Neuralink Secures Additional $43M in Funding Amid Controversy: Ongoing Scrutiny Surrounds Workplace Culture and Animal Welfare

Elon Musk’s Brain-Computer Interface Startup Faces Ethical Criticism as it Expands Financing

Advertisement

Neuralink, the brain implant startup founded by Elon Musk, has quietly raised an additional $43 million in venture capital, according to a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The funding round, involving 32 investors, increases the company’s previous tranche from $280 million to $323 million, with Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund leading the investment.

Established in 2016, Neuralink aims to develop implantable chips capable of reading brain waves. The company’s innovative approach involves a sewing machine-like device that implants ultra-thin threads into the brain, connecting to a custom-designed chip containing electrodes for reading information from groups of neurons. Despite being a decades-old technology, Neuralink stands out by making these brain-signal-reading implants wireless and increasing the number of electrodes.

The recent funding comes on the heels of a Reuters report in June, estimating Neuralink’s valuation at approximately $5 billion following privately-executed stock trades. However, the company has not officially disclosed its current valuation.

Advertisement

Neuralink received FDA approval for human clinical trials in May, after overcoming a previous rejection. The company subsequently initiated recruitment for its first human trials under an investigational device exemption granted by the FDA.

While Neuralink makes strides in the field of neurotechnology, it faces growing scrutiny over its workplace culture and ethical research practices. Critics, including anonymous former employees, have raised concerns about what they describe as a toxic workplace culture characterized by blame, fear, and a clash between rushed timelines and the incremental pace of scientific research.

In January 2022, Fortune reported on allegations of a “culture of blame and fear,” with Musk reportedly undermining management and encouraging junior employees to communicate issues directly to him. The company witnessed a turnover of founding scientists, leaving only three out of eight by August 2020, attributed to internal conflicts and the challenging balance between Musk’s ambitious timelines and scientific rigor.

Ethical concerns have also been raised regarding Neuralink’s treatment of animals involved in testing its hardware. In 2022, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) accused Neuralink and its former research partner, UC Davis, of mistreating monkeys during testing, leading to psychological distress and chronic infections. Reports suggested testing was rushed due to Musk’s demands, resulting in complications such as partial paralysis and brain swelling.

The startup underwent a nearly year-long federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding animal welfare violations. While the USDA concluded there was “no evidence” of breaches, except for a self-reported incident in 2019, the PCRM disputed the findings. In November 2023, U.S. lawmakers requested the SEC to investigate Neuralink for allegedly omitting details about the deaths of at least a dozen animals surgically fitted with its implants.

As Neuralink continues to advance its neurotechnology, the company grapples with a challenging landscape of ethical concerns and workplace culture criticisms, raising questions about the delicate balance between innovation and responsibility in the field of brain-computer interfaces.