Paying It Forward: Former Intern Building Own Talent Pipeline at Ginkgo Bioworks

Ginkgo Bioworks is a homegrown Boston-based biotechnology company. The “Organism Company” uses their engineered high throughput automation platform to design custom organisms to impact all industries including, but not limited to, agriculture, health, therapeutics, and biosecurity.

Most recently, Ginkgo played a critical role at the onset of the pandemic to support the COVID-19 response efforts by providing process optimization for key raw materials needed in manufacturing Moderna’s mRNA vaccine. Additionally, Ginkgo committed $25 million in resources for widespread surveillance testing, vaccine manufacturing, and therapeutic discovery. That’s not all. This past May, the Organism Company made headlines announcing a $15 billion merger with Soaring Eagle Acquisition Corp., setting the stage for Ginkgo to become a publicly traded company.

But at one point, the more than 500 person company was once small, but nimble with only 25 employees. During these early days, they relied heavily on interns, like Lily Fitzgerald, through the MLSC Internship Challenge. The workforce development program facilitates and funds paid internship opportunities that enhance the talent pipeline for Massachusetts companies engaged in life sciences.

Lily, now Manager of Policy and Partnerships at Ginkgo Bioworks, was an undergraduate from UMass Amherst and passionate about finding a niche space to use molecular biology to address environmental problems.

“When I interviewed with Ginkgo and met the leadership team, I knew they were on to something,” said Lily. “They had this magic that they could see the world in a different way. The internship offered me an opportunity to learn to do biology in a high-throughput way, so that we can leverage more biological innovations to address big social challenges.”

At the completion of her internship, Ginkgo offered Lily a full time position as an engineer. She was hired right around the time Ginkgo closed its Series B round of funding. It was a transformative time that took the company from 25 people to 100 in less than a year. Lily soon became involved heavily with hiring and building out a bigger pipeline of internships for Ginkgo.

Ginkgo was also a 2015, 2016 and 2019 awardee of the MLSC’s Tax Incentive program, which provides incentives to companies, of all sizes, looking to expand their efforts by creating new, long-term jobs in Massachusetts. In 2016, after a significant influx of other new hires, Ginkgo graduated out of the Internship Challenge program after being involved since the program’s inception in 2009.

Lily later switched from engineering to public policy, gaining a degree in Technology Policy from MIT and returning to Ginkgo to work on making biotechnology more just and accessible. Even after that transition and all these years, Lily still reflects admiringly on her internship, taking those experiences and values to her new role overseeing public policy for the company. As she builds out Ginkgo’s policy team and launches a public policy fellowship program for undergraduate and graduate students, Lily hopes to instill the same benefits that the MLSC Internship Challenge offered her. She also believes that internships are a powerful vehicle to increase the diversity of the life sciences sector as a whole.

“The MLSC makes biotech startups accessible for recent students, giving them an opportunity to really be part of the team,” said Lily. “It is powerful to be put into a company and given the chance to run with a project instead of being siloed. That same philosophy is incredibly important to Ginkgo. We give interns really significant opportunities and influence. In return, we see the output of their work and the unbelievable contributions they make to their teams and the company.”

Lily had one piece of advice for students—if you’re able, look for the opportunity to get experience interning/working at a startup.

“It is a life-changing experience,” said Lily. “Because startups are small and scrappy, you won’t believe the types of projects you have the opportunity to work on. The Internship Challenge is a great conduit to put you on the path for an impactful career.”