We truly believe in the business potentials of our Cerberus project. Cellulose is the major organic component found on Earth and it is used as a raw material in many industries. Functionalizing cellulose opens a wide range of new industrial perspectives with this material. The main goal of our iGEM project, Cerberus, is to create a versatile cellulose-binding platform allowing endless cellulose- functionalizing possibilities. We built an entrepreneurship approach based on our Cerberus project in order to fill the gap between lab work and industrial concerns.
Our concept is to expand cellulose properties by providing an engineered Cerberus protein to functionalize cellulose according to industrus' needs. As a proof of concept of the relevance of our project, we succeeded in functionalizing cellulose with different properties: we conferred antibiotic, fluorescent and magnetic properties to cellulose. These experiments allowed us to consider targeting the health industry to conceive functionalized bandages, textile factories to develop clothe with new features and the conductive paper industry. Because we do not want to stop with these functions but ultimately create endless possibilities for cellulose, our Cerberus start-up will develop a strong R&D department, to provide advice and skills creating new cellulose functionalization in collaboration with the clients to meet their needs.
To kickstart the entrepreneurship approach, we first met a startup biotech named pili.bio Their scientific director provided us with some advice to begin this strategy and shared his experience as a co-founder of a startup. Subsequently, since we are producing our Cerberus protein as a prototype in the lab, we wondered how to scale up the production process. To identify the challenges, we met the director of a biotechnology company specialized in scale-up of bioprocesses, CRITT-Bio-industry to understand this problem. For more information see our Human Practices Page.
Finally, we collaborated with a business incubator named “Le Catalyseur” to go deeply into the entrepreneurship project, working on the market strategy, the business model and the business plan. We were assisted in this task by Nicolas Delcey, the incubator coordinator and Eric Marchandier the director.
For any startup project, an incubator is the best place to support and encourage the growth and achievements from the early stages to the real business. We had the opportunity to work with “Le Catalyseur”, a pre-incubator supporting undergraduate students which helps entrepreneurship project by providing resources, networking and advice. We benefited from resources and personal training to brainstorm our business vision of Cerberus, chaperoned by entrepreneurship specialists. Working with “Le Catalyseur” helped us to develop the right business application as seen on the business plan.
The first workshops consisted of taking stock of our Cerberus project's progress, analyzing different domains of activity and defining the aim of the future company, using brand paper method. After thinking deeply, we all agreed that the mission of Cerberus would be to assist businesses to develop innovative materials using biosynthetic tools. Indeed, because we propose a wide range of functionalization we wish to target a large market and constantly offer innovations. Therefore, we chose to become a consulting company specialized in cellulose functionalization.
The next workshop consisted of conducting a risk analysis allowing detection and analysis of threats and vulnerabilities which could affect Cerberus’ assets. The aim of this management approach was to find relevant countermeasures, depending on the impact we evaluated. In the previous workshop, we identified various domains of activity and we listed all the corresponding tasks. For the risk analysis we assessed each task, attributed them a grade reflecting risk exposure and the probability that the risk would happen. The table below corresponds to a summary of this workshop.
The commercial domain shows the highest severity level because nobody in our iGEM team has a business or commercial profile. Therefore, it will be crucial to hire a sales representative in order to start the business.
In addition, before launching Cerberus on the market we need to improve the research and development aspect, even though we had great preliminary results and we provided proofs of concept of our project validity.
Business Model Canvas
The business model canvas is a tool allowing us to identify all the essential aspects of starting a business. This method is very useful and by presenting all the components of the company, the business model canvas works as a strategic tool. The structure of the document makes it easy to check the coherence of the project and to highlight its added value.
The central bloc presents the value proposition, which means the selling propositions of the startup. In our case the Cerberus solution is an innovative method to functionalize cellulose using a cellulose- binding protein. We would provide advice and support in the design of linkers and on the cellulose fiber functionalizing function.
The four following blocs deal with external aspects, they are mainly linked to the market environment.
1 . Customer segments: Corresponds to the various market groups that would be interested in our Cerberus solution. They could be plant cellulose producers who want to add properties to their fibers. Because cellulose is present in various textile types such as clothing or bandages, we could target both the textile industry and the health industry. One of our proof of concept is to confer magnetic properties to cellulose. We also considered adding graphen or carbon nanotubes (CNT) to confer conductivity properties to cellulose. Therefore, we could also target the electronic component industry.
2 . Customer relationship: Because we would provide advice and conception design, our start-up would be a business to business company. We would establish three types of contract:
- Support and advice contracts: We will offer our advice and accompaniment to the clients, and we will charge it per day.
- R&D contract: Providing the design of a linker in terms of the client needs.
- Production contract: Providing the linker produced by a partner.
3. Channels: This corresponds to the wide channels allowing the business to be discovered, deliver the value proposition, provide after-sales service. In our case it would be web sites, scientific publications, prospection, specialized forum or startup forum, and finally our professional network.
4. Revenue stream: Corresponds to the type of revenue generated from each customer segment. It would be product sales, patent sales, or right of exploitation. But it we could also collect money from bank loan of public investment.
Four blocs concern internal aspects.
5. Key partners: Corresponds to the network of partners and key suppliers the business model relies on. On the one hand, we need sub-contractors to scale up production of the linker before selling it to industrials. We would also need a research laboratory and a start-up incubator such as Toulouse White Biotechnology, allowing to continue R&D to improve the products and produce raw materials. On the other hand, we need partners such as an accounting firm, investors a business lawyer firm to protect our ideas and a health agency to prevent all possible risks.
6. Key activity: Corresponds to the most important things an organization needs to do to make its business model work. We identified two mains scientific activities: R&D and production. However, to run a business, we also need various activities such as Human resources, marketing, legal or financial activities.
7. Key resources: The most important assets required to run the organization’s business model. We identified four main aspects that correspond to the four main profiles of the co-founders of Cerberus business. However, the four co-founders have all done scientific studies, so marketing expertise will be missing. To begin the business, we will then either hire someone with a commercial profile or we will collaborate to have another co-founder.
8. Cost structure: This corresponds to the different costs inherent in the economic model. We identified various types such as basic reagent costs (molecular biology reagents, purification kits, culture media, …), equipment costs (PCR machines, electrophoresis apparatus, protein purification systems…) but also salaries and charges, certification audit and taxes. The distribution, the travel expenses to meet new customers by the sales representatives.
The SWOT is a strategic tool allowing to put into perspective the internal characteristics of the business organization with the state of the environment in which it evolves. The SWOT makes it possible to anticipate strategic risks, to decide on a commercial positioning, or to refine an economic model.
One of the main opportunity is the iGEM exposure in an international level. Indeed, we built a web site where we reported our entire project, from design to the demonstration of our work. Moreover, there is a real development of the financial contributions to help startup especially biotech research1. There is also a real demand for new fabrics, and textile market is constantly evolving to develop innovation2. The ecological aspect is more and more present and will be one of the major aspects that industries would have to consider. Also, one of the advantages of our project is the wide range of market and clients we would target. Therefore, the team has a strong formation in science and will have a large network from their university INSA, UPS and the After iGEM community.
Otherwise, we are not graduated yet and we have a lack of experience. Because we are scientists, we need to hire a marketing profile in order to have a different vision and a business expertise. Moreover, the field of biotechnology requires major investments for R&D and the risk is rather high, therefore companies are generally important laboratories with global influence. After the iGEM competition, which is open source, we will have some problems to effectively protect our work. Also, people have strong suspicions about GMO’s.
- Moedas, C. La biotechnologie industrielle, facteur de développement durable et de croissance verte. Annales des Mines - Réalités industrielles Février 2017, 5–7 (2017).
- Croissance du marché des textiles techniques: quelques tendances chiffrées. Mode in Textile (2018).
Before considering starting a business, we need to structure our idea to make it more concrete for ourselves, our future partners and our funders. Writing a business creation project consists of building a business plan. The business plan is a founding document that summarizes the essential element of the project including:
- Market research
- Commercial positioning
- Economic model
- Quantified projections
Our combined efforts have enabled us to gain enough confidence to start our entrepreneurship journey. We started from scratch and through the months spent working on our project, consulting experts and planning our future, we gained solid experience in the domain of Synthetic Biology applications to new materials.
As our design has been validated by several proofs of concept, we can now think of all the possibilities that can emerge. We will first be a consulting company providing design and support to businesses, creating endless functionalization for cellulose based materials. We have established three types of service; support and advice contracts; R&D contracts and production contracts. Because we need more time to optimize the production of the protein depending on the client’s needs, we will fully develop this service in the near future.
As bacterial cellulose is a very promising material, we are probably at the beginning of the next trend in fashion or next generation textiles. So, as a long-term goal for the company, we can imagine a bacterial cellulose production to create clothes functionalized by our protein. Who knows, maybe this will become the next big thing?.
The frightened students that entered the iGEM Toulouse Team have now evolved; into lab scientists, project managers, accountants and molecular modelers. Of course, we still need stronger skills to make our company a success, but we are all excited about the perspectives offered by our entrepreneurship approach.
As iGEM has taught us, the key to success lies in hard work and determination to achieve our dreams. We will never forget this lesson as it has built the scientists we are today.
No dogs were harmed over the course of this iGEM project.
The whole Toulouse INSA-UPS team wants to thank our sponsors, especially:
And many more. For futher information about our sponsors, please consult our Sponsors page.
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