Over the last decade, the SmiLe Incubator has supported 60 start-up life science companies, of which 92% are still growing, employing more than 250 people. There have been 33 companies ‘graduating’ from the incubator, including 12 initial public offerings with a market capital of €390 million.
The SmiLe Incubator, currently home to 22 start-up companies, is based in the Medicon Village in Lund, Sweden. Its mission is to help entrepreneurs and early stage companies in the life sciences to develop and commercialise new ideas through cost-effective, quality-oriented and market-focused solutions.
“We are attracting some great science, and our incubator and graduate companies have together raised €175 million in the last four years,” said Ebba Fåhraeus, CEO. “Our companies have broad ethnic and gender diversity. The 22 companies on site employ 80 people from 15 different countries, and around a third of the CEOs are women.”
SmiLe is both publicly and privately funded, and its backers include the University of Lund, the Municipality of Lund, Region Skåne and Medicon Village. The incubator has also received national innovation agency grants, and funding from the European Union. Fåhraeus is an economist by training and has worked in equity investment in small to medium size companies.
What makes SmiLe a success
The SmiLe incubator is part of the Medicon Village, and is based around coaching, capability and community. It provides support for both individuals with a business idea through to companies.
“We have found that different individuals and teams have different requirements, and for many, this will be a mixture of the three elements,” said Fåhraeus.
One of the key things that people need when starting up a company is coaching, support and advice. SmiLe’s team includes people who can provide business support, financial advice such as introductions to investors, practical and hands-on lab-based training, and management coaching, as well as advice in specialist areas such as intellectual property, business law and banking.
“We provide advice and coaching for three years, and after that, the companies can still access the facilities and the community. We also retain links with our alumni,” said Fåhraeus.
SmiLe’s facilities include seven well-equipped labs with advanced instrumentation, office space and conference rooms. These can be rented as and when needed, freeing up capital for drug development. The labs include bacterial and cell culture, molecular biology, microscopy, and cell analysis. Companies can also have their own labs and offices.
“Companies can rent the equipment at a low price, which allows them to access expensive instruments that they only need for a short time,” said Fåhraeus.
In the project Open Labs Skåne that is partly funded by the EU, SmiLe also allows external companies to access lab space, instrumentation and key competencies in life science, chemistry, materials science and food science, engineering and technology together with Malmö University and Lund University.
The incubator also places new companies within a life science community, which creates opportunities for companies to collaborate, share facilities, ideas and know-how, and even set up deals. A survey in 2016 showed that around 60% of the companies made business deals with another company within the incubator. Some of the companies have also gone on together to create new companies.
“We are part of the life sciences community at Medicon Village, which employs around 1600 life sciences professionals, and provides space for expansion as our companies grow. At the incubator we have created a smaller community within the hub,” said Fåhraeus.
The incubator process
The process begins with an individual or a company with an idea for products or services meeting with the SmiLe team, and then presenting a business model. When the idea and company is mature enough the company is invited on board and moves into the incubator’s Verification Phase, which lasts for around a year. After this, the companies move to the Development Phase, where they gain additional support. The whole process lasts for around three years. They can then become Growth Phase companies, where they gain additional years of support.
SmiLe also offers an intensive three-month global acceleration program, the Health2B accelerator, which focuses on early start-ups in medtech and healthtech. This gives companies and entrepreneurs access to mentors and coaches, in order to be able to verify their product ideas, and confirm that the products or services are what the market needs while still early on in the development process. So far, participating start-ups in medtech and connected health have included mobile health, e-health, wearables, and quantified self.
“We have run four of these programs so far, with the most recent beginning in November 2017, and we are planning a fifth in spring 2018. We have had applications from the US, Asia and across Europe. This program allows us to provide a global life science network for tech people,” said Fåhraeus.
The bioincubator moving forward
Fåhraeus aims to grow the incubator to around 30 companies, and the science park is extending, adding more office space and dry labs. The role of collaboration will continue to be key for SmiLe.
Alumni companies will continue to play a big role, ” and we are reaching out to academia, investors and industry and getting positive results,” Fåhraeus adds. “Industry interactions will always add value, and the big companies are becoming more open and more aware of the need to collaborate.”