More than 50 interviews with entrepreneurs and 5 years of Startup Generation make for many insights, anecdotes and experiences. We have compiled some of them in this top ten so that they can serve you as inspiration.
The Covid-19 crisis is testing start-ups and entrepreneurs in all sectors, at all levels, around the world. Adaptability, quick reflexes, generosity, creativity and resilience are attitudes we are seeing on a daily basis in this group that is essential in any innovation ecosystem, like the BioRegion.
In fact, Catalonia has over 400 healthcare start-ups, which are an essential source of innovation and value propositions for the ecosystem, with the goal of becoming products and services focusing on patients and citizens.
To celebrate the anniversary of the ‘Startup generation’ section of our website, we wanted to pay tribute in this small way to an exceptional group of more than 50 ‘fighters’ by compiling and sharing their experiences, successes and failures so that they can hopefully serve to inspire and teach everyone who, like them, wants to change the world.
“I always try to remember one saying: success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration,” remembers Neus Sabaté, co-founder of Fuelium. It is also clear to Markus Wilhelms, co-founder and CEO of Mowoot (usMIMA): “I firmly believe that great ideas and eureka moments arise from everyday hard work,” he warns. In his case, the business idea for Mowoot came out of the clinical immersion Wilhelms and the other co-founders did at Institut Guttmann during the Biocat d·HEALTH Barcelona program. By the way, if you’re interested in following his path, we’re about to start the admissions process for the program: find out all about it on the d·HEALTH Barcelona website.
“The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.” This quote from Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, is a favorite of Rosendo Garganta, founder and CEO of Devicare. “This quote always reminds me that ideas are worthless in start-ups and that I have to focus on doing: managing the team, the projects, the processes, the financial side and the clients,” explains Garganta.
“A great friend always told me, ‘Always think big but start small,’” Silvia Raga, CEO of DyCare, told us. When you start out on your own, everything seems really complex and complicated, which makes it easy to get lost along the way. So, I always try to remember that great achievements come from small actions.” As Jesús Purroy, founder of Àvida Biotech, says, “We must attempt ambitious projects, there is always time to do small things.”
Because thinking locally doesn’t make sense in the healthcare sector anymore. “Think big, make a project that is totally scalable. In an increasingly global world, distances and time are approaching zero: take advantage! Think about how you can expand your solution as quickly as possible… and prepare to never give up, because it won’t be easy,” advises Cristian Pascual, co-founder and CEO of Mediktor.
Javier de Oca, co-founder and CEO of IOMED, gave us some wise advice: “Follow the money.” Meaning, “look for who will pay for your product and you’ll find the answer. Healthcare is a peculiar sector and it isn’t always clear who pays for things. The user consuming a service isn’t necessarily the one paying for it,” he notes. In a similar vein, Llorenç Coll, co-founder and CEO of Aniling, recommends future entrepreneurs define their target customer well.
“The more innovative your product, above all in the early stages, the greater the challenge in precisely defining your target and approach. I think it’s good to take this as a mantra underlying everything so that all decisions are truly well focused and aligned,” Coll warns.
In this process, pivoting a project is common. Marc Rafat, co-founder and CEO of HealthQuay, pivoted his career after his wife died of cancer. He left his career as an automotive engineer, applied to d·HEALTH Barcelona, and started up his own company to provide solutions to the problems they experienced while she was sick. “Throughout the process, we’ve pivoted many times, in terms of our business model,” Rafat explains. “In the early stages, lots of people recommended that we focus on the problem and find a way to solve it without looking at income, which we could search for later. This allowed us to reach a business model that is both free to users and sustainable over time, meaning we can have an impact on lots more patients than we would have with a more traditional business model.”
And how do we sustain the project until we have clients? “Keep an eye on cash flow. Companies don’t shut down due to a lack of ideas, but due to a lack of money,” remembers Antoni Riu, managing director of Galgo Medical. “You have to make sure the company will have enough money to carry on at least one more month and give the products developed a chance to find their place in the market.”
The best advice Roger Gomis, ICREA researcher at IRB Barcelona and founder of Inbiomotion, ever got was from a business expert. “‘If you’re going to go into business, do it for real,” he told me. “That led me to seek venture capital and launch rounds of funding to be able to move forward with the project,” he remembers.
Get over your fear of numbers, this is one of the most common tips entrepreneurs from academia get. “While I was being mentored, someone told me that you can be successful using money as a tool, without demonizing it. This is common among people with a background in science, who see scientific success as the only goal,” recognizes Walter Sanseverino, co-founder and CEO of Sequentia Biotech.
The word ‘team’ is clearly the most repeated in the interviews: the entrepreneurs understand that surrounding themselves with the right people is key to the company’s success. Go into business as a team and create your own virtuous circle,” sums up Mariona Serra, co-founder and CEO of GoodGut.
Ruth Risueño, founder of Leukos Biotech, recommends surrounding yourself with good professionals. “If you don’t know much about a certain area of knowledge, find someone who is an expert and can make up for that shortcoming,” she says. “Many entrepreneurs who come from an academic research background are trained to be highly self-sufficient,” admits Miquel Vila-Perelló, co-founder and CEO of ProteoDesign. “Having a good team is essential and you need to consider that it is not only about technical and scientific aspects but also other areas from finance, business, legal and product development to mundane issues like accounting and logistics, which at the beginning you may know very little about, or you don’t value as much as you should.”
Carlos Lurigados, founding partner and CEO of FreeOx Biotech, also firmly believes that “the main key to success for any project is the team. There are many other factors but this is the alpha and omega.”
The tip to choose good travel companions goes beyond your partners inside the company. Jordi Cusidó, co-founder of HealthApp, says, “don’t do business or make deals with people you don’t trust.”
“If you want a different outcome, don’t keep doing the same thing,” Einstein said. This is the favorite quote of Albert Jané, co-founder and CEO of Vytrus Biotech: “It’s a principle that can apply to any area of life, and business, too,” Jané highlights. “The best way to learn from your mistakes is by analyzing them and finding a different approach. It is impossible to make no mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them quickly in order to resolve them and make sure they don’t happen again.”
Because mistakes are part of the entrepreneurship process. “The best advice I’ve ever been given was to make mistakes quickly,” confesses Jaume Puig, co-founder and CEO of Biel Glasses. “All of us make mistakes sometimes, and in the business world I think it is key to do so as quickly as possible so you have time to fix it.”
An entrepreneur has to have a tight elevator pitch and be able to ‘sell’ their project anytime, to anyone. For Laszlo Bax, co-founder and CEO of Braingaze, the key lies in making this explanation as simple as possible. “Don’t try to explain everything in 60 seconds, really try to see things through the eyes of the people you are communicating with. This advice is easy to give but terribly difficult to follow,” recognizes Bax.
Bernat Ollé, co-founder and CEO of Vedanta Biosciences also says “be clear and direct.” And adds another tip: “If you have something to criticize or fix, don’t bite your tongue. Criticism is fair play if it’s done with respect and a view to solving the problem. This helps create a culture in which people say what they think. Everyone feels they have a voice and helps resolve issues in the company,” Ollé highlights.
Being able to listen to others (advice and criticism) is another tip repeated often by entrepreneurs in the BioRegion. “Speak with lots of people and get many opinions on your business idea. You’ll fall down many times but, if you speak with many people, at least the landing will be as soft as possible,” says Adrià Maceira, co-founder and CEO of CreatSens Health.
In a similar vein, Laura Soucek, co-founder and CEO of Peptomyc, recommends “keeping an open mind in every negotiation and every step of the company’s development. In fact, listening to all options before judging or making a decision has turned out to be an extremely valuable strategy,” Soucek notes.
Listening to clients is also essential to properly direct your business plan. “Make everything ‘Lean’, meaning nothing is valid or invalid until you test it with your clients,” says Carlos Rodés, co-founder and CEO of WeFitter. “Do loads of tests, don’t be afraid of getting it wrong and get all the feedback you can. When people like your product, it means you have to hurry to get it to the market: you have to get it out there and get feedback from clients.”
Having a clear goal is a must if you don’t want to run out of steam along the long journey of entrepreneurship. “Have a clear goal and stick to it. You might need to change paths or gears, but you have to know where you want to go if you’re going to get there,” says Alberto E. Porciani, CEO of Top Doctors.
For Hugo Peris, CEO and co-founder of Loop Therapeutics, two pieces of advice were particularly important, which he got from his father, president of pharmaceutical corporation Salvat: “Finish what you start, and to fight to the end.” Peris admits, “being far from home and working in start-ups, you can get discouraged and sometimes you feel the temptation to throw in the towel. It’s important to set goals and not give up until you’ve achieved them.”
Another mantra often heard from entrepreneurs in the sector is that entrepreneurs don’t only use their heads, but their hearts too.
“Don’t be scared: the sector is looking for solutions that will radically change its life,” remembers Nuria Pastor, CEO and founding partner of HumanITcare. “If you have an idea you believe in, don’t let it get away. You always have to listen and learn from everyone. Taking these contributions onboard may make you pivot to improve the idea, but they can’t make you lose heart,” adds Salva Gutiérrez, co-founder and CEO of MJN Neuroserveis. “You can achieve anything you set your mind to,” sums up Flavia Wahl, co-founder of iBreve.
Anna Sala, co-founder and CMO of Adan Medical Innovation, defends the same passion: “If you start a business, make it something you’re passionate about. Don’t do it because you think it will make you rich, because people can tell when you believe in what you’re doing and do it with passion,” Sala sums up.
Because choosing the path of entrepreneurship is an adventure, but an exciting one, according to those who have chosen it. “Life is too short to be in the wrong job,” concludes Silvia Raga, CEO of DyCare.