How Illumina is Building a Genomics Ecosystem

By Lilly Milman |  March 29, 2021

Amanda Cashin, Illumina

Way back in 2007, the San Diego, Calif.-based life science tools company Illumina set its gaze on reducing the cost of sequencing the human genome. Only seven years later, the company managed to reduce the price from $1 million to only $1,000 — paving the way for 2020’s announcement of the NextSeq 1000 and NextSeq 2000 Sequencing Systems, which drive down the cost even further.

The company-wide mission to make the human genome more accessible also tops the list of Amanda Cashin’s priorities at the Ilumina Accelerator. Cashin is the Global Head of the Illumina Accelerator, a startup accelerator co-located that works with the research and development teams in the San Francisco Bay Area and Cambridge, UK. The accelerator has two six-month funding cycles per year, and works with up to five startups at a time during either of them. It gives statups access to seed investment, business guidance, Illumina’s sequencing systems, and lab spaces. Startups that graduted from the program and continue to thrive include Encoded Therapeutics, Locus Biosciences, and Xcell Biosciences. 

In a recent interview with Innovation Leader, Cashin shared her team’s biggest achievements from 2020, and advice that she finds herself following most often.


Why did Illumina start this accelerator, and how do you describe the business value the company gets from it?

Genomics is now and is already making an impact, yet it’s still early days and the field is just beginning to scratch the surface of bringing breakthrough applications of genomics to the market. Illumina knows we can’t do it alone. So, Illumina For Startups is one way we’re helping catalyze the genomics innovation ecosystem by partnering with entrepreneurs. Our flagship vehicle, Illumina Accelerator, was started in Fall 2014 to partner with entrepreneurs to do just that.

Illumina For Startups, which includes Illumina Accelerator and the recently announced Sequoia Capital China Intelligent Healthcare Genomics Incubator, Powered by Illumina, is one way we’re catalyzing the market and increasing the actionability of genomic information! As a company-creation engine and investment vehicle run by Illumina, Illumina Accelerator obtains an equity stake in each of our portfolio companies to ensure we’re aligned with top entrepreneurs and our co-investors in seeking a financial return on our investment.

Where do you sit within the organization? Who do you report to?

Illumina For Startups and Illumina Accelerator are part of our Research and Technology Development team. We report into our Chief Technology Officer, Alex Aravanis.

Illumina for Startups is our way of accelerating innovation in the entrepreneurial community by partnering with leading venture capital investors and entrepreneurs to create, launch, and grow genomics startups. 

What are one or two of your team’s biggest accomplishments from 2020?

In 2020, we proudly expanded our footprint internationally and opened our Illumina Accelerator first global site in Cambridge, UK. In June 2020, we welcomed our first three investments of Illumina Accelerator Cambridge and four new investments at Illumina Accelerator SF Bay — all in the middle of the global COVID pandemic. 

In February 2021, we announced our second global funding cycle with nine new investments across our San Francisco Bay Area and Cambridge, UK sites.  Proudly, five of the incoming startups are led by female CEOs. And, we announced over £20M in UK commitments to provide pound-for-pound match funding for our Illumina Accelerator Cambridge startups. Also in February, we announced our partnership with Sequoia Capital China for the Sequoia Capital China Intelligent Healthcare Genomics Incubator, Powered by Illumina.

It’s been a busy 12 months — and on top of that, we’re navigating this expansion during the global COVID 19 pandemic! We are grateful for a fantastic team at Illumina For Startups, for Illumina’s executive support, and for the partnerships of the 54 genomics startups we’ve helped create over the past six years. 

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started in the innovation realm? 

The advice that I give to myself and others most often is to surround yourself with amazing, talented, smart, and humble people! It takes a village to build a startup, an accelerator, or navigate a career — and it’s key to have a supportive network of family, mentors, colleagues, peers, and friends to help along the way!