Tyler Autera

Co-Founder of Bluestem Biosciences

As the Co-Founder and CTO of Bluestem Biosciences, Tyler Autera has a wide range of experience that has led him to this position. With a BS from San Diego State University in Molecular Biology, he started his career in biotechnology and life sciences across various commercial roles. He is committed to growing as a leader in the bioengineering industry and is ready to start his new venture at Bluestem Biosciences. With his ability to build strong teams and innovate new processes, he knows what it takes to create a successful business from the ground up.

Tyler is a multi-disciplinary entrepreneur with leadership experience in science, technology, operations and sales. He most recently served as Senior Vice President of Science and Technology at Green Plains. Prior to this position, he co-founded QC Labs in 2015, where he was the President and COO of the company until December 2020. He gained the valuable experience he wanted when starting QC Labs and eventually decided to pursue other opportunities. His wide variety of experience has led him down a new yet familiar path in biotechnology and molecular biology, where he hopes to continue innovating in the field.

Where did the idea for Bluestem Biosciences come from?

The idea for Bluestem was co-developed by me and my partner, Billy Hagstrom. The genesis of the idea came to us during an industry conference we were attending in Boston. At the event, it became clear to us that synthetic biology was a huge market opportunity, and moreover the industry seemed to be attracting the attention of the best and brightest minds, respected business leaders and even government agencies. Due to our experience at Green Plains, a large ethanol producer in the US, we were able to identify a unique opportunity that was not being addressed: synthetic biology applications created specifically for large commercial fermentation infrastructure that already exists in the Midwest. Because of our approach, we felt it was imperative to headquarter the business in Nebraska so that we could foster local partnerships, both public and private, and build a community of innovation.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A typical day begins with the creation of the checklist, to answer a single question: “What are the things I need to do today to be the most impactful to the growth of Bluestem?”. After that, I try to be mindful as the day goes on to remain focused and make the most out of every minute to maximize productivity. Typically, after the normal business hours are concluded, and family time is taken care of, I am back at it in the evening to prepare for the next day or complete unfinished tasks from earlier in the day. For me, maximizing productivity usually takes the form of a work product – something tangible, a deliverable – If I can accomplish that, then I usually feel satisfied with my execution on the day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

The most effective way for me to bring ideas to life and refine them is by building, at the very least, some sort of prototype product that can be iterated on. The other way I typically bring ideas to life is through in-depth research to ‘connect the dots’ of the idea and create a more detailed vision of the concept. For example, if I have an idea for marketing prose or a talking point, I am typically at my keyboard writing out different versions. If I have some thoughts around a new scientific concept or strategy, I will canvas the research literature and try to find relevant puzzle pieces to support the feasibility of the idea. In the case where I have an idea for a visual, or some sort of software functionality, I will create a working version of that concept so that I can re-think and refine through iteration.

The final and one of the most important steps to this is to get feedback from others. Having the vulnerability to share the idea with others, whether it is your business partner, friends or family, will help to gain new perspective and accelerate the refinement process. The feedback can be crucial for the identification of blind spots and gaps in your thinking.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The trend of ‘biology as a platform’ is the most exciting development in recent times and it is one of the main drivers for the inception of Bluestem Biosciences. The concept that we can program biology like we program computers is an extremely exciting concept and has vast applications across many different industry verticals. For Bluestem, the most impactful way to leverage these technologies is to foster the bioeconomy. That is, to engineer the biology of microbes so they become the new ‘factories’ that produce the world’s inputs. According to a primer written by MGI, 60% of the world’s raw material inputs can be produced through biology. Today, most of these inputs are produced through the petrochemical complex, which is not sustainable and it is harmful to the planet. Bluestem’s goal is to accelerate the transition to bio-produced alternatives through industrial biomanufacturing.

Another area of ‘biology as a platform’ that is very interesting is DNA as storage. DNA has an immense ability to store information, and it can do so in a very compact way. Additionally, DNA is very stable so it can serve as an amazing long-term data archive. There are several companies working on this problem, the main challenge being the reading, and writing of the DNA in a way that is fast enough to be a practical storage solution. One interesting concept to think about is the following: Today biological research data, which many times contains DNA sequences, is stored in conventional computer storage harddrives, Then we use that stored data, to analyze and make changes to biology, or write new ‘DNA code’. Imagine a time when we have transitioned to DNA as storage and remove traditional hard drives all together, we would be using DNA to store information about other DNA, it’s an interesting provocation.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

The best productivity habit I have is really two things. First, is having a checklist. It helps keep me organized and prioritize the most important things to do for that day. Second, is the proclivity to turning out a tangible work product, whether it is a deck, or a piece of code, or just a summary/recap of a meeting, it keeps me on track and serves as the stamp of completion to allow me to move on to the next item.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Take every opportunity to re-think your position on everything, including your career aspirations. Listen to your instincts and pay attention to what drives your curiosity and motivation.

I think when people are younger and going through school, it is easy to get set on a specific career goal and ignore some of the signs that might steer you in a different direction. Those early career goals can a lot of times be externally influence through parents, family or the community – but ultimately, each individual needs to embrace the things that keep them interested and get them excited. If you are successful in doing that, than it is more likely you will end up in a career that makes you happy and is additive to your life journey.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

The one thing that I feel strongly about and often get pushback is the idea that any person can become proficient at any skill. Two examples that are relevant for me are the ability to play a musical instrument, and software development. In these two examples people often reply with “I am just not built to do that”. But the reality is that in both those examples, while natural abilities can lend themselves to accelerate the learning, with enough effort and hours put in those skills can be acquired.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Learn new things. Whether it is directly related to your professional skills, or not. One of the core tenets to my thesis of being successful the idea that being proficient in several disciplines can maximize creativity and problem-solving abilities. By immersing oneself in different subject matters, it creates broad understanding and allows you to think about problems in a unique way. Moreover, it stimulates different types of neuro-connections and can improve the way your brain processes information. There have been many instances in my career where a multi-disciplined background has helped me overcome complex challenges.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Bluestem Biosciences is a brand-new business, so the question is less relevant. However, in previous businesses one strategy that has continually helped to differentiate a value proposition and efficiencies is a bespoke technology strategy. There is a quote that says something like “If you do not have a technology strategy, then you do not have a strategy”. In so many ways, this quote is true – technology rules our lives and has crept into every facet of a business. Having a keen understanding of how technology can be deployed across any business will lead a business that can move faster and achieve greater efficiencies.

Contrary to the last point, it is easy to get overwhelmed by ‘what is possible’ with technology. Oftentimes companies are confronted with a ‘build’ vs ‘buy’ scenario. If the business fails to carefully scope the technology needs, it can backfire and create technical debt and a poor return on investment.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I have had many failures in my career. I embrace it. So as long as it is ‘intelligent failure’. Intelligent failure is a concept that is required for innovation and the main idea is that those failures that ‘arise from thoughtful actions or experiments that can result in useful learning’.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Canvasing and reviewing scientific literature can be quite an exhausting task. Through the process, one may read dozens of journals just to research a single topic. At the end of it, one will typically have a collection of annotations, and highlighted passages that in some way come together in your head to identify a pattern or a theme that can then be used to inform your position on the subject you were researching. However, in many cases these annotations and passages are disparate in nature and spread through many different documents and sources. The idea is a AI assisted software platform that helped to consolidate all of these annotations and passages into a single organized repository, with backlinks to the original source documents. The AI would help to draw connections between these different passages/annotations and help to identify themes – moreover it would leverage what it has learned about your research exercise and scour the literature to suggest other relevant journals that score as relevant. From a business perspective, the app could be sold to academic institutes, and/or publishers of scientific content and create broad partnerships.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 dollars I spent recently were on a handful of research journals that were very instructive to my thinking on Bluestem and the approach to biology that we were going to pursue.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Google G-suite. It is a powerful set of productivity apps that exist in the cloud. Everything from word processor, presentation maker, spreadsheets – it is a complete office suite of software. Everything is saved in the cloud so that you can access your documents anywhere you go, and you do not have to worry about losing everything if your computer crashes or gets stolen. Finally, the power of collaboration through G-suite can take an organization to the next level. The strong permissions allow for shared folders, and even the ability for several people to be within the same document simultaneously making edits and changes. It can really accelerate the pace of creating content and deliverables.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The book Range, by David Epstein. This book aligns with the idea that having a multi-disciplined background can make you more successful. ‘Range’ is the idea that as you go through life and learn skills in a broadened sense, those experiences and skills can come together to give you a unique perspective for creativity and problem solving. The book highlights several different scenarios that are often seen in music, sports, and business. It is a very compelling narration of the concept. More importantly, the underlying message is that it displays the power of having a growth mindset, and to always be learning.

What is your favorite quote?

“There’s no shortage of remarkable ideas, what’s missing is the will to execute them.” – Seth Godin

This quote truly resonates for me as an entrepreneur. Too often are people concerned about someone ‘stealing their idea’, or people assigning too much value to the idea itself. At the end of the day, ideas are a dime a dozen. It is not the idea that makes a company successful – it’s the blood, sweat and tears put in to execute against the idea.

Key Learnings:

  • Be a learn-it-all, note a know-it-all. Continually learning and displaying confident humility will take you far in life.
  • Have a process for productivity and own it. Everyone is different in their approach to productivity, find what works for you and formalize the process – create a system.
  • Get smart on technology. Being able to speak thoughtfully on technology systems, languages and understand the basic principles of development will always pay dividends.