This time last week, we hosted our Europe 12 Demo Day. After 6 months of team building, ideation and product development, 27 teams came together from Paris, London and Berlin to pitch their companies to over 500 investors. We followed three of the teams in the days running up to the event.
Introducing 6 Founders, 6 Months into their Start-up Journey
Posted:1 October, 2019
Nina Patrick was the first employee and senior scientist for two biotech start-ups in Silicon Valley. She created a library of 50,000 biosensors with associated patents, and received her PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2015. A couple of weeks into the EF programme, Nina met Max Mundt. Max had completed his PhD at the Max Planck Institute, and had developed tools to improve the predictability of biological circuits to facilitate a wider range of synthetic biology applications. He had previously co-founded the German Association for Synthetic Biology.
“Little did we know, Max and I had been working on the exact same problem on different sides of the world,” Nina says. Nina and Max are arguably the two best people to found their company, but they never would have met if they hadn’t joined the programme.
Nina and Max founded MiProbes, which uses advanced synthetic biology to speed up food safety testing by 10x. Food contamination leads to illness, loss of consumer trust, expensive recalls and lost product. It’s a huge industry, and MiProbes have already completed a trial with a €2B+ food and beverage company.
In the days leading up to Demo Day, there’s an increasing sense of nervous energy in the EF offices. Each day, the teams pitch in front of the rest of the cohort, as well as the EF team, and are then given candid feedback to take away and implement.
For Nina, each time she pitched in front of the cohort and EF team, it was immediately after she and Max had rewritten their pitch. Despite having had little time to rehearse in these instances, her confidence shines through. Nina asks for feedback and is given suggestions that she incorporates into the pitch over the next few days.
As easy as it is to let pitch practice take over, the founders have to be able to switch modes at the drop of a hat, and continue with long-term planning. As soon as they finish, Nina and Max sit down with Sylvan from the EF Fund Operations team, for a meeting on financial modelling. “What’s really important for teams to remember is to use the model to tell the story of their company’s financial future. For Max and Nina, that meant identifying the key variables that will define their success in the food testing market” says Sylvan. At EF, the mission is to build worldchanging global companies; this doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen if you get overly swept up in day-to-day tasks. Founders always need to keep one eye on the horizon.
Nina pitched during the second half at Demo Day and her delivery was spot on. It may have been close to the hundredth time she’d done it, but it was undoubtedly the best, and the pitch is sure to have put MiProbes on the right path for success.
Emil Fristed and Jack Weston met a couple of weeks into the programme. Emil studied at Oxford where he was awarded a distinction for his MSc. He studied language changes caused by brain disease, “Since I was a teenager, I’ve been obsessed with brain disease and language changes in the brain.”
Jack had studied for a PhD at Cambridge, where he developed pattern recognition algorithms that could detect subtle changes in complex time-series data.
Together, Jack and Emil founded Novoic, and are working on detecting major brain diseases through patterns in speech. On the programme, they were supported by Form Associate, Pippy James, “There’s a lot of pressure when it comes to speaking on stage, let alone in front of hundreds of investors, and then to have to sell yourselves and your company. It’s a hard thing to get right.”
“Pitch coaching involves a lot of repetition,” says Pippy, “You’ve got to make sure your body language is natural. With Emil, we did a lot of work on movement. Sometimes the walking was even ‘choreographed’ – ironically, so that it seemed natural.”
Behind-the-scenes at Demo Day, you often see teams meditating, or practicing speaking in front of a wall, or pacing through the corridors. But Jack and Emil developed a very particular ritual that was a little more unheard of – pretending to be lobsters. Whatever you’re imagining is likely better than any written description. Emil says that when a lobster wins a fight it assumes a victory pose, “The stance of the lobster will affect its chances of winning the next fight. So before every ‘fight’ our team adopts the body language of a victorious lobster,” – plus, he says, “it always leads to a laugh.”
In his pitch, Emil says, “The words you say, and the way you say them, change when your brain is affected by disease – and these changes actually happen decades before clinical symptoms appear.” One in three people alive today will develop dementia. There’s no effective treatment, as diagnosis happens too late. By the time a doctor can detect the symptoms, most of the damage has been done. Novoic’s proprietary technology detects the earliest signs of neurological disease, two decades before clinical onset.
Maryame Boulhajat is a data scientist and engineer who has worked in aeronautics, advertising, energy and transport. She has built numerous Machine and Deep Learning models on different types of data, and has created robust data infrastructures that have helped many startups bring scalable products to market. At EF, Maryame met Alexandra Boussommier. Alexandra is a bioengineer, trained at EPFL, Imperial and MIT. Her PhD and Postdoc revolved around tissue and cell culture, and imaging. She has co-authored 10 peer-reviewed articles and is currently a Marie Curie fellow.
Together, Maryame and Alexandra founded ImVitro, which uses cell culture and AI to tackle infertility. In the time leading up to Demo Day, each team needs to work out how their market entry and expansion strategy can help them achieve their vision.
As part of the fundraising preparation process, every team goes through a series of training modules and team-based sessions. ImVitro spent time ironing out their go-to-market and expansion plans with Matt Wichrowski, from the EF Launch team. “The challenge,” Matt says,“is to convey an entire business in a relatively short period of time, which is why we work closely with each founder in a tailored way.”
If you come to the EF offices, you can tell whether or not we’re close to Demo Day by the number of people in the car park. There’s something about the open space that tends to draw teams outside for their pitch practice. With noisy cars passing by and plenty of distractions around, car park practice is a good way to make sure that you can maintain concentration under pressure.
For the CEO, who delivers the pitch, there’s the pressure of delivering the pitch and being in front of hundreds of investors, but there’s a different kind of pressure for the CTO waiting in the wings. “Maryame has endless motivation – and that was always a big source of energy that I tried to take with me into the pitch,” Alexandra says, “Knowing she’d always be there as an honest and caring source of feedback was really important, and helped a lot.”
Four days before Demo Day, EF alumni gather at the EF office to watch the new teams pitch. For the teams, it means doing a dry run in front of your peers, and for alumni, it’s a chance to get nostalgic about how far you’ve come.
The cohort gets an incredible amount of support from the alumni, who give careful and considerate feedback, as well as emotional support. “There’s immense power in bringing the cohort together with people who have been in their exact shoes in the past, whether that was 6 months ago or 3 years ago,” says Olivia (EF’s community manager), “Our alumni give brilliant feedback because they’ve been through it and have lived to tell the tale!”
“Human life starts with two cells coming together. It is hard to fathom how many factors come into play for this cellular development to lead to a baby” Alexandra says in her pitch. ImVitro’s AI-based algorithms analyze images and a myriad of clinical parameters to minimize the number of IVF cycles couples have to go through.
As she delivers the final pitch of the day, Alexandra invites the audience to talk to her afterwards, to hear more about this genuinely life-changing company. What’s extraordinary about this remark is that, at EF, that’s not an uncommon statement to make. The companies being pitched are often life-changing, both for the founders and their customers. And that’s no coincidence.
The EF programme is relentlessly demanding of its participants, but it’s also a transformative experience. We seek out the world’s most talented, creative and driven individuals, and help them realise their ambitions, and build truly world-changing companies. It’s always astonishing to see what these individuals can achieve within six months, but as Matt Clifford (Entrepreneur First co-founder) said in his closing speech to the entrepreneurs, “Demo Day tends to feel like the finale – like the culmination of all your hard work, but in many ways – it’s just the beginning.”