Venture Kick: 3 startups receive CHF130,000 each


Outdoor wear, an anti-obesity pill and a testing system for drug development – these are the products that the latest Venture Kick winners are developing.


Venture Kick supports start-ups since 2007. The funding starts before company incorporation and can increase over three stages during a nine-month period. At each stage, the teams present to a Venture Kick jury, where they stand a 50 percent chance of selection. However at the latest jury session of Venture Kick stage 3, the jury decided to award three out of for presenting start-ups. “The continuously growing quality of the cases in Venture Kick makes the job of the jury more and more difficult.” said Beat Schillig, co-managing director of Venture Kick. The program's competitive process usually requires juries of professional investors and industry experts to select only two winners at this stage. 

The winning co-founders, all PhDs, will commercialize scientific discoveries from three different Swiss universities. The selected start-ups are:

Dimpora AG, Zurich: fluorine-free, breathable and waterproof outdoor-wear 

The outdoor clothing industry has grown with the trend towards lifestyles of health and sustainability. The performance laminate sector is a $1.5 billion market dominated by W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc.’s Gore-Tex material and Toray Industries Inc.’s Dermizax fabric. Actively exploring nature comfortably requires apparel that is both water-proof and breathable. To date this has been achieved using material treated with fluorinated compounds that are potentially harmful to people and the very nature they want to experience. Friends Mario Stucki and Anna Beltzung, who earned their PhDs from different chemical engineering groups at ETH Zurich, co-founded dimpora to solve this problem. Their company pairs Stucki’s membrane engineering knowledge with Beltzung’s understanding of polymer synthesis: the result is dimpora’s membranes are waterproof and breathable, without the need for dangerous chemicals. The patented processes, developed at the Functional Materials Laboratory at ETH Zurich, may also allow the material to be biodegradable and for apparel-makers to protect their clothes without seams in the membrane. The company will hire its first employee next month and looks to close a 1-million-franc seed-round by the third-quarter of the year. 

EraCal Therapeutics AG, Zurich: a safer, more-potent anti-obesity pill 

"Nearly every third person on this planet is either overweight or obese," says EraCal Therapeutics founder Josua Jordi, citing World Health Organization statistics that 650 million people are obese, with a body-mass-index above 30, and 1.9 billion overweight, with a BMI above 25. The side-effects of being overweight – type-2 diabetes, depression or hypertension – are the societal cost his company will tackle. The spin-off from the universities of Harvard and Zurich is developing an appetite-suppression pill more potent than products currently on the market. Patented molecules, from thousands Jordi screened, have trialed in zebrafish, mice and rats without showing unwanted side-effects. EraCal plans a seed-round in the coming months, to fund further improvements to the molecules before human trials planned from 2021. Gaining medical authorities’ approval for new medicines can take years, and the entrepreneur knows his company’s strength: "We're drug-hunters. We want to develop our molecule to phase 2a, depending on joint-ventures or VC-backing. Then we'd look for an asset sale and focus on our next drug discovery program."  

Nagi Bioscience SA, Ecublens: worms for drug testing 

Tens of thousands of new chemicals are discovered every day – potential medicines or novel ingredients for cosmetics and foods. Before humans can benefit from these discoveries, they need to be tested for toxicity and efficacy. In vivo, animal testing is slow, expensive and prone to ethical concerns, and in vitro modelling on isolated cells can’t predict how entire biological systems will respond. Nagi Bioscience will target this $3 billion market with an ethical and biologically-relevant screening machine that performs 300,000 times faster than a human researcher. The spin-off from the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne will automate the culture, treatment and analysis of C. elegans worms inside a lab-top device. The worms are “simple enough to avoid legal or ethical issues, and complex enough to give relevant answers for human biology. It's a very good balance and a popular model in life sciences," says co-founder Laurent Mouchiroud. The team spent the past six months winning pilot customers from the pharma, chemical and food industries. "We acquired top players in our target markets to co-design our bioassay process to ensure our product fits the market’s needs. Our milestones are to execute on the contracts that we've won,” said co-founder Matteo Cornaglia. The company plans to raise 1.5 million francs this year to prepare its devices and cartridges for industrialization.For 2019 Venture Kick changed its support model. From now on start-ups have the chance to receive CHF150'000. In total, Venture Kick has 4,350,000 francs to invest in 135 "kicks" for high potential entrepreneurs. More information on the Venture Kick website.

(Press release - SK)