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People working together in a group of five

Bee venom and MIT – the history of one acceleration

Program: Technological Entrepreneurship Foundation – MIT Enterprise Forum Poland Accelerator (MITEF Poland)

New technologies based on natural sciences in health and biotechnology sectors are becoming increasingly popular among Polish entrepreneurs. According to Polish Startups Report 2017, 13% of young companies work on products in these industries, struggling with research as well as facing typical business challenges. The history of BBH Biotech's acceleration is a great proof that there is a long way to go from a breakthrough discovery to financial successes and that the ability to change plans can be a strategy leading to the development of a startup.

The beginning of BBH Biotech team's cooperation was related to the research on accelerating biotechnological processes (e.g. alcoholic fermentation) by application of precisely selected ultrasounds. It turned out that the project was beyond the capabilities of a small company. Shortly, BBH Biotech began work on obtaining bee venom. The relatively expensive and difficult to obtain raw material opened the possibility of creating new technology of acquisition that is more practical and harmless to bees

However, developing a new, safer and more efficient device is not enough to successfully enter the market. Comparison of the conditions offered by venom suppliers is impossible due to trade secrets, while wholesalers value trusted, long-term relationships. Similarly, it has been complicated to reach recipients from the chemical industry, because the market is narrow and young companies have difficulties in entering it. It was clear that an alternative has to be found. Startup considered selling venom for medical purposes as well as cooperation with cosmetics manufacturers or distributors. The requirement of collecting documentation compliant with EU laws and low margins from venom sales became for BBH Biotech arguments proving that an external support will be necessary to create a strategic plan for further development of the project.

Accelerated development program

The team applied for MIT Enterprise Forum Poland acceleration program, run by Technological Entrepreneurship Foundation. The accelerator was created as part of Scale UP competition conducted by Polish Agency for Enterprise Development (PARP). The initiative resulted in launching 10 accelerators throughout Poland, aimed at combining the potential of beginning, creative entrepreneurs with infrastructure, experience and corporate resources. The activity contributed to the development of over 220 new projects and at least 59 implementations of innovative solutions in the value chains of large companies. In this way, Scale UP completed the offer for small and medium-sized enterprises offered by the Start in Poland program

As part of MITEF Poland program, five paths were available: fintech in cooperation with PKO BP, energy with PGNiG, raw materials with KGHM, general and health care with Adamed Group. BBH Biotech took part in the latter. The main part of the acceleration lasted three months and it included a broad support package – up to PLN 200,000 of non-returnable funding for development, an access to mentors and know-how developed at MIT as well as integration with the business network around the university, trainings, consulting services in the field of running a company or law intellectual property as well as access to Campus Warsaw space. Five best startups will also get a chance to take a weekly bootcamp at MIT in Boston and present their ideas to investors.

Steps to success

While participating in the program, BBH Biotech team focused on gathering more knowledge about the market. According to Mateusz Hoppe, CEO of the company: – "We wanted to finally determine how to use this venom, refine the business model and the direction." Thanks to the experience gained over four years on the market, Hoppe and its partners could focus on gaining more advanced knowledge about running a business.

The main purpose of the workshops, which were part of the program, was to prepare the company to respond to market changes. The methodology of these trainings, known as 24-steps model of disciplined entrepreneurship by William Aulet, was developed at MIT for many years of learning from mistakes. Stories of unsuccessful initiatives were recorded and analysed, and the experiences of failures were used to create a 24-steps pattern of behaviour – from concept to market entry and further product development.

Thanks to the convergence with lean startup method, these steps allowed MITEF Poland participants to organize their knowledge and prepare them to conduct successful business. To complete workshops, the team was given homeworks, i.e. tasks and analyses of individual startup needs based on the gained knowledge. So structured thoughts according to the methodology of classes fulfilled the role of regular reporting of acceleration progress.

Another extremely important part of the program were joint activities and development under the supervision of mentors. Based on the project card, each startup cooperated with mentors whose competences were tailored to the individual needs of the team. BBH Biotech obtained experience from the sales director of an international cosmetics company, general director of international sales of a corporation with a long-standing seniority or a foreign expert who introduced a mobile telephone company to the Polish market. A contact with about 6-7 people with huge experience, from the very top of the corporate hierarchy, allowed the startup to gain knowledge about running and marketing of such a big business.

The industry partner of the path – Adamed – also guaranteed knowledge from the tycoon about the functioning of the market. This counselling was mainly aimed at directing the startup on its own path, not implementation into the value chain of a large company. BBH Biotech team particularly appreciated the company's mentor who supported their work in the scientific dimension. As reported by Leszek Broniarek, startup CTO: – "One of the most substantive mentors on the side of dealing with biological material which is bee venom is from Adamed and we still maintain cooperation and contact with him." 

Work is abuzz

At the moment of our conversation, the acceleration program was still in progress. BBH Biotech is still working on bee venom with the help of Adamed's experts. The team wants to explore material properties before entering the market. The funds obtained under the program enabled the purchase of the necessary equipment and services, thanks to which their business is still dynamically developing. This executive phase will last until February. Then five winning companies will be selected that go to Boston in October 2018.

As Mateusz Hoppe assessed, well-organized acceleration programs are very helpful for young entrepreneurs. – "It is worth taking part in them because of the experience of people who create and co-create the program, i.e. both because of the knowledge of the organizers and participants who sometimes present a completely different point of view". The opportunity to exchange experiences and comments with other startups and participants is priceless. BBH gained a unique blend of knowledge thanks to diversity of age and industry. This kind of peer-to-peer mentoring often took the form of a moderate exchange of experiences and open discussion.

BBH Biotech team has achieved its goal. An in-depth market rethinking, workshops and mentoring sessions allowed them to take the direction of independent cosmetics production with high venom concentrations and distribution in consultation with clinics. Such a model is definitely more demanding, but the acceleration process made its verification possible.

Regardless of how the future fate of the company will go, the team will remain in the "family" of MIT, at the same time building relationships and using access to experts and business practitioners.