Luc Henry is co-founder and CEO of Limula, a start-up that enables personalised cancer treatment by developing technology for cell and gene therapy (CGT) manufacturing. He reviews the benefits of receiving the IMAGINE IF! StartLab prize and offers advice to others who are thinking of applying for the 2023 edition.
You were the lucky winner of the StartLab prize at IMAGINE IF! in 2021. What did this win mean for you and your company?
Winning the StartLab prize was a combination of hard work… and blind luck! But seriously, there are always other very good start-ups competing in the finals of these competitions and we’re honoured to have been included among them.
We’d previously applied for the MassChallenge Switzerland accelerator, the EIT Health Catapult programme and the >>venture>> business case competition (twice); each time, we were selected as finalists but never got the top spot.
Making it to the top of the podium is great – and the StartLab prize is very generous – but winning the prize money is not the only benefit. In the early stages of any start-up project, support in the form of advice and connections is key to gaining confidence and visibility. And each of these programmes provided us with many opportunities to meet people willing to share their experience.
As for what we’ve learned, when the business foundations are solid, the rest is ‘just’ perseverance, hard work and execution.
What has happened since you won the prize last year?
At the time of the final pitch in November 2021, we were halfway through our proof of concept (in collaboration with Swiss academic institutions and funded by Innosuisse). We have now completed the study and collected all the data we needed to demonstrate our ability to replicate the key steps of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy production in our device.
Our patent was recently granted in some jurisdictions and is at an advanced stage in others, and we’ve built a new version of our prototype that we can’t wait to test on some actual cells.
How does the future look at Limula?
We are physically moving into the StartLab on 1st July, 2022 to accelerate the development of our first product while also starting two new R&D projects with fresh, non-dilutive funding. The StartLab prize provides us with invaluable support in this transition phase.
We’re also launching our Early Access Program with customers to receive as much feedback from end users as we can. We’re bringing our demonstrator to industry and research partners who are involved in process development activities in CGT, providing them with a potential alternative to the manual or semi-automated methods they currently have in place.
In parallel, we’re looking at raising a CHF 4.5m seed round from investors interested in the interplay between CGT and Industry 4.0. I believe this will keep us busy until the end of the year
What would you say to companies preparing for the IMAGINE IF! competition?
Be bold and passionate about your project, work on your pitch and leverage what the programme has to offer – in particular the network of mentors and advisers. Identify the profiles you need to receive critical feedback on your technology and business case and ask whether someone in the IMAGINE IF! network fits the bill.
Finally, be open about what you think are the weaknesses of your project. Early inputs will be instrumental in shaping your plan and making your case much stronger.