Tuesday, 12 April, 2016
When the Åforsk Entreprenörsstipendium of 2016 was announced, Daniel Jonsson was one of the ten awarded with 200 000 SEK. He is a researcher and a doctor at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, but also a part of Encubation project Akuvio. I meet with him and fellow team member Charlotte von Numers a few days after they received the much appreciated prize.
Akuvio develops a non-invasive medical treatment for severe disc herniation based on an injection that can be applied at home.
Akuvio develops a non-invasive medical treatment for severe disc herniation based on an injection that can be applied at home. It’s based on existing drugs that are currently used for other purposes. It was the previous research by Daniels mentor, prof Kjell Olmarker, that laid the foundation for the idea. They started working on tests that could show that he was on to something, and on their way to a conference in South Korea they made the decision not to tell others about it just yet.
- We were in a taxi and I was excited about telling colleagues about our findings, but Kjell convinced me not to. He has done medtech ventures before and had a feeling that this could be something that we wanted to keep exclusive for the time being. Let’s just say that he was right, says Daniel with a smile.
Charlotte agrees. When the time came for her class to be paired up with an idea partner, she and her teammates Robert Smolander and Paola Jo only met with Daniel. After hearing his pitch they were set on getting that project, it just seemed too good to be true that herniated disc could be treated with a non-invasive method. Daniel raises his eyebrows.
- You only met with me? I met with other teams as well, but you were the ones I really clicked with!
And they sure are an odd couple. Daniel, a farm boy from Värmland who realised from biology classes that he was going to be a doctor. And Charlotte, the engineers’ daughter from Helsinki, Finland, who came to Sweden to play handball professionally. Now they are a team that are set on moving forward with their idea, with a hope of taking it to the market in five to seven years.
Winner of Best progress prize at Encubation Venture Pitch 2015
All of the team is committed to stay on the project after the school year end, and the 200 000 will come in handy as they will need to form a limited company, and continue testing. They have also applied for grants from Vinnova, hoping it will give them a runway into business.
- It’s really important that we put the little money we have to good use. Drug development is costly and we need to prioritise IP and development costs., says Charlotte.
The scholarship from ÅForsk and SISP does however provide the team with both confidence and credibility when approaching the big pharmaceutical companies. The dream is to collaborate with one of them, relieving the Akuvio team of the resource heavy tasks of testing and marketing the finished product.
- It’s very common in our field, that smaller companies collaborate with or license their patents to bigger companies, they can’t compete with those who are established and have big budgets.
Those are learnings from their short careers as entrepreneurs. Daniel’s academic background had him long convinced that research and new findings was for publishing, not applying to actual cases. He had data, but no idea what to do with it.
- Kjell was the saviour, he always says to his students that if they have an idea, take it to the Encubation process, says Daniel.
And Charlotte who had been studying industrial economy came to Chalmers School of entrepreneurship, and when she as a part of a course was handed a 100 SEK bill and asked to make the money grow she understood why she had put in all those hours with the books. This was where she was going to make use of all her knowledge. She considers herself the visionary, Robert is the critical thinker and Paola, with her medical knowhow, the bridge between the business developers and the researchers from Sahlgrenska. They sit down with their coach Andrzej Brud once a week to get feedback and help on specific issues.
- Andrzej is great! He helped us create a very clear roadmap and I can call him whenever I have a question, says Charlotte.
Both Daniel and Charlotte seem very thankful for the opportunity that the Incubation process has given them. Daniel knows that he would never be able to take his research to the market without help, and Charlotte couldn’t get access to that kind of ideas. Now they both get to work on something they feel very passionate about, especially when they meet people and explain the solution.
"When I tell them about Akuvio they beg me to let them be a part of the clinical trials"
- Most people either have back problems or knows someone who do, when I tell them about Akuvio they beg me to let them be a part of the clinical trials, says Charlotte. There is a huge demand for this treatment.
For all our sake, let’s hope they succeed.
Text: Szofia Jakobsson
Photo: Akuvio, Chalmers Ventures