The University Campus holds a Start-Up Panel with deep-tech entrepreneurial initiatives
Last Friday 13 November, the students of the Degree in Digital Business at the ESIC University Campus in Barcelona took part in a Start-Up Panel, an activity chaired by Professor Anna Valli, in which three cases of successful business projects at different stages of development were presented. The common feature shared by all three projects was their use of high technology, not only to differentiate themselves from other products and services but also to make a strong commitment to innovation.
Deep Detection, a project that emerged from the IFAE (The Institute of High Energy Physics in Barcelona) and the partnership with Mobile World Capital, has developed a technology based on a combination of X-rays and Artificial Intelligence, which is capable of detecting any pollutants. Colin Burnham, co-founder and COO, explained that Deep Detection has put several years of scientific research into practical effect: “We realized that there was a real business opportunity so we decided to set up a spin-off and we are now organizing a trial to pilot the product. The main objective is to guarantee food safety and we will soon begin the first industrial trials”.
Berdac, a start-up belonging to the Barcelona Health Hub, is commercializing a smart pill dispenser which enables online monitoring of a patient’s medication. The idea was dreamt up by Roger Guasch, the founder and CEO of the project, to enable him to remotely monitor from home the pills being taken by a relative who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Guasch shared his experience of a need that had yet to be satisfied but had a broad market niche: “I realized that a lot of people would benefit from a product like this and this is what drove me to develop the idea from a more professional perspective”.
Another example was Exheus, a start-up which emerged within the framework of “The Collider” programme (a venture builder initiative from Mobile World Capital), which also proposes an advance in the healthcare sphere. It uses Artificial Intelligence to obtain a medical report based on an analysis of over 22,000 genes. This enables them to offer more information in greater detail about a person's state of health. “Our product is not yet on the market, but we will be launching it in the first quarter of next year, targeting sick patients, elite sportspeople and ordinary consumers”, said Pol Cervera COO and co-founder.
When asked about the process of setting up a business, the three entrepreneurs agreed that it was not a bed of roses. “A lot of pivoting was required as we had to adapt ourselves to our users, most of whom were elderly people, by simplifying the prototype as far as possible”, remembers Guasch, who emphasized the importance of offering the best possible client experience, an issue on which Cervera agreed: “it was necessary to reduce the amount of data that our technology presented in a single Excel file as far as possible. In the end, we opted for the functionality offered by a “traffic light” system, which uses colours to indicate the patient’s general state of health. However, we are still immersed in the testing and validation process together with experts and end-customers”. For Deep Detection, who already had a high technology that was ready to operate thanks to the research conducted by the IFAE, the challenge begins now: “Initially we depended heavily on the Institute, but the time came when we realized that we should leave basic research aside and begin working on getting the product to the market and consolidating the business”, Burnham remarked.
As regards the important lessons that have been learned so far, one of the issues considered most important was talent selection. For a company such as Deep Detection, which provides cutting-edge technology produced by advanced research, the COO stresses that it is important to employ people who understand well how this technology works. For his part, Roger Guasch pointed out the importance of maintaining the company’s business culture: “hiring people who do not feel associated with our way of working can affect team performance and is therefore a key issue, especially for a start-up”. In addition to these factors, the COO of Exheus added the importance of “attitude”: “In our case one of the essential requirements is motivation and a constant desire to learn. We are looking for professionals who are driven by the hope of contributing to society in some way”.
As regards the general current situation of uncertainty, each panellist spoke of different challenges. In the case of Berdac, the pandemic has offered a new opportunity: “The need to self-isolate has meant that many elderly people are spending a long time on their own, a situation that enables us to highlight one of our main values: offering people a greater sense of security when they are unable to control the medication being taken by their elderly relatives”. In the case of Exheus, this situation raised several questions: “Some investors asked us why we weren't focusing on providing solutions for Covid. In the end we decided to stick to our original business plan, as we were at risk of diversifying at a stage in which our business had not yet been consolidated, with all the risks that this implies”. Colin Burnham emphasized the need to guarantee liquidity at all times: “this week we have signed up a new investor from Hong Kong, because one of our priorities is to keep the project going through the years of uncertainty that lie ahead”. However, all three guests stressed the enormous advantages of being located in Barcelona, due to its collaborative culture in favour of entrepreneurship, its emerging talent and the great support and investment opportunities that the city has to offer.
Prof. Anna Valli brought the event to a close with the following words: “In ESIC we approach entrepreneurship from a practical perspective, by studying real cases in the classroom, and by offering complementary training and competitions to develop our students’ entrepreneurial spirit”.