Ginkgo’s 2023 Cultivate Fellows Featured in Boston Globe

This summer we welcomed our second cohort of Cultivate Fellows!

We added 11 students to the program, for a total of 23 Black STEM scholars representing 19 universities. Doing so helps fulfill Ginkgo’s commitment to build a more equitable society and company.

Black STEM scholars report high rates of isolation as one reason for high rates of attrition. The Cultivate Fellowship is Ginkgo’s way of trying to alleviate the barriers experienced by these talented students and reduce the marginalization of Black individuals in STEM.

The 2023 cohort of Cultivate Fellows consisted of 11 Black undergraduate students from 11 different institutions, including historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and a community college. Members of the Katherine Johnson Affinity Group selected the Fellows. Two focal points of the week were professional development and networking. Fellows engaged in career exploration opportunities, discussions, and panels designed to expand their knowledge of the range of opportunities across STEM fields that are open to them.

Additional details regarding the activities, panels, and discussions our Fellows participated in this year can be found here: Cultivate Fellowship 2023 Wrap-Up

The 2023 cohort also had the opportunity to meet Ginkgo’s inaugural Cultivate Fellowship cohort from 2022. We hope to plant the roots for a self-sustaining community of Black STEM scholars. We know that they have the potential to change the trajectory of Black individuals across all STEM fields.

Featured in the Boston Globe

Ginkgo’s Communications Team and Early Talent Team worked to feature the program in The Boston Globe. Make sure to read the article here. It includes some of the firsthand experiences of our Fellows throughout the week.

The Cultivate Fellowship’s on-site week in Boston was just the beginning. We hope to build a  long and meaningful relationship between Ginkgo and both of our Cultivate Fellow cohorts. Each Fellow will be paired with a mentor who will continue to provide guidance and support around their professional and academic journey. They will also each receive an annual $3,000 scholarship until graduation.

Lastly, the Early Talent Team would like to thank those involved in the creation and execution of this program. Its accomplishments are thanks to the hard work of many Bioworkers across the company. Sending a particular shoutout to Noah Howe, our People Team intern this summer, who thoroughly and continuously supported the Cultivate Fellowship.

What will you grow with Ginkgo?

iGEM Design League Syn Bio Capital Tour

Three winning teams

Beginning January 24th, Ginkgo welcomed dozens of students from Mexico and Peru, all winners of iGEM Design League’s 2021 Jamboree, to Boston for a week of events. These teams designed synthetic biology solutions to local problems and were selected by iGEM Design League, which seeks to enable Latin American students to design with biology and propose solutions to global and local problems through a synthetic biology framework. In 2021, Ginkgo sponsored the championship prize for the inaugural winning teams and provided each with direct mentorship, DNA synthesis to test their projects, and a trip to Boston where they would gain exposure to synthetic biology in action. The winning teams, two from Mexico and one from Peru, tackled issues including food waste, pesticide and healthcare.

Upon arrival, the three winning teams from 2021 were given tours of Ginkgo by members of LaB+ (our Employee Resource Group for LatinX and Hispanic Bioworkers) and others to see our Foundries and meet with Bioworkers. Students then presented their projects internally for us to learn more about the students as well as give them an opportunity to hone their presentation skills.

In Partnership with iGEM Design League and Latinos in Bio

After touring Ginkgo, students and Bioworkers moved to District Hall for a panel jointly hosted by Latinos in Bio and iGEM Design League titled Accessing Careers in the Life Sciences. Reshma Shetty, our co-founder and COO, opened the event with comments about Ginkgo’s approach to DEI and her own experience founding a company. She then opened the floor to open questions before turning the stage over to the panel. Moderated by Andrew Rodriguez, former Head of Business Development, MilliporeSigma, the panel featured: Rogerio Vivaldi, CEO, Sigilon Therapeutics; Carolina Alarco, Founder and Principal, Bio Strategy Advisors; Gisselle Perez, Head of HR of the Intercontinental Region, Biogen; Geronimo Martinez, Director Internal Audit, Biogen; and Rocio Aguilar Suarez, Research Scientist, from Ginkgo Bioworks Basel team. Students from MIT, Harvard, BU and Northeastern University also attended along with members of the local Latinos in Bio community for a night of networking.

Syn Bio Capital Tour

Billed as a tour of the Syn Bio Capital, students were taken to visit Synlogic and Salvia’s corporate headquarters, and met with Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, Katie Galloway, who led a tour of Media Labs and facilitated demonstrations with her team including Adam Beitz, Pablo Cardenas, Ceili Peng, Stefan Golas, Rick Wierenga, and Kenney Cox. The event closed off with a tour of Harpoon Brewery, our local employee-owned brewery, including a private conversation with their Assistant Vice President of Quality Control, Jaime Schier, who gave students background on how yeasts used to create signature flavors were discovered and incorporated.

Our intention with supporting this trip and iGEM Design League is to continue to support indigenous talent and build out the network of scientists that will be the future of synthetic biology. Moreover, we were able to connect members of LaB+ as well as the local community to strengthen the presence of Latinos not just at Ginkgo, but across the syn bio community in Boston and abroad. As iGEM Design League expands to include Leagues for Indonesia, North Africa/Middle East and others, we will continue to look for ways to engage and support access to synthetic biology across the globe.

What will you grow with Ginkgo?

Ginkgo Sponsors STEMNoire Conference 2022

Ginkgo is dedicated to addressing inequities in technology and society. Our collaboration with STEMNoire 2022 is the first of many joint initiatives we’ll continue to support as we build a more equitable company and culture.

Ginkgo is proud to have participated in this year’s STEMNoire: a research conference and holistic wellness retreat for women of the African diaspora in STEM. Hosted in Boston, the virtual conference reached 178 Black women in STEM across the United States and territories, including students and professionals from the academic, industry, government, and nonprofit sectors.

STEMNoire is a first-of-its-kind research conference and holistic wellness retreat for women of the African diaspora in STEM.

Working collaboratively with the STEMNoire team, Ginkgo sponsored three events during the conference: STEMbiosis at Ginkgo Bioworks; Law, Policy, & Communications: Alternative Careers in STEM; and, EmpowHERed Health is Inclusive Health. Two Ginkgo employees — Luis Ortiz and Meron Wonderad — participated in the first event to share their experiences as Black Bioworkers.

The second event was moderated by Ginkgo’s Associate General Counsel Erica Jackson and featured Synim Rivers, Sr. Director of R&D Communications at Horizon Therapeutics and former Public Health Advisor for the U.S. FDA’s Office of Minority Health, Jihan Jenkins, Associate General Counsel of Intellectual Property at Pentair, and Alyssa Blaize, Associate Director of Commercial Ops & Strategy at Ginkgo. They discussed various career opportunities that STEMNoire participants could pursue outside the lab.

Finally, Ginkgo sponsored a discussion featuring S. Mayumi Grisby, Esq., author of EmpowerHERed Health, and Meghan Venable-Thomas, DrPH, MPH, Director of Community Development, City of Birmingham. The two discussed systemic inequities that Black women face in healthcare, and ways to advocate for personal and structural  change.

“I was able to sit down with other Black women at STEMNoire to discuss the challenges & experiences Black women face in STEM fields, along with getting to expand my knowledge of bioengineering, digital tech, and what it means to be a professional in STEM.” – Ginkgo Cultivate Fellow Lataysha Walker

Dr. Malika Jeffries-El, Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Boston University, joined STEMNoire leadership and the members of the incoming cohort of Cultivate Fellows for a private brunch to conclude the STEMNoire Conference. Participants had the opportunity to discuss their careers, barriers they’ve had to overcome, and ways to strengthen community in their ongoing journeys across STEM.

This event is the first of many joint events with STEMNoire that Ginkgo is excited to support as we fulfill our promise to build a more equitable company, technology, and society. We are grateful for our collaboration with the remarkable STEMNoire community and are excited to see them in Puerto Rico for next year’s conference!

What will you grow with Ginkgo?

From Small Communities To Big Innovations

Patrick Boyle started his career in synthetic biology just as the field was formally taking shape.  Now Head of Codebase at Ginkgo Bioworks, Patrick was one of the first generations of students to complete his entire graduate program in synbio — and he had the unique opportunity to study under the industry’s pioneers. Back then, the field was still a small community.

He’s no stranger to small communities – in fact, he learned to thrive in them. Raised in Alaska and the son of two educators who moved to the state to enhance academic opportunities for indigenous communities, Patrick experienced a uniquely austere lifestyle growing up, living in tiny villages dependent on monthly food shipments and local food like salmon and cranberries. It was like living on Mars, Patrick says.

“I originally wanted to study aerospace engineering, and be an astronaut,” he remembers. That plan quickly changed when he arrived at MIT as an undergraduate and saw what was possible with molecular biology. Those possibilities, he recalls, “blew his mind.”

When he arrived in Boston, Patrick faced an understandable degree of culture shock – from a tiny village to a college town, and from Yupik community culture to a metropolitan lifestyle, away from his family and Filipino roots and into a culturally diverse network of classmates and faculty.

“My history involved acquiring a different level of privilege every few years. I went to a public high school in Alaska and somehow made it to MIT for college, and Harvard for grad school,” Patrick says. “The second I arrived [at MIT], the opportunities I had access to changed. All of the opportunities I have today are so different from the ones I was born into – and it makes me really think about all of the people who didn’t stumble into MIT and Harvard, and earn the privilege that I did.”

Dr. Patrick Boyle

Patrick says he tries to always maintain awareness of that privilege and of his roots, because he believes privilege becomes invisible once a person benefits from the experience of it. He also carries that mindfulness into how he manages and leads within the organization, and particularly, into Ginkgo’s hiring and recruiting practices.

“When you’re bringing in brilliant people that are really amazing in different areas, from all over the world, it’s really humbling,” Patrick explains. “[Ginkgo Founder] Tom Knight taught me that if you always feel like you’re hiring people that are smarter than yourself you’ll never regret it, and that’s definitely what we strive to do here.”

Patrick credits Knight, who was formerly a MIT professor, with fostering a culture of collaboration with very little hierarchy. According to Patrick, Knight is always willing to be in the lab and helping others, where he encourages dialogue and learning.

Ultimately, Patrick believes that Ginkgo is a place where he’s been able to not only grow, but also put down strong community roots. And he’s committed to helping others do the same.

From Intern to Senior Scientist

Ramya Prathuri studied bioengineering at UC Berkeley the first year the university offered a synthetic biology track. At a conference she attended as an undergrad, Ramya happened to encounter Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly. The team was still in its early startup phase, with fewer than 20 employees, and its vision intrigued her.

Ramya applied for an internship right out of college. She remembers an informal process that involved an interview with [Ginkgo Co-Founder] Barry Canton. Ramya joined the team, and over the next two years she grew in her role as the company grew from a promising startup into a major synbio player.

Many of Ramya’s mentors encouraged her to pursue her PhD, as they had, since the valuable experience can help young scientists grow and learn quickly. Though Ramya started a PhD, she decided to master out of the program after some time.

“While I am happy to have gotten the opportunity to study among talented scientists in my PhD program, what I learned [from that experience] is that you really shouldn’t do a PhD for the name, but because you really have a passion for the science and experience” Ramya explains. “People warned me that without it, I may not be able to grow in my career or be limited to doing rote work, but as I started my doctoral lab rotations, I realized that wasn’t true based on my time at Ginkgo.”

Shortly after her master’s, Ramya returned to Ginkgo as a scientist, where she was welcomed back to her original team with open arms. Today she’s progressed to the role of senior scientist, and leads a subteam of the High Throughput Screen team within Ginkgo’s Foundries, working largely with enzyme assays.

Ramya Prathuri

“I’ve always gravitated towards enzymology [the study of enzymes], and I find that in working in Ginkgo’s Foundry, there is never a dull moment with the breadth of development work we take in,” she says of her current position.

As someone who has watched Ginkgo evolve from its earliest stages to being the publicly traded company it is today, and who has built relationships with its founding members over the years, Ramya says that she enjoys and values advocating for others, and aspires to lift their voices in the workplace.

Ginkgo’s culture is especially powerful, Ramya says, for two main reasons: “transparency from leadership all the way down, and that all employees are expected to share their opinions”

“This culture of communication means that we rely heavily on employee input to make big decisions on the direction of the company, and also to flag things that need to be fixed,” she adds.

At Ginkgo, Ramya sees a diversity of personalities treated with respect, regardless of their seniority, role, or educational background. Since her earliest days as an intern, she feels like her voice has been heard, and as a growing leader, she works diligently to make sure others feel heard, too.

The Business of Science at Ginkgo

Felipe Sarmiento

Felipe Sarmiento approaches the synbio field, and his career path, a bit differently than most. Felipe, who holds both a PhD in microbiology and an MBA, saw the potential to build a robust career in the business of science when finishing his doctoral program. His previous role was at a small enzyme development company, who he had known for years through a mutual Chilean connection.

“I worked at a small firm alongside Ginkgo as our partner on a particular bioengineering project, and I found that I just loved their mission,” Felipe says. “I also really liked their interactions, and how they were so open and connected with me, and with each other.”

After seeing Ginkgo’s mission and people in action, Felipe decided to join the company, even though it meant leaving a team he deeply appreciated and had worked with throughout his early career.

“The more I got to know the Ginkgo team and learn about the company’s technology and core culture, the more I realized that I just wanted to be one of them,” he recalls.

This realization led Felipe to pursue a role through his partnership colleagues, some of whom are still his teammates. Felipe now facilitates synbio business relationships as one of Ginkgo’s Directors of Commercial Operations and was part of Ginkgo’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee for about two years. He believes that the openness he experienced and the type of unique and diverse individuals that Ginkgo hires are key components of what gives the company its business superpowers.

“The thing I love the most here is this feeling of openness, and I want other innovators to be able to experience what I did.” Felipe explains. “To me, Ginkgo’s openness means you always find the information that you need, and you always find support and camaraderie in your colleagues. It happens at all levels, too – it’s very normal for any one of us to be able to work directly with members of leadership like [Ginkgo Bioworks Founders] Reshma, Tom, and Jason.”

It also helps that everyone at Ginkgo is a special Pokemon, he jokes, with the opportunity to evolve. “One of our company values is ‘whimsy’ and when you arrive at Gingko you’re informally assigned a Pokemon according to your hiring number in the company,” he explains, laughing. “Even though most people would probably prefer to be Pikachu or Charmander, at #139, I’m now assigned Omastar [similar to an ammonite fossil]. I used to be Mew [a rare Pokemon]…and that was MUCH cooler!”

Values like these, Felipe says, give people the space to have fun at work, and engage with a creative, connected culture that’s truly unlike other biotech and synbio firms. And having fun is important, he says, because while there’s plenty of hard work to be done as Ginkgo moves toward a bolder, more visionary future for science and humanity, it’s infinitely easier to make that happen in an uplifting environment.

Ginkgo Donates Chromebooks to 3 Organizations

At Gingko, we recognize that electronic waste is a large contributor to environmental racism. As we continue to grow and our needs change, we have sought ways to minimize our impact on the environment in several ways, including beginning a composting program in our community kitchen spaces and donating equipment instead of disposing of it.

This year, we had the opportunity to donate over 100 Chromebooks to three organizations. These donations not only helped to minimize our impact on the environment, but also allowed us to support organizations whose missions align with our own, including Minds of Jamaica, Kids in Tech, and the DataTrail Program.

DataTrail DataTrail is a no-cost, paid 14-week educational initiative for young-adult, high school and GED-graduates. DataTrail aims to equip members of underserved communities with the necessary skills and support required to work in the booming field of data science. Kids in Tech excites, educates, and empowers children to acquire skills and confidence in technology through interactive after school programs, helping kids develop the necessary tech skills and aptitudes to participate in and be future leaders of the 21st-century innovation economy. And finally, Minds of Jamaica is a mentorship platform that gives underrepresented minority students access to professionals in the community to provide mentorship opportunities in fields such as engineering, arts, science, technology, and more. Minds of Jamaica also offers their mentees unique training opportunities in bioinformatics and data science.

The first of these donations have begun reaching students in Jamaica and Trinidad and are already making a difference. One student, who up until now has been working from home due to COVID, has been working off of her cell phone for the last year. With our donations to Minds of Jamaica, she is now able to participate fully in her education.

We hope to continue to build our relationship with these organizations and look for other ways to reduce our environmental impact in the world while leveraging our resources to open the gates to STEM careers more widely to historically marginalized communities.



Ginkgo Sponsors BlackinX Conference

The BlackinX network hosted the first BlackinX Conference, virtually featuring keynote speakers Dr. Kilan Bishop, Dr. Keisha S. Ray and Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett. Started in response to the New York Black Birder incident, various BlackinX events was created to highlight the collective issues Black professionals face on their career journeys and to foster community for and by Black professionals.

Ginkgo was privileged and honored to sponsor the inaugural BlackinX conference bringing together Black professionals across the spectrum of skills and experiences contributing to the organization. From the opening session through Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett’s exhortation to “remember where you conquered” the conferenced helped to ensure participants pulled on the resilience and strength they have developed in arriving in the spaces they now hold.

Opening the conference on June 29 were speakers Samantha Mesah, co-founding President of #BlackinChem, Paige Greenwood, of #BlackinNeuro, Alfred Mays, of the Burroughs Welcome Fund, and Jason Kelly who shared his congratulations and thanks on behalf of Ginkgo for allowing us to support.

At Ginkgo, we recognize that there’s a serious lack of diversity in our industry, and that needs to change. Our goal is to help drive that change. Ginkgo is deeply committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in all of its practices, especially when it comes to growing our team. Our culture promotes inclusion and embraces how rewarding it is to work with people from all walks of life. Our hope is that by supporting BlackinX, we can help to remedy some of the challenges this systematically underutilized community faces, not just in Bio Engineering, but across the full spectrum of skills BlackinX supports.

Congratulations again to BlackinX organizers and we look forward to working with you as you continue to thrive.

Dr. Marta Baffy and Dr. Mackenzie Price Discuss Communications

Stemming from a series of conversations about how to make meetings more equitable and ensure that all voices are heard across the company, Ginkgo was honored to have Dr. Marta Baffy and Dr. Mackenzie Price present their research and provide a framework for inclusive communication and tips on how to communicate effectively across varying social norms. Drs Baffy and Price have extensive experience in the field of linguistics and shared key concepts, including where communication norms come from, how we learn to use language, and how we evaluate our own, and other people’s, ways of communicating. 

They shared with the team concepts to be aware of as we communicate across the company, including how people use language to communicate and how they evaluate each other. We discussed the ways leaders and peers could think about who is expected to adapt and accommodate their communications to succeed, and how to assess our own language practices to ensure an equitable flow of communication.

After the presentation, panelists opened the floor for questions and stayed for 45 minutes with Ginkgo team members to discuss strategies and challenges to open, equitable communication across the company.

Ginkgo Hosts Society of Underrepresented Biologists Panel

The Society of Underrepresented Biologists and Biological Engineers at MIT (SUBE) aims to empower underrepresented minority students in the biological and bioengineering departments at MIT by furthering their academic, social, and professional prospects and cultivating a community where diversity and inclusion are necessary and appreciated. On April 28th, Ginkgo hosted a panel and networking session featuring three Bioworkers who shared their experiences on the road to Ginkgo, including Beatriz Pacheco, Krithika Vaidyanathan, and Vinita Lukose.

Moderated by MIT student Eileen Tan-Aristy, the panel discussed how their identities shaped their experiences. While reflecting on their experiences, the panelists described how their various identities–including as immigrants, as women, or as people of color–impacted them in ways both negative and positive, that shaped their careers. Importantly, each shared the ways their experiences gave them unique strengths they bring to the field. At the end of the discussion, Eileen opened the floor to questions from students, and the discussion continued, including questions about how students could help increase access for underrepresented students coming behind, as well as what experience or opportunities they should seek out as they start on their professional journeys.

After the panel, students and Bioworkers from across the company spent time in a virtual meeting place to network. We look forward to continuing to build the relationship between SUBE and Ginkgo and hosting more events in the future.