The BioRegion of Catalonia has more than 500 innovative startups in the life sciences and healthcare, and behind many of these companies are the personal stories of the founders and teams that decided to become entrepreneurs to improve people's quality of life. Indeed, one of the most powerful reasons for launching a company in this sector is living with a close family member or friend with a health problem.
In this article, we spotlight projects inspired by the issues their creators had to face. These personal stores inspired the entrepreneurs to develop innovative medical solutions, accelerated in CRAASH Barcelona or conceptualized in d·HEALTH Barcelona, and they are already changing the world, or soon will be.
His father suffered from two strokes, which shifted all his interests. After this happened, Alfons Carnicero decided to devote his career to creating a technology that improves people's health. Along with two engineers, he decided to create ABLE Human Motion,, a company with a clear mission: to allow everyone to enjoy physical mobility.
The Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) spinoff designs, develops, and is working to commercialize robotic exoskeletons to augment and improve human mobility. It was one of the European projects chosen to participate in the first edition of CRAASH Barcelona (2018). According to Carnicero, Biocat’s acceleration program allowed them to turn their university project into a company and to connect with the healthcare ecosystem in Boston.
Biel is a boy with poor vision. In 2017, his father, Jaume Puig, decided to embark on a project to solve the problem affecting his son. “Launching a company was the best means to secure and channel the resources needed to develop the project,” he says.
And this is how Biel Glasses was founded, a medtech company that develops smart glasses that allow people with poor vision to get around independently without the assistance of another person. This startup was another company accelerated by the CRAASH Barcelona program.
Cancer opened the eyes of Ray G. Butler, the founder and CEO of Butler Scientifics. “When my mother died of fast-spreading lung cancer, I felt that science needed more energy to accelerate discoveries and put them into practice in the guise of effective therapies,” he recalls.
So, in 2014 he founded the startup which develops and sells AutoDiscovery, an exhaustive, smart automated exploratory data-analysis software that helps biomedical research teams at universities, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies uncover extremely powerful statistical associations hidden within the data from their studies.
The entrepreneurial project Cebiotex was found based on the refusal of Joan Bertrán, co-founder CEO, to accept the death of Sara, the six-year-old daughter of his friends who died of cancer. “When we were burying her in Girona I thought what an injustice it was and that I had to take advantage of my education and experience as a textile engineer to fight cancer, especially childhood cancer,” he recalls.
Cebiotex is a spinoff of the UPC and the Hospital Sant Joan de Déu which develops a biodegradable membrane that releases high doses of chemotherapy (drug: SN38) after surgery in the wound where the tumor was removed. This biotech company was founded in 2012 after the project was validated in BioEmprenedor, a program that chose the top biotech or pharmaceutical projects promoted by Biocat, La Caixa, and Barcelona Activa. It is currently in phase IIa of the clinical trial, and the entrepreneur says that “the results have been promising.”
Marc Rafat, a mechanical engineer who had spent 15 years working in the automotive industry and machinery, decided to shift his career when his wife Txell died of pancreatic cancer after having their third child. “I decided that I wanted to devote my life to solving the problem that we had encountered during my wife’s illness: the difficulty finding available treatments.”
So, he decided to sign up for the d·HEALTH Barcelona program promoted by Biocat. "The training provided me with the tools I needed to create HealthQuay, an online platform that connects cancer patients with the best treatment options available around the world".
Maria Berruezo’s CV is uncommon among digital health entrepreneurs. She has a bachelor's degree in Advertising and Strategic Relations and a master's in Knowledge Management and founded her own communication agency. However, becoming a mother shifted her career: she trained as a breastfeeding advisor and founded LactApp, where all her interests converge: breastfeeding, women, social impact, and communication “When becoming mothers, many women come upon the reality we find: breastfeeding can be very hard and unpleasant, and it's difficult to find resources and the right answers,” the entrepreneur says.
LactApp is a startup devoted to caring for new mothers via a mobile app that can answer questions in an automated, personalized way. It is currently the leading breastfeeding and motherhood app in Spain.
David Blánquez, a computer engineer, decided years ago that technology should be able to help his daughter Marina, who has had refractory epilepsy since she was two years old. The doctors had devices that could register the attacks in the hospital when they happened, but he wanted to be able to anticipate crises outside the hospital. He created MJN Neuroserveis in 2012 after having a conversation with the co-founders: Salva Gutiérrez and Xavier Raurich.
“David told us about his daughter, who has epilepsy and is also pharmacoresistant, like 30% of those with this condition,” recalls David, CEO of MJN Neuroserveis. The company developed a device resembling a hearing aid that detects brain waves via an auditory channel in the ear, and when it’s connected to a mobile app, it provides constant updates on the likelihood of a crisis.
Marc Ramis was already a biotech entrepreneur when he decided to found Ninevah Therapeutics. The reason was that his son was diagnosed with congenital nephrotic syndrome (NS), an incurable kidney disease. “That's when I promised myself I would do something with the tools I had,” recalls the co-founder and CEO of the startup.
Ninevah was launched in 2019 and develops gene therapies to treat people with rare kidney diseases. “I realized that I had embarked on a personal project that was actually an unmet medical need,” the entrepreneur says.
Sometimes a future entrepreneur is motivated by their own experience. One example is Joan Grasas, a telecommunication engineer with a license in market research and the co-founder RheoDx: “I wanted to work in the world of healthcare because I am a chronic patient and I have first-hand experience of the impact innovation has on people’s quality of life,” he says.
RheoDX is developing a medical device to detect anomalies in blood cells. It does this with just one drop of blood and no reagents, with results in 5 minutes. "I don’t think anyone ‘wants’ to be an entrepreneur, it’s just that their personal experiences, motivations, and curious nature push them in this direction naturally, ” says Grasas.
At the age of 50, Eva Garcia's mother was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease via her eyes. Ten years later, the disease led to her death. “I realized the importance of vision in neuronal and cognitive health,” and she identified a huge technology and business opportunity along with Juan Carlos Ondategui-Parra.
This is the origin of WIVI Vision, a startup that develops a 3D technology based on artificial intelligence and IBM's Watson system to detect and improve visual dysfunctions in both children and adults.
“Our goal is to help people by providing an affordable, robust solution to improve the visual, academic, professional, or social limitations that visual dysfunctions create in a fun and innovative way,” says Eva, the co-founder and CEO of the company.
If these stories have inspired you, don’t forget that the 4th edition of CRAASH Barcelona begins in September, and there’s still time to submit candidacies until June 15, and that the 8th edition of d·HEALTH Barcelona begins in March 2022 and you can already reserve your place!