This is the first of the Fundacity Inside Startups series. Here we aim to get you insights on the entrepreneurs behind the startups we love. Our fist interview is with Vinicius Maracaja-Coutinho – serial entrepreneur, winner of Startup Chile, Startup Weekend organizer and Fundacity entrepreneur of the week.
What do you do in the startup world?
The first one is the first crowdfunding platform for projects related to Genetics and Biotechnology. The latter is a platform for management, storage and analysis of DNA data in the cloud
Miklos: That is really exciting. Both crowdfunding and genetics are hot industries right now.
What is your role on each of these projects?
Vinicius: I am the leader of both projects, working on the development of the concept and execution of the main activities related to the management. Today we have a team of 9 people in Brazil, Chile and Canada working on both projects.
Miklos: Wow that is very impressive!
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business?
Vinicius: During my whole PhD on Bioinformatics I saw that still there was a gap connecting both Computer and Biological Sciences. I have been for some time thinking how one could apply computer technologies to the field biology. Sequence a human DNA was always expensive. This is due to the bottleneck existing when extracting valuable information from the huge amount of data that we receive from the sequencer. You cannot imagine that the majority of the tools for analysis are almost impossible for biologist, physician or geneticist to use.
So, in the end of my PhD I applied to Start-Up Chile with intention to kickstart the idea to develop the NimbusGene as a platform to automate this analysis, making DNA interpretation easy for molecular biologist, and physicians.
Miklos : So essentially the idea was still concept stage for Nimbus Gene before Startup Chile?
Vinicius: Yes. It was only a concept in the time we applied. So, it was a great opportunity for us as new entrepreneurs, coming from the academic world.
Miklos: Amazing. That bears true testimony to Startup Chile and how it is helping entrepreneurs achieve. How about Dodo Funding? has that been around from before?
Vinicius: The Dodo we had the idea in the end of 2011 in a pub in Sao Paulo. But we only started the development in December 2012. The idea is to put together scientists and ordinary people. The ordinary people can not only help the development of the science, but also be part of it. As an example, one can create a project to sequence part your DNA, send you back the results and put it together with the data from everybody who sent a sample.
Do you have a co-founder(s)?
Vinicius: No. But a great team of developers, designers and business people excited to be part of it.
How did you find people to join your team that truly care about your startup the way you do?
Vinicius: I think most of then got excited to be working in something so different. Working on something so innovative almost like being in a sci-fi, but that is already a reality. Few people are working on this. So we are having the opportunity to be pioneers in the field and break real ground.
Did new joiners affect the culture or dynamics of the startup in any way? How did you manage that?
Vinicius: I think everybody who joined had a big importance for the startup. Since we were just starting something with entrepreneurship, everything was new. Most of the experiences were great. We learned a lot with the different background people have. But we also had small situations that were important to construct the startup. I think all experience, bad or good, help the team grow and learn .
Miklos: Fair enough. What caused these ‘situations’?
Vinicius: I think that one of the big difficulties was to get people from computer science and biology to talk the same language. The areas are very different and they are not used to be together.
Miklos: Yes I can definitely see that issue. A lot of startup face it. Small teams with very different personalities and skill sets working together tightly can be tricky. Although, seems like you’ve been doing phenomenally with team building. Your attitude towards embracing change and diversity seems to have played a pivotal role in this.
In relation to Dodo, how do you build a successful customer base? I understand you need to find projects (fundable ones) and people that invest into them (professional investors and ordinary people too)?
Vinicius: With Dodo we sent a couple of press releases in Brazil just to test people’s reactions. It was amazing! A lot of people started talking about us, and a lot of users started signing up onto our landing page. People are interested in being part of something important. They can do it with a small contribution. About the projects, we started talking with friends in the scientific community. A lot of then became interested in uploading their projects to fundraise. We have projects related to the development of educative games in genetics, genetics sequencing of plagues that affect important crops, development of bioinformatics tools for DNA analysis, etc.
What are the latest achievements of your startup?
Vinicius: We are truly happy with the growing number of new users in both platforms (signing both landing pages). Additionally, a growing number of clients, companies and research labs in universities, are contacting us to talk about the NimbusGene,. We have some investors asking about what are we doing and when we are going to launch it. So, our goal and main objective is have NimbusGene ready to launch as soon as possible.
Another interesting information is that there are some companies interested in starting to commercialize it in other countries.
Miklos: You mean alliances/partnerships?
Vinicius: The companies and research labs in universities are customers that want to pay for use it. The companies that are looking to commercialize it, would be partners. We are still in discussion, but the idea is to have a revenue share in those countries.
When do you plan to make your first revenue?
Vinicius: For NimbusGene, the plan is to be as soon as we launch. As I mentioned, there are some customers just waiting to use it. We intend to have NimbusGene ready in August. For Dodo, I think it will be in around two months. The duration of a crowdfunding campaign.
How are you currently funded?
Vinicius: With the Beagle, we are doing some consulting and bioinformatics analysis for universities. We also have a partnership with SoftLayer. By now, we are not having expenses with the tests using the cloud infrastructure.
Miklos: so no investment outside of Startup Chile?
Vinicius: No, we received some contacts but we were waiting to have the platforms ready. We are planning to re-start conversations about it right now.
Miklos: So you are about to re-start fundraising. How much are you seeking to raise?
Vinicius: For NimbusGene, we are looking for at least USD 1 million. For Dodo we are looking for USD 300,000.
What are the most annoying or hard parts of the fund raising process?
Vinicius: We are just starting our journey. I think that the hardest part is to find a real good and convincing business. If it is good, validated, have customers and you do it in the right way, I think fundraising shouldn’t be tough. However, the hard part for me is to find some “intelligent” investors, one that that will add value to the project, not only with the money.
Share a recently discovered tool, resource or tip for fellow entrepreneurs
ViniciusI think that one of the most important thing for entrepreneurs is to try to be in line with your team. Alone you cannot do anything. Try to find the perfect team. I know it is really hard, but is fundamental to successfully constructing something from nothing.
Miklos: I agree, a good team is everything.
What is your goal for the week?
Vinicius: Fix the final details in Dodo and apply it for ImaginaChile
Miklos: Amazing :)! Good luck!
Lastly, in one word characterize your life as an entrepreneur
Vinicius: only one word is hard. Let me think…. I would say, thinking briefly…”fearless”. Because it is necessary to have the courage to leave everything and make the dreams a reality.
Thank you Vinicius. Keep rocking!