At USI, innovation rhymes with energy

Dr. Fabio Grassi and his team at MV BioTherapeutics during the finals of the StartCup Ticino in 2017
Dr. Fabio Grassi and his team at MV BioTherapeutics during the finals of the StartCup Ticino in 2017
Ivo Kwee (L) and Murodzhon Akhmedov (R) receive their cash prize at the StartCup Ticino 2017 final event
Ivo Kwee (L) and Murodzhon Akhmedov (R) receive their cash prize at the StartCup Ticino 2017 final event

Institutional Communication Service

The general lockdown imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic has affected many economic sectors, and the prospects for growth in the current phase of recovery remain very uncertain – but not for everyone. In fact, the post-COVID world sees a lot of energy flowing from those businesses, which would appear to be the weakest – startups. Innovative by design, startup businesses have, in fact, never ceased working and believing in their future. After a first report on the situation during the most acute phase of the pandemic (, we shed some light on other startups currently incubated at the USI Start-up Promotion Centre (CP Start-up).


PR activities lead to a very successful crowdfunding campaign

One of the fundamental elements for the survival of a startup, as for any company, is liquidity. Generally, the solution sought is to develop an idea and promote it to partners interested in investing capital and bringing it into production. The alternative, not new but often neglected, is crowdfunding. This is the case of I'm Back, whose founder, Samuel Mello Medeiros, has developed a system to digitise – instantly – photos taken with analogue cameras. In June, I'm Back closed a new crowdfunding campaign – the third so far – with considerable success. Although the goal was to raise $10.000 to finance the development of the new version of the device, Samuel managed to increase the figure tenfold reaching the incredible goal of $472.287, paid by 1.357 ‘backers’ through the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform. According to co-founder Filippo Nishino, "A lot of public relation is needed before the campaign; we contacted many bloggers, YouTubers, specific photography press and opinion makers as well as all our personal contacts to create an expectation before launching the campaign. Once the campaign was launched, we were present on all social media, answering all questions and comments from every single backer".  

Biomed startups on the move

In the age of coronavirus, the biomedical sector isin full bloom, like the Bellinzona-based startups MV BioTherapeutics and BigOmics: the former was created (with the former name of EXead) as a spin-off of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB, affiliated to USI); the latter was founded at the Institute of Oncology Research (IOR, also affiliated to USI). Both were finalists at the StartCup Ticino in 2017 (the regional competition for startups, which in 2018 became Boldbrain Startup Challenge), which saw 4 out of 5 finalists active in the biomedical sector reach the final, testifying to the ferment in this sector.

BigOmics came under the spotlight in early March with the launch of VirOmics Playground, an online platform for easy access to public omics data about the coronavirus (and related viruses, such as SARS and MERS). Earlier, in January 2020, BigOmics was accepted for Microsoft's startups support program, which "provides Azure cloud credits for $25,000 for computational purposes and supports startups in business development," explains Ivo Kwee, co-founder of BigOmics. More recently, the European Commission has rewarded the BigOmics platform as a high quality project, awarding it the "Seal of Excellence", a European Union quality label for first-class innovative ideas worthy of entrepreneurial investment. Murodzhon Akhmedov, CEO and co-founder of BigOmics, explains "this certificate provides an impartial 'second opinion' about our startup and platforms, especially for investors who are not familiar with the scope of biological data analysis, confirming the value and potential of our project".

MV BioTherapeutics has developed an innovative technological platform for the development of oral vaccines against intestinal infections, addressing currently unresolved medical needs with high patient accessibility. "The administration of these vaccines in experimental models has generated protective antibodies in the intestinal mucosa for diseases, for which there is no possibility of prevention", explains founder Dr. Fabio Grassi. "Moreover, these vaccines have significant advantages over injectable vaccines for accessibility and patient safety". More recently, MV BioTherapeutics has developed biotherapeutics that increase the immune response against cancer in cancer patients treated with biological drugs. The modified biotherapeutics generated by MV BioTherapeutics are designed to improve the therapeutic response and make biological drugs effective even in patients with poor response to therapy.

TicInsect “flies” to Lausanne

Using waste from the local food industry for the production of animal feed obtained from the processing of Hermetia illucens, better known as the 'black soldier fly'. This, in a nutshell, is the core idea behind TicInsect, the startup created two years ago by agronomic engineer Elisa Filippi. The project made waves right from the start, coming in 3rd place at the 2018 Boldbrain Startup Challenge. TicInsect has now been selected to enter MassChallenge Switzerland, the business accelerator program that is organised in several parts of the world. MassChallenge Switzerland 2020 will take place in Lausanne from June to October, providing not only quality mentoring by experts and free workspaces, but also – and most importantly - Switzerland-specific support for entrepreneurs such as competitive regulations and tax system, easy access to the EU market, and strong trade links. "This is an important moment for TicInsect," says Elisa. "Taking part in MassChallenge gives us the opportunity to be visible internationally and to the industry, thanks also to the valuable interaction with high-level experts".

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