23andMe was privately owned up until 2021 when it merged with a Virgin Groups acquisition company to go public without a traditional IPO.
Anne Wojcicki and Richard Branson are the most high-profile stakeholders in the new venture. However, a considerable number of investors have taken ownership stakes in 23andMe in prior funding rounds.
This article explains the current ownership structure. Then we dive into the range of stakeholders who control the new merged entity.
Who Owns 23andMe?
23andMe merged with Richard Branson’s acquisition firm in 2021 and trades publicly on the NASDAQ. The combined company is owned by 23andMe Holding Co.
Richard Branson and CEO Anne Wojcicki are major stakeholders. Other investors include Altimeter Capital, Fidelity, and Foresite Capital.
Since the company was founded in 2006, it has been involved in multiple funding rounds. There were at least 60 investors in 2020 before the merger, including GlaxoSmithKline and Sequoia Capital. Early investors include Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and WuXi Healthcare Ventures (a Chinese company).
When 23andMe merged with Richard Branson’s acquisition company, the existing stakeholders retained ownership of 81% of the merged company.
Richard Branson’s Blank Check
23andMe has turned into a public company without following the traditional IPO route (Initial Public Offering). It worked like this…
Richard Branson created a new company that was solely to raise funds in an IPO. The capital provided by investors would be used to purchase a private company. This is called a SPAC: a Special Purpose Acquisition Company. It has two years to buy a company or the funds must be returned to the investors.
These investors don’t actually know which private company will be acquired. This is why the other term for a SPAC is a “blank check company”.
As it happens, the share price of the SPAC dropped when Branson revealed that 23andMe was the acquisition. A number of investors were disappointed by the choice of the genetic testing giant.
Who Started 23andMe?
23andMe was founded in 2006 by Anne Wojcicki, Linda Avey, and Paul Cusenza.
Both women studied biology at university and met for the first time at a dinner in 2005. They hatched plans to start a company together, and Avey roped in her former colleague Cusenza.
Avey and Cusenza eventually moved on from the company.
Anne Wojcicki, 23andMe CEO
In 2009, Forbes profiled Wojcicki as worth $690 million due to a 30% stake in 23andMe. Since those early days, the company’s valuation has grown steadily under the stewardship of Wozjcicki as CEO.
It’s reported that she personally invested 25 million dollars as part of the SPAC deal, with Richard Branson matching that amount.
2020 Investment Round
Shortly before the merger in 2021, 23andMe raised about $82 million in funding from equity shares.
This was a Series F round led by Sequoia Capital. A further seven investors took ownership stakes in the company. Some were increasing their investment from earlier rounds.
- Altimeter Capital
- Casdin Capital
- Euclidean Capital
- G Squared
- Nimble Ventures
- Wallenberg Foundations
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Ownership Stake In 23andMe
In 2018, pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline took a $300 million ownership stake in 23andMe.
This garnered major publicity. There was considerable media focus on privacy issues, arising from access for GSK to 23andMe’s database of their customers’ genetic data.
However, 23andMe emphasized that customers could opt-out of their data being used for research purposes. They also pointed out that all data was anonymized and summarized before GSK access it.
Was 23andMe Owned By Google?
Alphabet, the parent company of Google, was one of the early investors in 23andMe. In a further connection, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojnicki was married for some years to Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google.
Although companies associated with Google are stakeholders, Google has never owned 23andMe outright. Let’s take a closer look at the connections.
Anne Wojcicki is the youngest of three sisters. Back in 1998, eldest sister Susan rented her garage to two young techies on a mission to build a global search engine. Larry Page and Sergey Brin launched Google, which doesn’t need any further description.
Anne met Sergey Brin when visiting her sister, and the two started dating. It was through Brin that Anne met Linda Avey, her eventual co-founder with 23andMe. Avey was working for a DNA-testing company and had several meetings with Brin seeking investment.
Anne Wojcicki sat in on some meetings, and the two women decided to start a company together. Sergey Brin ensured that 23andMe got off the ground with a $9 million investment.
But Google (or its parent company, Alphabet) weren’t the only early investor. Genentech, a major biotechnology company, was another investor at that time. New Enterprise Associates, a global venture capital firm, also got on board with an ownership stake.
Is 23andMe Owned By The Mormon Church?
The Church Of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) have never had ownership of 23andMe.
People mistakenly assume Mormon ownership through a series of tenuous links that I’ll explain here.
The LDS own a major genealogy website, FamilySearch.org, which provides free access to historical archives. Ancestry, the Utah-based genealogy company, operates a similar website for historical records.
However, Ancestry also operates a consumer DNA testing service that is even bigger than 23andMe. The mistaken connection starts with people confusing 23andMe with Ancestry. But these companies are direct rivals in the consumer DNA market.
Then, people have a mistaken assumption about Ancestry’s ownership. People confuse it with its rival in the genealogy space, FamilySearch.org. As I mentioned, the latter website is owned by the Mormons.
We have an article on who owns Ancestry. In summary, the company is owned by investment companies.
Is 23andMe Owned By China?
23andMe raised $115 million in an E financing round in 2015. The investors included WuXi Healthcare Ventures, the investment arm of a Chinese pharma company.
The involvment of the Chinese investors seems to have led to a misassumption that 23andMe is owned by China. This is not the case. WuXi Healthcare Ventures was only one of a number of investors in this funding round.
The financing was led by Fidelity, and other investors included Casdin Capital and Xfund. Another notable investor was Illumina, the maker of the chips that all the major DNA testing companies use to analyze their customer samples.
Ownership Of Other DNA Companies
GEDmatch is another player in this space, although it doesn’t sell DNA testing kits. The company was purchased by Verogen in 2019. If you want to know more, we have an article on the ownership of GEDmatch.