Biosciences and Technology
By Endeavor Greece Oct 24, 2021
“Diversity works miracles”
An Interview with Fay Christodoulou. This interview is one of many seen in our Greek Tech Revolution report. Check out our report and stay tuned with our channels as we publish more interviews featured in the 2020 issue.
As biosciences conquer more and more fields of research and develop rapidly in the entrepreneurship sector, Miroculus makes up an exceptionally interesting case. It was founded in San Francisco six years ago, and its vision is to make the most complex protocols easy and accessible to all scientists around the world.
Alejandro Tocigl from Chile, Fay Christodoulou from Greece, and Jorge Soto from Mexico, who met at the Global Solutions Program (GSP) of Singularity University, started working on the microRNA sector, aiming at the early detection of cancer. While they were developing this technology, they realized that they were building a flexible, intelligent solution with innumerable applications. They went on and developed the Miro Technology, which is based on a novel digital microfluidics technology that automates and miniaturizes genomic protocols.
Miroculus has managed to create a system that includes an instrument, a disposable out of plastic and software, which allows thousands of scientists, engineers, hospitals and laboratory operators worldwide to create, to share, and to perform the most complicated protocols and trials in a completely automated way, without additional cost.
The company has raised funds higher than 39$ million from venture capital firms (OSFund, Nazca), family offices, and companies on the Fortune 500 list. In 2018, Miroculus was co-financed by Endeavor Catalyst as well and recently closed its Series B financing round amounting to 45$ million, with Cota Capital and Section 32 participating in the expansion of financing, aiming at the market exit of its impressive Miro Canvas device.
In other words, Microculus is a typical example of a deep tech startup that has achieved rapid growth. At the same time, the presence of a woman at the head of the company makes it single out, as it represents the added value that diversity has in the growth of companies.
Fay Christodoulou, co-founder & CSO at Miroculus, is a molecular biologist specializing in RNA biology. In 2012, she was awarded an EU postdoctoral fellowship to investigate the role of microRNA in thyroid carcinogenesis in the Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens, Greece. Following that, she was awarded the 1st prize of the Hellenic Association of Pharmaceutical Companies Innovation Project for her scientific contribution, and she was the third woman who joined Endeavor Greece’s network (the two other founders of Miroculus are also members of our world network, as Endeavor Mexico entrepreneurs).
The representation of all women in the innovation ecosystem worldwide is sparse at all levels, especially at the executive level. In bio startups, the presence of women, particularly in executive positions can be described as a needle in a haystack. Although nobody questions women’s scientific competence, it is a fact that the combination of entrepreneurship and bioscience, if not rare, is surely hard to find.
“Before the coronavirus outbreak, at the time when we could hold face-to-face meetings with other companies, I was either the only woman in a group of male colleagues or there was one more woman at the meetings. However, I remember once, when a group from a successful biotech company visited us, which was comprised of six women and only one man! Surely, there are not many women in the field. Let’s face it. I have to admit that in the beginning, when I was in a male-dominated environment, I used to think twice about when and how I would express my opinion.”
Now, Miroculus opted for the equal participation of women and men on all levels of the company. “The equal representation of men and women is very important to me because there emerges a balance that has a very powerful dynamic, especially in moments of tension or crisis. When there are only men in a company, competition is fierce. On the other hand, women seem to be quite impatient with the difficulties that arise in every company. Since there are enough, both male and female biologists, engineers, and entrepreneurs, then they should be equally represented. A person who has grown up in a financially well-off environment has an entirely different approach from someone who has faced a lot of difficulties. When these two diverse people work together, they work miracles. In any case, only by means of a conscious effort can more women be integrated into the innovation entrepreneurship ecosystem.
Diffusion of Know-how
Apart from her interesting views on the significance of equal participation of men and women in the field of technology, Fay Christodoulou advocates that know-how in the innovation eco-system is a fluid force that can be diffused from Silicon Valley to Greece. When she completes her work at Miroculus, she intends to come back to Greece, to take her next business step, having gained invaluable experience and know-how.
“In research, we mostly operate as single units,” she says. “In this case, I am totally free to make decisions on my own. However, in product development this is impossible. Working and decision-making are collective processes. Otherwise, it is beyond doubt that the product will be a complete failure. It is a specific process that requires all members of the team to cooperate and strictly observe the rules. That is the reason why it is of utmost importance this combination of biologists, in our case, and entrepreneurs; no biologist can craft a sustainable business plan, without prior knowledge, and no entrepreneur can create a biotech startup without biologists.”
Biotechnology, Fay Christodoulou points out, has an enormous range of development. “I would compare it with Far West, when people had started looking for gold! There is an enormous field of research and production development, ranging from vitamins to synthetic milk, vegan alternative food with nutritional value similar to natural food, so as to support environmental awareness, personalized medicine, etc.”. It is an industry with lots of opportunities, but due to its wide range, one could lose their target. “However, since time is money, one has to decide which product to focus on and go to market as soon as possible.”
As the discussion on whether the Greek people’s mindset supports entrepreneurship or the Greek society keeps operating on a survival mentality is still open, Ms. Christodoulou refuses to believe that Greece has no inquisitive and creative people who would like to invest in entrepreneurship. “Greece has powerful tech manpower, especially in the field of bio-sciences. The level of the Greek universities is exceptionally high. I have taught students at the University of Patras and I was surprised both by their high level of knowledge and by their eagerness to create something on their own. The one thing that is missing is experimental experience and the understanding that academic career is not their only option. A biologist can be employed in a company or, with regard to the pharmaceutical industry, one can launch their own business, since Greece produces medicinal products. In any case, I have got the impression that there are people at the Greek universities who are interested in innovation and its applications. On top of that, there are some entrepreneurship competitions. They are not many, but there are a few.
Taking into account that the Greek innovation ecosystem is undergoing a growth phase, the high level of the Greek scientists, the position of the country on the world map which establishes a good time difference from America and China, along with the fact that Greek people speak foreign languages, Ms. Fay Christodoulou believes that the main issue now is to develop the investor community.
“Once we launched Miroculus and the company had gained publicity, some investors from Greece had approached us. However, at that time, we were incapable of providing the guarantees requested by the banks. The venture capital funds in USA move as fast as the speed of light. This means that after presenting an idea, one might receive an investment proposal, which sometimes includes the amount of financing. In Europe, things move more slowly. And in Greece even more so. The family offices can be helpful, but one needs contacts, which is not always easy. Endeavor Greece is very supportive in this field too.”
Having expressed her concern about the fiscal policy in our country, Fay Christodoulou has decided to return to Greece, after she has completed her work at Miroculus. “Life is difficult for an entrepreneur. Several weeks of failure can be followed by just one week of success. One needs to be patient and resilient to run at this Marathon race and have a positive outcome. One needs bearings, and these are our close friends and family. And my people are in Greece.”