SmiLe has created a ”brand that is known in Europe”
Drawing on a total of 250 years of experience in life sciences, access to advanced laboratories and good contacts with both industry and investors, the SmiLe Incubator at Medicon Village in Lund supports start-up companies in life sciences. There is no question that it is showing excellent results – as can be seen both in the amount of recognition it has received as well as in the companies' ability to attract capital.
SmiLe Incubator, established in 2007, works with companies within life sciences in a broad sense. Currently, the incubator program consists of 22 start-up companies within diagnostics, medical technology, eHealth, pharmaceuticals, foodtech, and nanotechnology. At SmiLe’s premises, start-up companies have the opportunity to work both in their own and common laboratories equipped with advanced instruments.
The following is from an interview with Ebba Fåhraeus, CEO of SmiLe Incubator (picture).
“We have a fantastic laboratory structure and I want to say that there is no equivalent laboratory in northern Europe. Certainly there are some places that have similar equipment such as hospitals, universities, or within large companies, but these laboratories are not usually accessible to small startup companies as ours are.”
In order to join the incubator program, companies go through an admission process and must fulfill a number of criteria. SmiLe’s goal is to bring in ten new companies every year. On average, companies participate in the incubator program for two to four years before they enter the growth stage and become alumni. Oftentimes these companies expand into the nearby premises of Medicon Village and remain active in SmiLe’s network.
What can companies in the incubator program expect?
“They receive help to develop the companies through a well-developed process with common benchmarks and individual support. We give them a toolkit that is designed for entrepreneurs and we offer a team of very experienced people to support and advise them. We usually say that we are their temporary management team. In the incubator, the entrepreneurs get discussion partners, connections and an environment with professional advice.”
The incubator team consists of a dozen people who have all worked for many years in the industry.
“Together we have more than 250 years of work experience in life sciences. This represents extensive knowledge resources in which the start-up companies can partake.”
The companies in the incubator are also valuable to each other. They support, give advice, and, in many cases, also do business with each other. They can even receive advice from SmiLe’s sponsors who are on site: patent companies Awa Patent, Höiberg and Zacco; Setterwalls business lawyers, Sparbanken Skåne bank, regulatory advice company Prevas and Aqilion biopharma company (formerly PULS Invest).
“Knowledge and networks are our capital. We have excellent networks within the pharmaceutical and medical technology industries and good cooperation with Region Skåne as well as with other types of investors. I think we are genuinely unique in how we accelerate the start-up companies’ development.”
Why is Lund a good place for life sciences?
“One reason is, of course, the proximity to Lund University, which conducts world-leading research. At SmiLe, researchers have the opportunity to accelerate both their research and their business concept. It has also been shown that Lund is a good test market and a bridge into Europe for foreign specialists. In Lund all of this is accessible.”
Will SmiLe have any particular focus going forward?
“We are not aiming for a specific therapeutic area or technology, but rather to engage with each company based on its own merits. We are experiencing an increase within diagnostic and preventative care, which will become increasingly important. Likewise, this is happening within the so-called functional food and pharmaceutical areas. We are also looking forward to what will happen when scientists at Max IV and ESS begin in earnest. I believe that there will be more international research projects in the region and hope that Lund will be a place where they want to stay.
Was 2018 SmiLe’s best year so far?
“It has been a remarkably good year. The 70 companies that have been in the incubator raised a total of SEK 728 million of venture capital and many of our companies received awards both in Sweden and internationally. In addition, we have established well-functioning industrial networks and investor networks. We have laid the foundation and established a good reputation and a brand that is known in Europe.”
- 72 companies have participated in the incubator program since the start.
- These companies raised SEK 595 million of venture capital during the first half of 2019. Fourteen companies have been listed on the stock exchange with a market capitalization of approximately SEK 7,3 billion in Q2 2019.
- Of the 23 start-up companies currently in the incubator, 43% are founded and/or led by women.
- SmiLe has the equivalent of 12 full-time positions distributed among 16 employees.
- SmiLe’s board includes representatives from Region Skåne, the City of Lund, Lund University, and Medicon Village. These organizations, together with Vinnova and a number of sponsors, are responsible for the financing of SmiLe.
- SmiLe’s financial sponsors, Sparbanken Skåne, AWA, Høiberg, Zacco, Setterwalls, Aqilion as well as Prevas who joined 2019, also contribute with their expertise.
- Early in 2019, SmiLe was the only Scandinavian incubator selected for the EU program Bridgehead to coach start-up companies from across the EU.
- Later 2019 SmiLe has fully emerged into the European EIT activities and collaborations with the EIT network, from Campus activities (early stage start-ups), accelerator activities (bootcamp) as well as Scale-up activities (Bridgehead – is for later stage companies´ soft landing in Sweden). SmiLe are also listed as an EIT e-lab. All of this makes SmiLe a provider of support to top EU startups in all levels of their development. SmiLe has also gotten a full green light from EIT in running a Campus program starting 2020 as well SmiLe will be part of a Bootcamp program in 2020 with CBS.
- In addition, SmiLe will in 2019 coach a number of top ranked Russian life science start-ups. SmiLe was selected as the business development provider for these early companies by AstraZeneca and the largest life science incubator in Russia, Skolkovo.
- SmiLe is also running the fifths batch of Health2B accelerator for very early healthtech companies, now for the first time in a new semi digital format. The program was named one of the top 15 healthtech accelerators.
- SmiLe is so far the only Swedish incubator which is an Organizational partner to EXPO 2020 in Dubai.
Text: Caroline Wendt
Translation: Finlay McGregor
Photo: Jenny Leyman & Caroline Wendt