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Decoding the World

A Roadmap for the Questioner

By Po Bronson and Arvind Gupta
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Decoding the World by Po Bronson and Arvind Gupta

Decoding the World (2020) is a dive into the fascinating world of IndieBio, a biotechnology firm that’s determined to change the world for the better. The long-term health of both people and the planet are at stake – and not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key idea 1 of 9

Since before the COVID-19 pandemic, IndieBio has been trying to save the world.

It’s March 2020, and the first person has died from COVID-19 in the United States.

Po Bronson and Arvind Gupta have their work cut out for them.

In normal times, the companies they work with at IndieBio, a Silicon Valley–based biotechnology startup accelerator, would be tackling everything from curing cancer to creating the perfect blue. But suddenly, everyone has a common goal – and different ideas about how to achieve it.

Llama antibodies, anyone? What about niclosamide? It’s usually used for birth control but had some effect against SARS, so might be worth a shot. How about 3D-printing lymph nodes that can make antibodies?

At such a time of crisis, IndieBio’s unique style and out-of-the-box, big-picture thinking might be exactly what the world needs.

In that sense, it’s business as usual.

Here’s the key message: Since before the COVID-19 pandemic, IndieBio has been trying to save the world.

Amid a sea of funding applications from prospective companies, Arvind manages to take a step back. How did this all begin? Everyone’s saying the virus came from bats. Quite possible – bats are home to loads of viruses.

But here’s the thing. The bat genome protects bats against viruses extremely well, so most of the time they don’t get sick. And if they do happen to get sick, they don’t usually pass their viruses on to humans.

That only changes when bats are stressed or under threat. Like from loss of habitat. Deforestation, destruction of wetlands, things like that. In other words, when their existence is being jeopardized by human interference.

IndieBio starts rapidly approving all sorts of new ventures that stand a slim chance of helping the world through the pandemic. It’s the name of the game. After all, taking risks is IndieBio’s purpose.

Po read an impressive study a while back, from the University of Michigan. It didn’t use genetic engineering, machine learning, or any other methods favored by IndieBio – just an old fashioned questionnaire. But it proved, comprehensively, that people aged 50 and above were most likely to stay healthy if they had a sense of purpose. Simple as that.

Working from home, Arvind sighs. His sense of purpose is leading him away from IndieBio, the company he founded. He’s leaving it in the safe hands of Po, his good friend. He’ll miss it. But maybe he can do more good at a bigger venture capital firm – invest even more money into world-changing causes.

Now would be the time.

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