One of the winners of the MBioS Challenge biomedical start-up contest, Ukrainian project Latrax, was among the best at the Impact’18 International Congress in Poland.
On June 14th in Krakow, a large-scale international congress, dedicated to innovation and the development of modern technologies, Impact’18, has come to an end. More than 6,000 participants from 46 countries, 250 speakers from all around the world, eight thematic blocks, four platforms, 18 workshops, and 167 activities in nine formats — the huge ICE Krakow Congress Center, looking like an alien spaceship, for two days has become a European center of innovations.
A culmination and one of the key events of the first day of the Congress was the startup pitching session — Startup4export. For the third year in a row the Impact organizers choose the very best projects among hundreds of applications for participation in this section. This year, those who had the honor of presenting their startups to the International Jury and investors, as well as to the representatives of large foreign companies and venture funds, were the seven participants — from Poland, Belarus, Switzerland, Spain and Ukraine. Our country was represented in Krakow by Latrax, one of the winners of the first Ukrainian contest of biomedical startups, MBioS Challenge, organized by the “Innovation House” this year.
The future is here
The ICE Krakow Congress Center is perhaps the best building for an event like Impact’18. The ultra-modern congress hall, which was built in 2014 and cost nearly $100 million, is one of the best not only in Poland but also in Europe. Four floors, dozens of locations, panoramic windows for admiring the views of Vistula, the majestic Royal castle and the Wawel Cathedral of the Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus. It is difficult to get rid of the feeling that here in one place the past and the future came together. However, it is really so. In the very heart of the Old Town already for the third time the Impact International Congress, devoted to the economy of the future, based on the digital revolution, takes place.
At 10am, it’s already so crowded here that the head is spinning, — life on every floor of the ICE Krakow Congress Center is literally boiling. The Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, gives a speech in the huge jam-packed main hall. The main message of his speech is that the future is for the states, that are not only keeping trace of the development of new technologies, but also actively implement them in their activities. According to Mr. Morawiecki, all advanced governments in the world now create innovative platforms to support changes in health, public finances, education, and defense. He also said that Poland intends to invest in the development of science, since science and economic development are inextricably linked with each other.
“I invite all startups, all technical innovators to Poland,” — called from the scene the Prime Minister. “Today we provide a lot of opportunities for them — for example, through the large enterprises cooperation programs”.
One could hardly say that Mr. Morawiecki’s words are just words — it’s enough to recall that PFR Ventures company, founded by a state Polish Development Fund, has just started its work. This year, just on the eve of the beginning of Impact’18, this organization has concluded its first contracts — with seven venture funds that will invest in Polish companies. And in the next four years, the National Center for Research and Development (NCBR) and the PFR state fund will invest €500 million in the market for venture capital and in support for startups.
After Mateusz Morawiecki the eminent speakers from all over the world one by one appeared on the stage. The representatives from leading innovative companies and organizations — CERN, Dubai Future Foundation, Boeing, Pfizer, T-Mobile, Microsoft, OLX, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Amazon, DN Capital, Palo Alto Networks, IBM, 500 Startups, TechCrunch, Airbnb and dozens of other world leaders — have all gathered at Impact’18. Discussions, lectures, talks and pitches take place in the four main locations of the Congress. It is not easy for the participants and the guests to choose where to go — you want to be at the same time everywhere, even if you are ripped apart.
The one who has a true benefit performance at the Congress, was the famous robot-woman Sophia. She is a frequent guest at the large-scale events, like Impact, but in Poland she is for the first time. Each of the four events, which she took part in, gathered full halls. In Krakow Sophia, the creation of the Hong Kong company Hanson Robotics, took part in the opening of the Forum, in the debate on the role of women in technology development and the future of artificial intelligence with the Polish Minister of Enterprise and Technology Jadwiga Emilewicz. She also gave a witty interview to Liz Bacelar, the founder of TheCurrent. However, the jokes by so far legless Sophia sound creepy, especially in view of her unnatural facial expressions.
That’s us for you!
In the evening most of the guests, speakers and participants of Impact’18 moved to S2, the second largest hall of the ICE Krakow Congress Center. All of them came to listen and to make their own opinion about the presentations by the participants of one of the key events of the Congress first day, the Startup4export pitching session.
Within Impact’18 there were several startup pitch sessions — in various thematic panels and in secondary locations. However, Startup4export is an event that is distinct from others. The Organizing Committee of the Congress carefully analyzes submitted applications from all over the world and selects the seven most interesting for participation in this event. Moreover, the startups, who have gained the trust of the organizers, have to present their projects not just to the auditorium, full of businessmen, scientists, business angels and venture capital investors, but also to a serious International Jury, which sits just on the stage.
This year the jury included Bedy Yang, Managing Partner at the world’s largest venture capital fund and accelerator, 500 Startups (San Francisco, USA), Thomas Rubens, an analyst at the UK venture capital company DN Capital, investing in startups at early stages, with offices in London and Silicon Valley, the director of the Polish fund PFR Ventures, Małgorzata Walczak, and a representative of the World Economic Forum, investor and start-up mentor, Pablo Izquierdo.
Several hundred people in the hall and such a serious jury composition made the Startup4export participants get nervous earnestly behind the scenes. But these guys themselves formed a no less interesting company.
Ukrainian neurophysiologist Iryna Hoi was the first who presented her project. The Latrax team, one of the winners of the first Ukrainian contest of biomedical startups MBioS Challenge, organized by the “Innovation House”, has developed a universal neurostimulator. With its help, doctors will be able to carry out all three possible types of neurostimulation — the stimulation of the deep structures of the brain, as well as the spinal cord and the vagus nerve stimulation. Today, the market offers devices costing €20,000‒25,000, however the new development proposed by the Ukrainian company can change this practice — Latrax stimulators will cost about €5,000. The team managed to make the device cheaper by means of engineering enhancement of the neurostimulator — this is the know-how of the young company. So, in the near future, modern treatment of epilepsy, depression, chronic pain and other diseases can become available to thousands of people around the world thanks to this new Ukrainian invention.
Next after the Ukrainian contestant, Valentina Kislaya came to the stage to tell about the Polish‒Belorussian startup TheBatteries. The team of this project is working on creation of a thin-film solid-state batteries (TFB). According to Valentina Kislaya, the consumer properties of their product far surpass the characteristics of conventional rechargeable batteries. Although the technology of TFB creation has been known for a long time, TheBatteries team has come up with idea, how, using the vacuum equipment, developed by them, to cheapen such batteries production so much, that they can become a mass consumer product.
Pole Tomasz Jadczyk presented to the Jury a medical start-up CardioCube. This Polish AI Voice Assistant is designed to help patients with chronic heart diseases track their health, receive the necessary information, and transfer it to their doctor. In addition, you can simply chat with CardioCube, like with your close friend, telling it about your day, asking for advice or sharing problems. The device collects and analyzes the information received from the user and adjusts to the lifestyle and the rhythm of its owner.
An interesting ecological project was presented by Nicola Mona from Switzerland. The Skypull startup offers an improvement of wind power generation technologies. For this purpose, the company intends to use special air kites with ground generators. As Nikola has explained to the audience, the speed of wind at the altitude of 400 m is considerably larger than at 150 m, where the wind generator blades of the land wind power plants are usually located. Skypull promises to produce ten times more electricity, using 95% less material than one commonly uses to build wind power generators.
The next one was a colorful Pole Pawel Cichocki, who rushed on the scene like a bearded hurricane. A long-haired specialist in blockchain has presented his project Nebula Networks, a start-up that tries to solve the problem of crypto-currency instability. According to Mr. Cichocki, many people treat such currencies with great suspicion, since they are intangible, have no support in gold or other assets and are not controlled by the states in a proper way. His team is going to motivate users to provide their PCs for creating a decentralized cloud platform. Neither the Jury, nor the audience could fully understand what exactly Nebula Networks wants to introduce on the market and for which purpose it needs $1 million, but everybody enjoyed the Pole’s emotional presentation.
Oleksandr Bondarenko, a Ukrainian participant, came to the stage of the ICE Krakow Congress Center last but one. His Discoperi project, founded in Madrid (Spain) in 2016, is a system for tracking drivers’ behavior on the roads. Two years ago a former Donetsk citizen together with his wife and little child almost fell into an accident because the taxi, in which they were traveling, rushed to the red light. After that, Oleksandr came up with his startup. Discoperi is a high-tech system that collects data for drivers about how other road users behave on the road. This will help make the driving safer, since the driver will be able to track suspicious objects — say, those moving in a dangerous trajectory, with over speed or vice versa, too slowly. The project supposes the use of “smart” cameras, big data, artificial intelligence and blockchain in its system.
The pitch session was closed by Kacper Kossowski. A noticeably nervous participant has told about the Polish EcoBean project. His team proposes to make special briquettes of waste coffee beans, suitable for ovens and grills. According to him, such coffee briquettes burn for a much longer time and give more energy than wood.
Experience is more valuable than money
The Jury gave presentations marks based on four criteria — the startup team, the problem it solves, the degree of readiness to enter the market and competitiveness. According to all criteria, the Ukrainian Oleksandr Bondarenko with the road safety system Discoperi was far ahead of all the other Startup4export’s participants.
The Jury members did not also leave without attention the second project from Ukraine — Latrax. “Innovation House” managed to talk to the Managing Partner of the venture capital fund and accelerator 500 Startups, Bedy Yang, and with the director of the Polish fund PFR Ventures, Małgorzata Walczak. Both experts found our universal neurostimulator extremely interesting.
Ms. Walczak noted that Ukrainians should think about inviting a marketer to their team, who would help to present the startup more confidently to the potential investors.
Both experts found Ukrainian development of the universal neurostimulator very interesting
“Latrax is a science-intensive project, and obviously, the team of this startup includes mainly the scientists. It is worth thinking about inviting someone with marketing experience,” the head of PFR Ventures told the “Innovation House”. “In addition, it would not hurt to improve the model of entering the market. Any startupper must specifically emphasize, at which stage the product is now, as well as how much time it will take to complete the basic preparations. All this is what a model of entering the market is.”
As for Bedy Yang, she became interested in Ukrainian development quite seriously. According to her, this project has good prospects, and if the team listens to the advice of the experts, gains the experience and works on the presentation, their project has a great future.
“In three minutes of pitching, you have a chance to tell only about the team of your startup, about the product itself and how close it is to enter the market,” explained Ms. Yang to the “Innovation House”. “Actually, it is this information that should be in a good pitch. As for Iryna Hoi’s speech, it is clear that she has studied the market and is promoting a product that she understands well. But each start-up must also clearly understand what is happening in the heads of its potential investors. Sometimes you can even ask them about it directly. But I think that the more and more often you pitch, the better you understand all these nuances.”
Also, 500 Startups’ Managing Partner said that startups at early stages should think about how to prevent all possible risks. “To a large extent, everything in the startup is risky. The team is a risk, the product itself is a risk, the market is also a risk,” Bedy Yang reminded.
Iryna Hoi was also pleased with a comment from another judge, Thomas Rubens, the DN Capital analyst. The representative of the British venture fund asked if the Latrax team was going to carry out a research in Europe, and after hearing an affirmative answer, he noticed that this is a right step, because this project is anticipated for there.
“This is a very necessary experience for us,” said Iryna Hoi, Latrax’s leading neurophysiologist, resuming the team’s participation in Startup4export. “This was perhaps the most important step this year, because we saw how the startups in Europe are presented, how it is done on a professional level. All the investors, venture funds and organizations involved in the promotion of startups, wish to know about the price of the product. Therefore, the business plan is something you should work at first and foremost and as thoroughly as possible. Plus, the statistics. These are the things that build your presentation. If you are not relying on numbers, your words are empty.”
By the way, the representatives of another project, which also was a MBioS Challenge finalist, Anna Solovyova and Heorhii Tkachenko from Dory_VR, have also gained experience and useful contacts with potential investors in Krakow. They also have something to advise their colleagues after a trip to Impact’18.
“Investors are interested in cooperation with startups, which have the support of European institutions,” Anna Solovyova shared her findings. “If your project supposes devoting at least a part of the work to a particular study, you should in advance enlist the support of a prestigious European research institute. And which is most important, before traveling to a certain country in search of an investor, tell yourself honestly whether you wish to open your main office right there. Because at the conference in Krakow the question that I heard from the investors most often was “Are you ready to open the office in Poland?”.
The Latrax’s representative is confident: the main things, that can be acquired by the teams of startups at early stages at large-scale international events like Impact, are knowledge and useful contacts.
“At the present stage of our project, we are interested in information. Every startup has to pitch as often as possible. We did not have any experience in this regard. Our training began with the participation in the MBioS Challenge, organized by “Innovation House”, and thanks to them, it continued at Impact’18 Startup4export in Krakow,” summarizes Iryna Hoi.