Interview With Luís Valente
Describe your product or service:
“iLoF is an agnostic platform technology working to enable a new era of personalized medicine, by using AI and photonics to build a cloud-based library of diseases biomarkers and biological profiles.
We collect massive amounts of data to create accurate biological profiles that help biotechs, pharmas, and clinical academic centers severely cut the time and the cost of developing personalized therapeutics.”
Describe your company values and mission:
“Our goal is to become the smart platform that democratizes access to personalized medicine for millions of people living with complex diseases around the globe.”
How are you funded? I.e. type of funding, number of funding rounds, total funding amount.
“We have raised over $6 million from two funding rounds to date (pre-seed, 2019; seed, 2021) from leading investors, including Microsoft Ventures, Mayfield Fund, Lunar Ventures, Faber Ventures, EIT Health, and others.
We have also received over $1.5 million in multiple non-dilute industry grants and awards.”
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them (I.e. co-founders, freelancers, etc.)
“We are a time of ~20 scientists, entrepreneurs, and inventors. We are a woman-owned business (3/4 founders are female), based in Oxford UK with a tech and engineering center in Porto, Portugal.”
How did you come up with and validate your startup idea? Tell us the story!
“Since before our pre-seed round in 2019, our team conducted a thorough feasibility study involving over 100 stakeholders from over 15 countries to determine what the drug discovery industry’s largest pain points were and how iLoF could generate optimal added value.
Following this, we were able to establish engagements with more than 15 stakeholders from 4 continents (hospitals, biotechs, and pharmas), including two global pharmaceutical companies.
Currently, we are also revenue-generating (e.g., through our engagements with biotechs), validating the need for our platform with ongoing paid pilots for biomarker detection.
Additionally, we secured a growing data-set (over 1,000 different biological profiles) through partnerships and clinical studies with institutions like UCL (University College London), Maastricht University, Oxford University, and Danish National Biobank.”
How did you come up with your startup's name? Did you have other names you considered?
“iLoF stands for ‘Intelligent Lab on Fiber,’ which is what the technology is based on (an intelligent lab on an optical fiber).”
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“Very much — I had an earlier business/startup when I was 18 and always admired the people that had the capability of changing the world through bold ideas.
I think the impact that you can cause in the world as an entrepreneur is unrivaled, and thus it was only a matter of time (until the right idea, team, and business opportunity appeared).”
Feeling inspired? Learn how to launch your company with our guide on how to start a startup.
Did you encounter any roadblocks when launching your startup? If so, what were they and what did you do to solve them?
“Innovation in the digital health world is no easy task, and there were certainly various roadblocks. Main ones:
- Validating the need/problem: Talking with doctors and researchers, we pivoted multiple times until we figured out the true value proposition we were aiming to solve. This led to over 200 interviews in total
- Funding: Launching a deep tech, healthtech company is not as easy as doing a SAAP App-based company. The capital needed to start is more significant. We got ~$2 million in pre-seed, and that was really key in assuring our success.
- Communication: In deep tech, it's sometimes hard to explain what you are building (and why it matters). We iterated our mission and visions many times until we had a "pitch" that worked both in people aware of the problem and also on the general population.”
Who is your target market? How did you establish the right market for your startup?
“We are currently aiming to help pharmaceutical companies, biotechs, and clinical researchers cut the time and the cost that it takes them to develop effective therapeutics for complex, heterogeneous diseases such as Alzheimer's Disease (one of our main markets, where we are currently revenue-generating).
Regarding helping find effective treatments for Alzheimer's, these are the problems we are solving (and the market segments):
- Pharmaceutical Companies and Biotechs: Per year, just the top four pharmaceutical companies spend over €400 million [$453 million] in screening for Alzheimer's (AD) clinical trials. The majority of money is spent on people that are later eliminated from the trial due to a lack of fit with the trial criteria.
We help by speeding up the trials, saving costs, and giving them tools to track the evolution of the trials, and also a biomarker discovery platform.
- Hospitals: Currently, the screening techniques for Alzheimer's disease are too expensive for national healthcare systems to support.
The explosion in cases (5x growth just in the next two decades) is leaving many hospitals with no choice but to stop doing pathological tests on patients, recurring only to cognitive tests (which are extremely unreliable).
In iLoF, the hospitals see a pre-screening tool: that can narrow down the funnel of patients from an initial mix of mild cognitive impairment, healthy, and Alzheimer's into a group where all the population has a big probability of having the disease.”
What's your marketing strategy?
“We have mostly relied on network effects and direct lead generation. We have been regularly invited to attend several industry conferences with main-stage speaking slots and have also been honored to receive several industry awards, including CB Insights Top 150, Financial Times top 7 Transformational Business, among others.”
How did you acquire your first 100 customers?
‘We have a B2B model focused on large clients, and as such have yet to achieve the mark.”
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
“A lot of the value we are creating comes from the data we are acquiring, so a key KPI is the number of data points acquired. Also, the % of performance of our AI prediction models. Additionally, the number of clients acquired (year)”
What's your favorite startup book and podcast?
“‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ (Ben Horowitz).”
What is a song or artist that you listen to for motivation?
Is there a tool, app, or resource that you swear by to help run your startup?
“I use Google Calendar a lot.”
What is something that surprised you about entrepreneurship?
“Not surprising per se to me, but I think it's often overlooked: being an entrepreneur (or even CEO) is a lot less glamorous than what it looks like.”
How do you achieve work/life balance as a founder?
“It's very hard, and I am still trying to figure it out (forcing yourself to take frequent holidays is something I think it helps).”
What is a strategy you use to stay productive and focused?
“Frequently make sure I am actually focusing on the things that really matter.”
Did you have to develop any habits that helped lead you to success? If so, what are they?
“I believe that having the habit of getting out of your comfort zone actually helps you eventually succeed.”
What was your first job and what did it teach you?
“IT support. I learned a lot about how to deal with people and how to explain tech points in very simple ways.”
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