I represented EBAN at the Nordic Life Science Days 2013 in Stockholm. My speech (on the 15th of October 2013) was about early stage finance alternatives for bio-tech start-ups. The moderator of the panel was Dr. Bjorn Kull, Head of the Grants Office of Karolinska University in Sweden.
Stockholm is the capital of Sweden and its most populous city. It is located on the Scandinavian peninsula, with a population of 871,952 in the municipality (2010), 1,372,565 in the urban area (2010), and 2,119,760 in the metropolitan area (2010). As of 2010, the Stockholm metropolitan area was home to approximately 22% of the country’s population.
Karolinska Institutet (translated as the Karolinska Institute) is a medical university in Solna within the Stockholm urban area and one of Europe’s largest and most prestigious medical universities. It was founded in 1810 on Kungsholmen on the west side of Stockholm; the main campus was relocated decades later to Solna, just outside Stockholm. A second campus was established more recently in Flemingsberg, Huddinge, south of Stockholm.
Karolinska Institutet is Sweden’s third oldest medical school, after Uppsala University (founded in 1477) and Lund University (founded in 1666). According to the 2012 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, Karolinska Institutet is ranked 32nd worldwide, 6th in Europe, and 1st in the Nordic region. According to the 2011 Academic Ranking of World Universities, Karolinska Institute is ranked 11th in the world in the field of clinical medicine and pharmacology and 18th in life sciences.
The Karolinska University Hospital, located in Solna and Huddinge, is associated with the university as a research and teaching hospital. Together they form an academic health science center. It is one of Sweden’s largest centers for training and research, accounting for 30 percent of the medical training and 40 percent of the medical academic research conducted nationwide. While most of the medical programs are taught in Swedish, the bulk of the Ph.D. projects are conducted in English.
Most of the assistants working at the event were students of Karolinska University. When Dr. Kull signalled my turn to speak, he introduced me as one of the dragons of Dragons’ Den Turkey. Those student assistants caught me at the reception and tried to get some tips from me about how dragons were investing. One student from China asked whether dragons are interested in bio-tech start-ups.
l explained in my panel presentation that one of the challenging issues for bio-tech start-ups is the seed fund, and that the angel investment scale of financing required was a little bit different from the typical start-ups. Typical start-ups require up to 200K for seed funding. What angel investors or dragons mean by “start-up” is any business idea requiring a maximum 200K for a share in the company. But this amount is quite low for bio-tech start-ups, since even creating a demo or financing a research and development stage requires more than 200K.
Panelists and other speakers had been carefully selected. In addition to me, Mr. Pontus Frohde, the Chief Operating Officer of FundedByMe Equity, spoke about crowd funding platform; Mr. Johan Tysklind, the Managing Director of Crowdcube Nordic; Mr. David Philips, Vice-President and Partner of SR One and Dr. Olivind Enger, the partner of Sarsia Seed Management are all deeply involved in the core subject: Early Financing
There were also presentations about the engagement of EU foundations and public programs for early stage financing, but the audience showed more interest in crowd funding, angel investment and venture capital systems.
It was a good idea to have brought together players of three important areas of early stage financing: crowd funding, angel investment and venture capitalists.
Generally, crowd funding is an excellent source of financing for start-ups needing up to 20K in investments. What is interesting here is that the EU is talking about an equity gap in finances between 500K Euro and 3M Euro. Such an equity gap exists because any entrepreneur who needs an investment in the range of 500K – 3M becomes like a ping-pong ball between angel investors and VCs. So, to fill in the gap, angel investors and VCs are strongly encouraged by the EU to invest in such entrepreneurs. But we have to be aware that there is a wider gap in the very early stage that needs to be filled. This gap is for entrepreneurs who require up to 20K to finance their start-ups. Following the global economic crisis, finding seed funding became particularly difficult .
Crowd funding platforms are vital for filling that gap. l will call them mini-BA (mini business angels). In the Moscow general assembly of The European Trade Association for Early Stage Market Players (EBAN), it was decided to accept crowd funding platforms as full members, calling them technology platforms.
In the panel, we also heard about the European Union’s activities in Sweden from Dr. Tuuliki Lindmark, Head of the Sweden BIO EU Support Office and Dr. Karin Aase, the National Contact Point for SMEs, Department EU R&D Relations.
The organization provided by Jonas Ekstrand, CEO of Sweden BIO and Olivier Duchamp, Conference Director of the Nordic Life Science Days was excellent in every way. l am familiar with marketing people’s organizational methods but I learned here that scientists, in their organizing, prioritize the quality of speakers, content, material, service. In this way, they reinforced the idea that the best marketing strategy is to offer high quality products and services.
When l arrived at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport, the first thing that caught my attention was its wooden construction. It created such a nice feeling that you understood immediately that you were in a Nordic country. The whole airport was designed to give you the impression you were in a mountain hotel. I had been at the beach in the south of Turkey in the morning wearing my beach clothes, and now here I was in Stockholm at close to midnight wearing my winter coat; I had expected it was going to be very very cold, but in fact it was not.
One thing I found interesting in Stockholm was the taxi fares. Every taxi owner was charging different prices. As you exit the airport I got the feeling I was in a Turkish bazaar, with every taxi driver trying to get you into his taxi. I chose the one standing in front of a Mercedes taxi. In the car he said it would 500 SEK. I asked him how much it was in EUR and l paid him what he asked – 75 EUR. A few minutes later l learnt at the hotel reception desk that 1 Euro is roughly 8 SEK, which meant l had paid a bit more than the exact equivalent.
I stayed at the Freys Hotels. Rooms were a little bit small but OK. Would l stay in the same hotel again? Probably not. How did l find this hotel? I was a guest of Sweden BIO so they found it. “The guest doesn’t eat what he dreams, he eats what is served,” they sayJ. However, Freys Hotel has a long history, the staff are good and it is very close to the SAS Convention Center, the venue for our event.
On the first night of the event was a gala dinner at City Hall, just across the street. It was a wonderful reception and dinner, and it all took place in the ballroom used for gala dinners of the Nobel Prize awards ceremonies. Since 1934, the these award ceremonies have been held in Stockholm, and following the ceremony a gala dinner is served in the City Hall.
One thing I remember from that evening was the painting on the wall of the ballroom which showed the Turkish flag at the right side. In this painting, Turkey represents the East, which was also pointed out by the speaker of the evening. And Stockholm is just in the middle of West and East. When you go to the Middle East from Turkey, however, Turkey represents the West. It is interesting to be from a country that represents both East and West at the same time.
The second thing was that the restaurant at the entrance of the City Hall offers special menus. You can choose your meal from any of the menus served at the dinners at the Nobel Prize ceremonies since 1934. So, if you would like to have, for example, the same dinner as Orhan Pamuk, a Nobel Prize winner from Turkey, you should choose the 2006 menu, as that was the year he received his award. I found this idea intriguing, and l think this sort of innovative selling strategy can be developed in other contexts and in other countries. For the selection of menus, you can visit the following website:
At the reception, l met with Nils Bohlin, the Director of Arthur D Little, who was one of the key speakers of the opening session of the event. He is the Managing Partner of the Global Health Industries Practice. His speech was about innovation opportunities in the health industries ecosystem, which was very enlightening. Unfortunately, someone had forgotten to upload his PowerPoint presentation onto the system so he had to speak without it – which was probably better that way, l think. He promised to send his PowerPoint presentation to me.
The next morning l arrived at the venue around 10 and in the afternoon l wanted to take a city tour. A bus tour departs every hour (on the brochures it says every 20 minutes but that was not the case). You are picked up from a bus station and given a very nice city tour that lasts about 90 minutes. During the tour you can listen to audio guide in a variety of languages, and I had chosen English. I have to say that the most understandable and clearest English l have ever heard was on the Stockholm Red Buses – Hop On Hop Off.
Nordic Life Science Days had 620 participants and roughly 100 speakers for the following topics:
- Early Financing
- The Arena for Successful Innovation
- Personalized Medicine & Bio-banks
- Highlights in Nordic Life Science
- Technology Transfer & Commercializing Academic Ideas
- Regulatory Challenges Today and Tomorrow
- Collaborative Business Models – Do’s & Don’ts
- Finances Track – International Investors Session
- Nano-medicine Track – Two Sides of the Patch: Opportunities and Challenges in the Field of Nano-medicine
- Developing the Innovation Performance in the Health Industries Ecosystem
There was an elevated ‘pitch stage’ on the upper floor, where l found heard about some very interesting projects:
- 15 pitches – 3 minutes each
- 27 pitches – 5 minutes each
I enjoyed a very innovative idea for pitching sessions where it was investors who were doing the pitching, to tell entrepreneurs what they are looking for.
Some quotes l enjoyed very much and kept for my archive were:
In the brochure of Young Nordic Life Sciences Entrepreneurs: ‘’That is why we are here, sharing experience with other young Nordic entrepreneurs as well as getting in touch with experienced people and firms from all around world’’.
From an interview with Laurent Leksell, Chairman of the Board at Elekta on the Nordic Life Science Magazine on entrepreneurship. Some fun quotes from his interview: (a) “When opportunity knocks on the door, some people complain about the noise.’’ (b) “For me, the glass is always half full, never half empty.’’
As I left Stockholm, l bought gifts from the Stockholm airport: fragrances for my wife (Golden Delicious by DKNY) and myself (Davidoff-The Game) and more than enough chocolate for my kids. By the way, Stockholm Arlanda Airport’s lounge was one of the best I’ve seen, with a design and decoration that made me feel right at home.
My taxi driver, who had come to Sweden from Iraq 20 years ago, told me on the way to the airport (360 SEK this time) that l was very lucky because snow was on the way in just a couple of days!