In 2011, at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, started the journey of María Fátima Lucas, Emanuele Monza and Victor A. Gil. Today six years later, they are the creators of Zymvol Biomodeling– a company that specializes in the design of enzymes through computational simulation- and chosen as the most promising industrial startup of IQS Next Tech Acceleration Program 2017.
Today, together with Fátima Lucas-CEO Of Zymvol- we reviewed the next steps of the company before traveling to Boston, to participate in the Richi Social Entrepreneurs program.
Fátima, you created Zymvol in April and just two months ago you won at the IQS Next Tech , country’s first industrial acceleration program. How has been the balance these last months?
After these first months, the balance is very positive. We can say that everything is moving so fast that it was unimaginable when we first started only a few months ago.
We started our market study to see how we could help companies with our product, and when we were making the first calls, we began to contact others. Recently, we concluded an agreement with a company with which we were in negotiations, and with another that we are waiting to close deals. At the same time, after IQS Next Tech, we are also preparing for Boston. We are in the process of assimilating everything, while continuing to work.
For all those who do not know Zymvol Biomodeling, tell us, how would you describe your company?
Zymvol is a company that accelerates the development and design of new enzymes through computer simulation. What are enzymes? They are organic molecules that accelerate the rate of reactions for the production of different compounds, for example in detergents or foods, among many others.
In this sense, we offer the different industries the possibility of obtaining customized enzymes for the production of their products. We try to help different industries in the development of biocatalysts.
What is the differential value of your technology in today’s market?
Our technology allows us to find the right protein in a very short time, thus minimizing the economic costs of the process. We increase the speed between an initial idea and the final product that the company needs. We allow to not only accelerate the development process, but also understand what the protein does. At the moment you understand it, you can tailor it and save time and money.
In addition, we do this by replacing traditional chemical processes with biochemicals, making them environmentally sustainable and more efficient.
What benefit is your solution for companies? What kind of companies could be most benefited by your technology?
There are several sectors, but the sector where we can contribute more, are producers of relatively small and medium proteins, which have specialized in less than 10 proteins. For example in the food industry or in the world of detergents.
We believe that this is the perfect segment; this type of customer already knows exactly what he wants, he already has his protein, and what he wants is to improve it. For us it is very easy to work with them; the costumer already gives us all the information we need, and through the simulations we save them time, resources, understand their protein and consider new developments that they had not imagined before. So it is very easy to start improving protein and finding new applications. In a very short time we can give a new answer; it is a very fast and efficient process.
After talking to several clients, this is where we can contribute more, because they know a lot about their proteins and we give them the microscopic vision.
Zymvol, can also mean a major environmental change…
Yes. In a segment like the chemical industry, most of the compounds that are produced are made at very high temperatures and pressures, conditions are very aggressive for the environment. If you replace these processes with enzymes, accustomed to working in living things and operating at lower temperatures, they stop producing secondary compounds. The whole process is much more sustainable.
If we could only replace these processes by 10%, it would already have a great impact. The chemical industry is struggling to get it and we play our part with Zymvol.
In the Demo Day of IQS Next Tech you presented as a group of science enthusiasts. What led you to undertake this company together and what path did you have so far?
Before we formed Zymvol, we all worked in the academic world. At that time, we already had relationships with companies- both protein producers and other industries related to the development of biocatalysts. It was in that period, when we realized that computer simulation was practically unknown to all those industries. At first they distrusted us, they put us to the test and we showed them that it worked. Every time, we participated in more projects, worked with real problems and offered very fast answers.
After a three-year project, we saw that by creating Zymvol we could bring great added value to industries, beyond the academic world.
As you said, the company was created only five months ago, what have been the main difficulties you have faced?
Initially, we found it difficult to communicate our message in a simple and exhaustive way, to change the academic language for one that is understandable by all. On the other hand, we also had to work hard on learning to segment our client. We have identified a great need in the market, we have found the niche, but it is always difficult to segment the customer because there are many possibilities and everything has gone very fast. Now we have it defined, but we continue working on it.
Finally, the last one has been that we work with our own resources, and now the biggest difficulty is the time that elapses between the moment a customer is interested in us and the moment we sign the final contract. The difficult thing is to be able to survive until that moment.
What would you tell an investor to bet on you?
Initially, I would tell you that Zymvol solves a problem that so far no company solves, and also it does with a technology that has an added value to reduce costs and time to customers.
In a few months it has been the market that has contacted us, demonstrating that there is a demand and that we can offer the solution.
Have you identified your competence?
In the sector in which we move there is a company in the United States that does the same type of development as us, but the type of software they use is different.
After being selected as the most promising industrial startup of IQS Next Tech, this October you will travel to Boston to continue promoting your project at the Richi Social Entrepreneurs program. What did participation in IQS Next Tech help?
IQS Next Tech has helped us in many ways, both visibility, guidance or recognition. On the one hand, it has given us public exposure; what we do is unusual and very scientific, and companies have to rely on us. Being the most promising industrial startup of a program like this- which has an institution with so many years of history as IQS- has given us recognition, a step of credibility and confidence. It’s one more way to show the world that what we do is being validated.
Mentors have also been key, with a lot of experience in the business world who have guided us in this way; as have all those who have given us sessions during the program. These were fundamental for development, we learned things that we had not even thought about.
How do you think the Richi Social Entrepreneurs program can help you to evolve as a company?
I think Boston can help us evolve in many ways. Initially, we need to learn a lot from the business world, and at Richi Social Entrepreneurs we will have the opportunity to grow our network of contacts, connect with new mentors, business design experts, and investors.
It will also be an opportunity to confirm some of our plans and analyze the scalability of Zymvol. One of our ultimate goals is to automate our service, create a platform where companies can get answers directly, but we need to explore all the options and the program is a good opportunity to do so.
Finally, Boston will serve to explore a sector that in the future may interest us, as the pharmaceutical world. In this area we already have competition, but we want to explore if our added value can have potential in it.
As a team, what do you think are your main goals and challenges?
Our three main challenges are: to continue closing new contracts so that we can continue to have financial support; and demonstrate to customers that we deliver on our promises, that what we promise is what we do.
Finally, the whole team has a technical profile and our goal is to find a person who comes from the business world that gives us the business part that we lack.
Some companies have already been interested in you and you are very close to signing important agreements; what do you think have been the keys to reach the point where you are currently in such a short time?
We have known each other for many years and without the work of each one it would have been impossible to reach where we are today.
Victor is a programmer, but he understands perfectly the language and the terrain on which we move, and he has been able to develop the software in record time; even before the company was established, it worked. Emanuele, has a lot of experience in programming and together they have worked on software. In addition, he knows the companies and has been key to identify the opportunities in the market. In my case, I have been working a lot of time in computer simulations and team management in this area. Now my mission is to contact the industry, get Zymvol to the whole niche that we talked about and continue to expand it.
We are a very technical team but each one provides an essential part for Zymvol to continue advancing.
And looking to the future, where do you see Zymvol Biomodeling in five years?
In five years, we would like to be a reference company in the field of computational design of industrial enzymes. That the computer simulations stop being something that only some contemplate, but that all see that they are necessary.
How do you think IQS Tech Factory can help you in these next steps?
IQS Tech Factory can help us achieve visibility, develop our business and connect with the industry. I think you can still help us much more in many other areas of business; in addition, you have a community that for can be key for us.