"Bio4Dreams is a certified private incubator focusing on early-stage life sciences projects."
Can you introduce Bio4Dreams and explain its role in the life sciences industry?
Bio4Dreams is a certified private incubator focusing on early-stage life sciences projects. We work closely together with very young start-ups or even wanna-be start-ups, understanding the science and helping structure the project until they are ready for the next stage of industrial or financial partnerships. We have a hands-on approach, offering not only tailored support, but also seed investment.
Our targets are ideas that respond to an existing market need and bring extra-expertise into the sector, rather than the high-risk, high-gain projects. Bio4Dreams started with a focus on advanced therapeutics, diagnostics, medical devices and AI in healthcare, but we are expanding our scope to emerging fields such as green-tech or blue-tech where there is a serious challenge of connecting disparate approaches hanging between different areas of application.
What can you tell us about the life sciences start-up scene in Italy?
There are two factors that inhibit the tech transfer value chain: Firstly, life sciences is a very complex industry requiring specialized infrastructure and matching expertise. Secondly, while Italy is globally recognized as a great hub for scientific research, the science arrives at the tech transfer office too early and is unable to gain the trust of investors. Whereas in countries like the US, universities act as the first links for the tech transfer, this filter is missing in Italy as well as in Eastern Europe where we see a similar fragmented start-up environment. Bio4Dreams intervenes at this stage to build the link between science and industry, but also to support the industry into a cultural change – to engage with start-ups at the science level first, and only later at the commercial level.
Italy’s problem is not lack of money, but the fact that funding is not reachable because the project is not structured and presentable enough for investors. Access to angel investors is also tangled in red tape and bureaucracy. Some of the start-ups we work with have binding contracts with early investors that preclude their further development, while others obtained first-round investments and now find it difficult to attract new streams. We need more clarity around the conditions defining each investment so that the investment is equitable and fair for both the start-up and the investor; we also need more clarity around who owns the money and who owns the science.
How is “Innovation Circle” helping structure early-stage start-ups?
Last year, Bio4Dreams created Innovation Circle, a physical space that aims to connect different players across the tech transfer value chain, where start-ups do not ask only for money, but for guidance from their early stage. A project receiving intelligent support early enough has much greater chances to succeed in the market and be more prepared for the next steps.
Can you elaborate on the international program of Bio4Dreams?
We are currently creating a pipeline of start-ups in countries like Slovenia, Hungary, Poland and Finland. Today, we have over 12 sites in Italy and four sites across Eastern Europe. Whenever we identify a good innovation hub with all the ingredients - local players, good science, and good financing opportunities – but with a missing link, we go in and seek to connect the dots.
How has the pandemic influenced global and sectorial collaborations?
The pandemic has brought tremendous opportunities to the life sciences, first of all by bringing down walls, be they geographical or domain-based. It has become very common to create transversal teams, with chemical scientists working side by side with computer scientists, but also to look for human expertise across borders. We signed a partnership with the Pennsylvania Biotech Center, one of the top biotech incubators in the US; we became their life science counterpart in Europe, but also a getaway for European projects to enter the US space.
Bio4Dreams is moving its HQ to the Milan Innovation District (MIND), also managing MIND shared labs. Could you tell us more about this concept?
We are one of the first companies to be moving our HQ to MIND. MIND is a refurbished 1 million m² former exposition area turned into a multi-branded, multi-disciplinary, smart-city innovation hub that expects to gather 60,000 researchers in the next 7-8 years. This is a public-private partnership made of three pillars: a research center, an educational center, and a clinical center. Between these three pillars, there will be an area dedicated to start-up landing, called MIND village.