IDEAS Alum: Biobot Analytics in the Boston Globe!
Biobot Analytics, co-founded by MIT alumna Dr. Mariana Matus and former DUSP Research Fellow Neswha Ghaeli, was a 2017 IDEAS Social Innovation Challenge awardee.
When talking with entrepreneurs Mariana Matus and Newsha Ghaeli about poop, things can veer into the philosophical.
“The behavior of a city is imprinted in its sewage,” Ghaeli says. “It’s like the fingerprints of our health.”
Their company, Biobot Analytics, has met the pandemic moment. What started as a research idea at MIT, focusing on how waste water data can help mitigate the spread of disease, has turned into something bigger. Now, it’s a fast-growing startup — with over 65 employees and millions in funding — that has contracted with over 700 towns, across every state in the country, to study their sewage and help policy makers predict how bad the coronavirus could get in their communities.
And in a sign that it’s gone mainstream, the charts they make, outlining COVID levels in a city’s sewage data, often light Twitter on fire.
“It’s just been wild,” Matus, the company’s CEO, says. “I love the fact that regular people are engaging with the data.”
The company was founded in 2017 while both founders were at MIT. Matus, who grew up in Mexico City and wanted to help cities become environmentally friendly, was a doctoral candidate in the waste water epidemiology lab with Professor Eric Alm. In Cambridge, she met Ghaeli, who hailed from Canada and was working as a research fellow in Professor Carlo Ratti’s lab, a pioneer in studying technology’s impact on urban planning. (Ghaeli is the company’s president.)
Originally, the Biobot foundersfocused on using waste water data to help municipalities stem opioid overdoses. But when the pandemic hit, they quickly pivoted, and built a test to gauge the levels of COVID in waste water in a few weeks. They became the first group in the nation that could measure COVID in waste water, and the second globally.