then. What are the top three things that come to mind about the growth and evolution of Sun Genomics over the last 18 months?
Sunny: Three things come to mind:
Team. No matter how good the idea, it still takes an amazing team to bring it to life. Thibaut, Neal, Divya, Zenas, and now Mayank are building Floré to be the gold standard for how one should take a supplement. It is truly incredible to watch and be a part of.
Distribution to Customers. You don’t truly have a product until you identify a distribution channel that works. While early on that was Facebook, it has now shifted to people who search with intent to purchase probiotics. The shift in consumer behavior illustrates the product can be successful in areas where people go with intention to purchase. This includes in store retail, health centers, and other areas where the product can stand on its own. We have also learned a lot about our customers, what excites them, and why they chose our product. We are excited to continue to expand into other distribution channels over the next few years to further grow our customer base.
Great Support. IndieBio (World’s largest Biotech accelerator), Target Accelerator, Food Funded, Expo West, and our great investors all share our vision to cure dysbiosis and end the unknown gut issues that we all experience. The analysis of the gut microbiome is critical to understand food and supplements and how this intersection between them impacts chronic conditions, performance, and even mental health. Never before have we seen a specific field of science, microbiology, cross over into almost every discipline of science, medicine, and consumer product in such a short period of time. The more innovation in the community, the more opportunities we are presented to provide solutions to consumers and make our product that much better.
Anne: You recently closed your Series A round of funding. Walk me through that process – how did you know it was time to raise? What advice would you have for other founders who are considering this next step?
Neal: A rapidly growing startup should always be developing relationships and making connections in preparation for raising a financing round. Bringing a coalition of value-add investors takes time and perseverance. On average, a Series A round takes 6-9 months to come together from the day of the first meeting until funds are transferred. This means that, depending on your runway, you should have a plan of attack well before your company is projected to run out of money. One valuable lesson we learned through this process is to determine which investors are serious and move on from those that are just trading in information. As a founder or member of an early stage company you are already charged with hundreds of tasks. Spending time with investors who say things like, “we usually invest in later stage companies” or “we are still raising our fund” are unlikely to fit your timeline.
Additionally, it is important to cast a wide net and do your best to leverage each relationship to generate the most value. This means using your LinkedIn to identify connections, talking with other startup founders, speaking at events (in person or online), going through accelerator programs, and overall attempting to generate a buzz about your company and technology. Finally, stay persistent! Through the last financing round, we spoke with several investors and eventually were fortunate to find the right mix of venture capital and corporate investment that will help us grow into the future. The process takes time and you are going to hear “no” far more than you hear “yes”. Stay focused and good things will happen.
Anne: Gut Health is so important to a person’s overall health. What have you been hearing from your customers at this time as the world has health and proactive wellness on their minds?
Sunny: The world’s health needs outside the pandemic have not stopped and the 70 million Americans that suffer from gut health issues still have those issues on a daily basis. What has changed is that it is now difficult to schedule a doctor’s visit and get the necessary care. So many of our customers send us kind thank you notes for working with them as we often ship our product and probiotics to them at new addresses or on a different timeline. The direct to consumer and at-home solutions market continues to grow rapidly as people prefer these solutions over going to the doctor’s office. Once you become a Floré subscriber, we consider your gut health our full-time job and we are flexible to your health objectives and regimen.
Moreover, we take time to listen to our customer base and have found significant interest in learning more about how the gut impacts your immune system. What we have shared with our customers is that bacterial cells typically live within the intestinal tract and lining (mucosal membrane) and interact with the body’s immune system and other cells of the body. To respond to our customer’s needs we have been integrating many new ingredients into our repository of over 100+ prebiotics, probiotics, and botanicals. Ingredients such as natural Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Citrus Extracts, Polyphenols, and Carotenoids.
More Detail on That:
This interaction interface of bacteria to the human immune system is called the GALT – gut associated lymphoid tissue. GALT contains white blood cells like T-cells and B-cells that help defend the human body from potential invaders. GALT is well positioned just on the other side of your intestine’s mucus membrane and is ready to respond to signals. These communication interfaces of bacteria to host (us) is where intense scientific study is underway to understand how non-human cells and talk to our human cells through these signals and what molecules are doing the signaling. One common term used to describe issues when this cross signaling has gone bad is leaky gut.
Proactive wellness a growing category of products and services and has been for some time. Additionally, as you mentioned, solutions for avoiding doctor’s visits are becoming increasingly important. What are you most excited about in this field, both from a Sun Genomics standpoint and what you are seeing in terms of innovation beyond your company?
Neal: When we started Sun Genomics in 2016, there were only a handful of publications surrounding the microbiome. Early on it was common to hear statements like, “is the microbiome really a thing”?
A few years and thousands of clinical studies and peer-reviewed scientific papers later and those same people are now asking, “what else can the gut microbiome impact”? Even with the incredible growth in the area over the last three years, what is the most exciting is that we are still at the proverbial “tip of the iceberg”.
We reach thousands of people every month educating them about the importance of the gut microbiome and every day there is a new study linking the microbiome to another condition or symptom. We are excited to be a leader in this field and expect even more rapid growth over the next few years as people continue to take charge of their health through independent learning and at-home testing.
Anne: What’s next for Sun Genomics?
Neal: The sky is the limit for Sun Genomics. We are excited to continue to accelerate growth in the consumer market using Floré, our fully customized probiotic solution through both digital and retail channels. Beyond our consumer offering, over the last few years, our team of scientists have been some of the first in the world to collect and interpret real-time longitudinal information about the gut microbiome. These findings are going to be critical to the overall advancement of microbiome science as we work with collaborators in industry and academics. In fact, we are just beginning our first large scale study with Arizona State University and its team of researchers studying the microbiome and Autism Spectrum Disorder and we are excited to help these world-renowned researchers advance in the space.